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In 1927–1932, as part of exhibitions of modern housing organized by the German Werkbund, several model housing estates were built in Stuttgart, Brno, Breslau (today’s Wroclaw), Zurich, Vienna, and Prague. These projects showcased innovative solutions in architectural design and home interiors for rental buildings and single-family homes, and also made use of new construction materials and technology. The Weissenhof Estate in Stuttgart (1927) was followed by a highly specific project in Brno (1928), realized as part of the Exhibition of Contemporary Culture commemorating the tenth anniversary of the founding of Czechoslovakia. In this case, the Czechoslovak Werkbund merely provided its auspices over what otherwise was a purely private development project. Among other things, the exhibition in Breslau (1929) presented the largest number of new construction materials and technologies. In Zurich (1931) the participating architects were limited by a strict urban plan, and in Vienna (1932) they had to accommodate the wishes of their upper-middle-class clientele. In Prague (1932) construction was done entirely in response to communication and compromise between the architect and a specific affluent client, meaning that these exhibitions’ original idea – to provide modern housing for the broader middle classes – remained unfulfilled.

Today, the construction of model estates represents an iconic moment in the history of modern international architecture. Despite their lack of success, especially in economic terms, these exhibitions showcased trends in modern housing culture that are still valid today and that contemporary architects and designers often look to for inspiration. Despite multiple and sometimes deleterious alterations, today all these model housing estates are protected architectural landmarks, are considered prestigious places to live with a high quality of living, and are increasingly popular tourist destinations for architects and the general public alike.

The decision to build the Nový Dům estate at the foot of the Wilson Woods in Brno’s Žabovřesky district was not made by chance. The chosen parcels had been the property of builder František Uherka since 1908, and the Weissenhof Estate in Stuttgart apparently showed him a way of perhaps getting a return on his investment. The Exhibition of Contemporary Culture provided the ideal opportunity to do so. As part of this exhibition – but unlike Stuttgart without any financial support from the Werkbund or from the city – Uherka teamed up with Čeněk Ruller to build the estate as a private undertaking. In the fall of 1927, they invited nine architects to design sixteen terraced or detached single-family homes in line with a general plan elaborated by Bohuslav Fuchs and Jaroslav Grunt, each of whom designed one triplet. Josef Štěpánek (the sole Prague architect), Jan Víšek, and Ernst Wiesner designed semi-detached doubles, and the project’s detached single-family homes were designed by Hugo Foltýn, Jiří Kroha, Miroslav Putna, and Jaroslav Syřiště. (At the time, Foltýn and Putna were still studying architecture at Brno’s technical university.) Construction began in February 1928, and the project was officially unveiled on 2 September 1928. The New House exhibition was the first of its kind in interwar Czechoslovakia and the second in Europe.

The project’s basic character was determined by the builders’ starting requirements: no basements, houses built on pillars, household operations on the ground floor, living spaces on the upper two floors, flat rooftop terraces, built-in furniture, standardized windows and doors, and a rational floorplan. The interior layout was left to the architects. This approach contributed significantly to the houses’ stylistic and typological unity. Except for Jaroslav Syřiště’s brick building, the houses consisted of a reinforced concrete frame with infill using Isostone blocks and Calofrig panels. The objective was an economical housing type offering technical and hygienic comforts that could be mass-produced for the middle classes. One exception was Kroha’s house, which more closely resembled a suburban villa. Most of the architects used Stuttgart as a model, as did the exhibition catalogue designed by Zdeněk Rossmann and Bedřich Václavek.

The New House exhibition ended on 31 October 1928, two weeks after the conclusion of the Exhibition of Contemporary Culture in Czechoslovakia. Visitor levels failed to meet expectations, nor did the exhibition bring the anticipated commercial success, for it failed to meet potential clients’ traditional ideas of housing. This lack of success was compounded by the homes’ high prices and by the fact that some of them were not entirely completed when the exhibition opened. The full cost of construction reached 2,680,084 crowns (excluding the architects’ fees). At a combined volume of 8,380 m3, the cost per cubic meter was 319.80 crowns.

The literature long assumed that the various alterations, both large and small, to the houses were not done until after the Second World War. But this is not so. Uherka himself radically remodeled three of the houses as early as 1939–1942: buildings no. 1001 and no. 1002 (Foltýn and Putna) and no. 1011 (the left half of Štěpánek’s double). To this end, he joined forces with the builder Hynek Smejkal, although their joint business venture ended in 1945 with a long legal dispute.

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