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Villa Müller

A Journey into Raumplan

Personal Reflection - Sep 2023

Illustration of of Villa Muller

It has been a while since I wanted to visit Villa Müller, mainly because it perfectly embodies the concept of Raumplan, which has intrigued me for quite some time. Raumplan is a three-dimensional spatial approach that intricately connects multiple levels together, creating an interwoven arrangement of spaces. This approach is closely linked with the modernist architect Adolf Loos who designed Villa Müller — a house built in 1929.

When the opportunity to visit Prague came up, I promptly booked a tour of the house in advance. I was eager to experience "Raumplan", even though the idea wasn't entirely foreign to me, given that I had previously lived in a house where the rooms, interconnected by staircases of varying lengths, were distributed across levels, in contrast to conventional floors. But still, this experience couldn't match the complexity of Villa Müller.

I hopped on the tram to get there, which was pretty easy since it's not far from the city center. The house sits on a steep hill in Prague's suburb called Střešovice. From the outside, the villa presents itself as a plain white cube, with only its yellow-framed windows punctuating the facade. For me, it was a clear representation of Loos's philosophy against ornamentation, much akin to a living manifesto

As I stepped inside, I could feel the impending transition. – a bit like change was in the air. Outside, it appeared simple, but indoors, it revealed intricacy. I noticed all these details that seemed to pop out – like the unexpected use of colours, the deliberate fusion of various furniture styles, and the presence of rich materials. Additionally, there were quite a few stairs within the house. It occurred to me that one must possess a degree of physical fitness to inhabit this residence, given the multitude of stairs that traverse the house in varying directions.

Each room's size seemed to match how significant it was. The living room, being the pivotal gathering place, occupied the largest space within the villa. Along with that, The arrangement of spaces around the house appears to have been planned in terms of having indoor views. The Dining Room had a view of the Living Room, the central staircase overlooked the Dining Room, and ultimately, the lady’s room had a peek at the living room.

I felt an unusual sensation as I walked into the house. It might be common to feel this way when you're experiencing a physical space you've only seen in pictures before. However, for me, there was something more to it – a connection I traced back to Beatriz Colomina's thought-provoking essay, "The Split Wall: Domestic Voyeurism." The way she described this place had stayed with me. In her essay, Colomina provides some intriguing insights about the gender distinctions present in Adolf Loos's architectural designs. Loos was a product of his time, no doubt about it. But what Colomina hints at is that he might have amplified these notions in his creations.

In the Müller house, the sequence of spaces around the staircase becomes progressively more private, starting from the living room to the dining room, library and ultimately the lady’s room. The lower public areas, defined by their furnishings and atmosphere, have a male connotation. In contrast, the lady’s room and the bedroom emanates a more domestic ambiance. I noticed that the bedroom, behold the most curious arrangement: two dressing rooms, placed at opposite ends, one for Mr. Müller and one for Mrs. Müller. Yet, the lady's dressing room has a passage, a portal of sorts, that leads straight into the children's room. Could this subtle architecural gesture signify a symbolic role where women are the mystical guardians and caretakers of the household's heart?.

Another interesting aspect to note is the positioning of the lady's room right in the core of the house. What’s particularly notable in this room is the window that opens up to the social areas within the house. This strategic vantage point, resembling a theatre box, provides a clear view, allowing for easy observation of any potential visitors. This arrangement seems like it could have offered Mrs. Müller a sense of control over her surroundings. However, as pointed out by Colomina, this arrangement has a dual effect. While it might have provided control, it also draws the most attention simultaneously. When you enter the house, your gaze is somewhat unsettled until it lands on the elevated alcove, inevitably casting the lady in this space as an object under the male gaze.

As the spaces around the house are arranged with a consideration for gazes , those who lived there might have been both actors and spectators. In their actor role, they could be seen; in their spectator role, they gained the opportunity to observe. However, what truly intrigued me was how this dynamic has shifted after nearly a century. Now, we who visit the house take on the role of observers, while the house itself has been transformed into the object of observation.

There are two other things about Adolf Loos which I found interesting enough to share it here:

1- During the tour, the guide mentioned to us that Loos had been married three times, and surprisingly, none of his marriages lasted more than two years. His last wife, Claire Beck, a photographer and writer, even authored a memoir discussing Loos. The guide shared that this book actually made her harbor negative feelings towards Loos. Perhaps something worth reading this autumn.

2- I read somewhere that Adolf Loos suffered from a hearing impairment. Just two weeks ago, I got an ear infection that temporarily muffled my right ear for a few days. This made me acutely aware of how our sense of space can be profoundly affected. I felt a sense of disconnection and a subtle loss of control because I couldn't fully perceive what was happening in my surroundings. This personal experience led me to reflect on Loos and his concept of Raumplan again. When we design spaces, we are, in essence, expressing our understanding of space itself. Considering that Loos may have grappled with a hearing impairment from a young age, it's plausible that his unique perspective influenced his approach to spatial design. Deliberately creating spaces that overlooked each other to offer visual access could have been a way for him to compensate for any hearing challenges he may have faced.

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