THE STEEL COLUMN Review
by Ali El-hashimi, AA 2nd Year Intermediate Unit 13
05 January 2015
Brno, Czech Republic
“Flights disrupted as computer failure causes chaos at UK airports.”
The epitome of modernism
Thus read one of The Guardian newspaper’s headlines on Saturday 13th December. The reason? Computers in air traffic control were still using software from the 1960s. The day before this was reported, we were part of this mess en route to Brno, Czech Republic for our unit trip, barely surviving the evening on Ryanair’s over-priced small proportions of food. The tutors had missed the flight so once we arrived in Brno we were alone. Luckily for us, AA 3rd year Ema (Hana Kacar) stepped up to the plate. If it wasn’t for her we would have just been walking for hours trying to find our way. That same night we decided to go to our first Brno restaurant, looking forward to the days to come. Around 2am the group split, some went back to the hostel and the others went out partying until 5am. The rest is history. The following day a couple of us decided to take the opportunity to go for the “functionalist” walk that was on our tourist leaflets since the tutors wouldn’t arrive until later that night. On that list was the famed Villa Tugendhat by Mies van der Rohe, a tour of this building was already booked for us but that wasn’t until Wednesday. Unable to hold back from temptation we decided to go have a look for ourselves, and who could blame us?
A man of few words, “Wow,” was my initial reaction upon encountering the Villa’s exterior – so many emotions were packed into that one word. The humble steel column felt more than just the expression of the functional needs of the building, instead it appeared to be a work of art. As a framed monument to modernism, seeing it for the first time felt like a spiritual experience. It was as if reaching a higher level of enlightenment. As Mies would say ‘God is in the details’ and suddenly life itself seemed to make sense.
Image credit: Andrew Yuen
The steel column. That’s all I could think and talk about for the rest of the trip, it’s an experience I still remember vividly, even now, weeks later. By the time I saw the inside of the villa I was convinced that I had never seen such a beautifully proportioned building. Mies treats the site as a canvas, a 1:1 collage of walls, columns, furniture, and people, all framed so perfectly, together in harmony. The grid, a form of purity not only because of its functionality but also its beauty, further emphasises the idea of the frame. Onyx and dark wood dominate the lush interior, creating a mixture of minimalism and luxury. The use of such materials and the dim interior lighting gives the space a sense of theatricality. One could imagine the villa as a stage or part of a film set.
After that visit I finally understood what all the fuss was about. Mies was truly the pioneer of modernism. It’s a real shame that his approach to architecture died with him. Yes there have been projects built in this style over the years but none of them come close to Mies’ execution and attention to the smallest of details.
Column superimposed on the wall
Dedicated to my tutors Lily & Jess as a special thank you for organising the trip. For more information: Intermediate 13 Unit Brief
The play of light and shadow
Image credit: Andrew Yuen