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An Iconic Saga

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1 November 2018

An Iconic Saga

  • Tim Benton in Prague. Photo Els Zweerink.
  • Villa E-1027, Eileen Gray, 1926-1929, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France. Photo Manuel Bougot.
  • Tim Benton at Villa Stenersen with from left to right Le Corbusier curator Bruno Hubert, Jean-François Dobelle, French ambassador and Villa Stenersen supporter and Karin Hindsbo, Director of The National Museum.
  • Tim Benton giving his lecture at Villa Stenersen in Oslo.
  • Cologne, from left to right Sophia Ungers, Tim Benton, Anja Sieber-Albers, Dr. Marcus Dekiert, Director of the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum. Photo Heidrun Hertel.
  • Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne.
  • Visiting Sonneveld House in Rotterdam.
  • Visiting De Kiefhoek housing estate in Rotterdam.
  • Dinner prior to Rotterdam lecture. From left to right: Huub Wüst, treasurer Iconic Houses Foundation, Hetty Berens (board member IHF), Tim Benton and Natascha Drabbe (Founding Director IHF).
  • Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam.
  • Tim Benton and Hetty Berens, lecture hall Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam. 
  • Maria Szadkowska and Tim Benton in Villa Müller, Prague. Photo Els Zweerink.
  • Tim Benton, speaking in Villa Müller’s Documentation and Study Centre in Prague. Photo Els Zweerink.
  • David Cysař, Tim Benton and Kristina Cysařová in front of Villa Winternitz in Prague. Photo Els Zweerink.
  • Tim Benton and Iveta Černá in from of Villa Tugendhat’s onyx wall, Brno. Photo Els Zweerink.
  • Lecture Tim Benton in Villa Tugendhat. Photo Els Zweerink.
  • Tim Benton and Sylva Schwarzenegger, granddaughter of architect Jiří Kroha. Photo Els Zweerink.
  • Tim Benton and Sylva Schwarzenegger, granddaughter of architect Jiří Kroha. Photo Els Zweerink.
  • Tim Benton and Sylva Schwarzenegger, granddaughter of architect Jiří Kroha. Photo Els Zweerink.
  • Tim Benton at the Kroha House in Brno with Kroha’s duaghter and granddaughter. Photo Els Zweerink.
  • Tim Benton in Prague. Photo Els Zweerink.
  • Villa E-1027, Eileen Gray, 1926-1929, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France. Photo Manuel Bougot.
  • Tim Benton at Villa Stenersen with from left to right Le Corbusier curator Bruno Hubert, Jean-François Dobelle, French ambassador and Villa Stenersen supporter and Karin Hindsbo, Director of The National Museum.
  • Tim Benton giving his lecture at Villa Stenersen in Oslo.
  • Cologne, from left to right Sophia Ungers, Tim Benton, Anja Sieber-Albers, Dr. Marcus Dekiert, Director of the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum. Photo Heidrun Hertel.
  • Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne.
  • Visiting Sonneveld House in Rotterdam.
  • Visiting De Kiefhoek housing estate in Rotterdam.
  • Dinner prior to Rotterdam lecture. From left to right: Huub Wüst, treasurer Iconic Houses Foundation, Hetty Berens (board member IHF), Tim Benton and Natascha Drabbe (Founding Director IHF).
  • Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam.
  • Tim Benton and Hetty Berens, lecture hall Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam. 
  • Maria Szadkowska and Tim Benton in Villa Müller, Prague. Photo Els Zweerink.
  • Tim Benton, speaking in Villa Müller’s Documentation and Study Centre in Prague. Photo Els Zweerink.
  • David Cysař, Tim Benton and Kristina Cysařová in front of Villa Winternitz in Prague. Photo Els Zweerink.
  • Tim Benton and Iveta Černá in from of Villa Tugendhat’s onyx wall, Brno. Photo Els Zweerink.
  • Lecture Tim Benton in Villa Tugendhat. Photo Els Zweerink.
  • Tim Benton and Sylva Schwarzenegger, granddaughter of architect Jiří Kroha. Photo Els Zweerink.
  • Tim Benton and Sylva Schwarzenegger, granddaughter of architect Jiří Kroha. Photo Els Zweerink.
  • Tim Benton and Sylva Schwarzenegger, granddaughter of architect Jiří Kroha. Photo Els Zweerink.
  • Tim Benton at the Kroha House in Brno with Kroha’s duaghter and granddaughter. Photo Els Zweerink.

In support of a crowdfunding campaign to help restoring the furniture in E-1027 -with only 10 days left- the topic of our annual Iconic Houses lecture was the Modernist villa that Eileen Gray designed and built on the French coastline. Architectural Historian Tim Benton toured Oslo, Cologne, Rotterdam, Prague and Brno in October to present the house to our fans and followers and screen a film about the restoration of the villa of the past two years. For those who have missed the lecture, it can be watched now in our video section or here below. And Tim Benton shares his diary with us of his journey.

Tim Benton's lecture in Rotterdam
 

Tuesday 8 October
Setting off full of hope, I was met at the Central Station Oslo by Gudrun Eidsvik, Curator in the Department for Architecture of the National Museum, who runs Villa Stenersen, and who had kindly come to meet me. We went straight to the Architecture Museum Library, where I worked on the Norwegian journal Byggekunst. Next morning, Talette Simonsen came to meet me at the hotel and we spent the morning working in the Archive. I then had lunch with Professor Espen Søbye the biographer of Rolf Stenersen, patron of the Stenersen villa.
Arriving at the Stenersen villa, I found it already full of people, inspecting the exhibition of Le Corbusier’s photographs and drawings on holiday at the Bassin d’Arcachon – an exhibition I had opened with its creator, Bruno Hubert, a few months previously. I recognized many of the visitors, who had heard me lecture on E-1027 already. The lecture went well, I think, with some interesting questions, followed by the projection of Vincent Cattaneo’s film on the restoration of Villa E-1027. There were about 60 people present, which is as many as the living room of the Villa Stenersen can hold. Afterwards, there was a beautiful dinner with a dozen friends of the Villa Stenersen, in the living room of the Villa.

Wednesday 10 October
Uneventful flight to Cologne-Bonn where I was met by Sophia Ungers, Director of the Ungers Archive for Architectural Studies and Haus Ungers, who took me to the Archive. This is housed in the house that Ungers adapted and extended over time. The core of the archive is a magnificent library, rich with historical and architectural references and a wonderful collection of architectural treatises and books. Sophia had decided to show Gray Matters (75 minutes) instead of the Vincent Cattaneo film (40 minutes) on the restoration of E-1027. This made for a long evening but the audience (around 120 people) paid close attention and seemed interested. Afterwards, I was treated to a splendid dinner and met a number of interesting people.

Thursday 11 October
No rest for the wicked! I took an early train to Rotterdam and was met by Natascha Drabbe, founder of the Iconic Houses network and organizer of this tour, who kindly gave up her day to show me round the Sonneveld House (very interesting comparison with both the Villa Stenersen and E-1027). We were also given a personal tour of the Kiefhoek housing estate, including the specimen house, which has been restored to its original condition. Hetty Berens, Curator of the Sonneveld House and my host in Rotterdam, welcomed a full auditorium at the New Institute (120 people). I was surprised and delighted to find Christian Müller in the audience, whose drawings featured in my presentation. I had fascinating conversations with him at the reception afterwards and we promised to stay in touch.

Friday 12 and Saturday 13 October
Then it was a morning train to Paris, where I intended to stay home for two days. But on the spur of the moment decided to fly a day earlier to Prague, a city I had not visited since 1973. The photographer Els Zweerink, who was documenting this part of the trip for the Iconic Houses organization, was waiting for me at Prague airport and we went together to the Documentation Centre of Villa Müller, a few meters from the villa. There then followed an intense programme of photography over the next couple of days, in which Els and I were given privileged access to a number of houses by Adolf Loos and Jože Plečnik’s pupil Otto Rothmayer (Villa Rothmayer). We began with a long walk around the Baba estate, an exhibition housing estate with many modern villas in various states of decay or restoration. After this, we visited the National Museum for contemporary art, which is housed in the former Trade Fair building by Oldřich Tyl and Josef Fuchs. We saw a moving presentation of the films and photographs of Joseph Koudelka of the Warsaw pact occupation of Prague. We were offered splendid accommodation in the documentation centre, complete with a little kitchen where we could prepare breakfast.

Sunday 14 October
We were able to spend time in the Villa Müller, with the help of Zuzana Hronková, to take some photographs but, more importantly, get a feel for the house. There is so much there that one or two hours is not enough. I decided to return there on Monday and take more photographs. My hard disk is groaning under the weight of wonderful images of Adolf Loos’s masterpiece with its state-of-the-art restoration. We were shown round the Villa Winternitz, which is a simpler and more economical version of the Villa Müller but with some interesting features. The family are trying to restore it bit by bit and have an imaginative cultural programme of events in the house. Daniel Verner, who has studied the building, and the owners, were our guides. Then we were lucky enough to be shown an apartment that Loos had designed for Richard Hirsch in Pilsen and that had been transferred and reconstructed in Prague. The owner Vladimír Lekeš, of what is now called the Adolf Loos Apartment and Gallery, showed us round and explained how he had acquired furniture and artefacts to complete the interior. This is a very impressive achievement.
The lecture took place in the exhibition space in the Documentation Centre, where a small but interested audience filled the available seating.

Monday 15 October
We caught the train to Brno and were met at the station by Iveta Černá, Director of the Villa Tugendhat and a member of the International Advisory Board of Iconic Houses network, who took us straight to the villa for a first look. The light was so good that we spent time taking photographs. Iveta then introduced us to the daughter and granddaughter of Jiří Kroha, in the house he had designed in 1930. The house is a time capsule of avant-garde culture, including many of Kroha’s paintings, drawings and furniture. The lecture, which was simultaneously translated, took place in one of the functional spaces in the Villa Tugendhat, with an attentive and knowledgeable audience.
Next day, we visited the Jurkovic House and the Brno exhibition grounds, before flying back to London where I had a seminar to give at the Architectural Association. Our Brno stay was made highly agreeable by Iveta Černá, who drove us everywhere and fed us generously. Our hotel was the leading example of the 1960s modern manner known in Brno as the ‘Brussels style’.
I want to thank Natascha Drabbe for her initiative and meticulous planning of this trip which will leave a lasting trace, not only in my memory, but also on thousands of digital images.

Posted 1 November 2018