The original (very ambitious) plan was to cover the whole region of South Moravia. However, in Brno, there are so many interesting places that we decided to stay there for the whole weekend. Our next MINI tips are thus from Brno. We paid particular attention to Villa Tugendhat where we spent some time in the gardens after a spoken guide tour. We will never get enough of this functionalist beauty.
Before our trip our friends from Brno gave us a long list of cafés to visit - cafés founded in the last two years. We chose to cover three of them for you – SKØG Urban Hub, Industra Coffee and Šestá větev. We enjoyed their environment, pleasant service and mainly the great coffee. In Industra Coffee, we even satisfied our cravings for ice cream, surprisingly, thanks to Nanuky Praha (Lollies Prague).
In the late afternoon, we set off to Kraví hora, swam in the pool with an amazing overview of the city and walked through the local villa quarter. We admired every house! On the last day we visited Pokojík – a small pop-up store on the Smetanova Street, packed with beautiful pieces we would love to get for our home.
Brno was at its peak in the 1920s and 30s. It became the second biggest Czech city and the Moravian centre. It grew and literally blossomed. It was during the time when the second wave of functionalism was developing in the world. During these years, dozens of breath-taking buildings were built in Brno by world-class architects. Some of them were Bohuslav Fuchs, Ernst Wiesner and in 1929 even Ludwig Mies van der Rohe - the greatest practitioner of this modern style. Masaryk’s First Republic was known worldwide as an example of a prosperous, liberal and modern state.
Villa Tugendhat was built on order by the Tugendhat married couple in the villa quarter Černá pole. Fritz and Greta Tugendhat were upper class, coming from the very wealthy families of Brno’s factory owners. Thus, when they decided to have a villa built after their wedding day, they didn’t hesitate and addressed renowned architect Mies van der Rohe whose work they loved.
Rumour has it that the architect was originally sceptical but as soon as he saw the place in person he fell in love with it. He was surprised by the fantastic view, large garden with tall trees along with Brno’s functionalism. He accepted the order in 1930 and Brno gained the most important building of the modern architecture in the state. Along with Corbusier’s Villa Savoye, the building belongs amongst the most popular European constructions of this style. Many other inventors were inspired by it and it influenced the development of architecture for many years.
Despite the fact that the married couple didn’t occupy the villa for long (they were forced to leave in 1938 because of their Jewish background and they moved to Switzerland), they loved the house and they described living in it as a ‘freedom oasis’. The genius of this building lies in the way it was designed – while Corbusier in Villa Savoye tested how far he could go in functionalism and made a building that was very impractical for living in, Mies van der Rohe managed to perfect the idea of functionalism. Villa offered modernist furnishing and unique materials but the most pressing concern of the architect was the family with three children living inside it and their needs. He managed to design a villa suitable for a modern-thinking factory foreman with a family house. All of the furniture and equipment were made for the villa and it can be considered as a truly complex work.
During the war the villa was occupied by SS units and later on it was insensitively run by the communists. A lot of the original furnishing was stolen and very likely ended up in offices. The famous onyx wall – an invaluable unique interior element dividing the study room from the living part of the house – was moved to a school canteen in Brno.
The situation got better around 2000. After Brno declined to return the building to the ancestors of the original owners who were offering to reconstruct it at their own expense (the villa was at the time already on the UNESCO list), the villa was finally reconstructed in 2012. The opening was a huge event for the public and up to now it is hard to get in without an advance booking. If you want to experience the villa differently, we recommend you visiting one of the film projections in the former main living area of Fritz and Greta Tugendhat.
Brno might be the only city that we would recommend you going to even on the hottest day of the year. This is all thanks to one building – the fantastic swimming pool Kraví hora, which is placed in the city centre on top of the hill of the same name. And you know what its location means – an amazing overview of the city.
A public swimming pool was run at the same location from 1969. DRNH architects (born in Brno), however, reconstructed it in 2002. As a result there is a new modern light building from concrete, wood and glass – in other words, a great piece of contemporary architecture. Architects made use of the terrace-like terrain and its great overview. When swimming you can watch the sky, the Špilberk castle and the entire city underneath it. From the other side, the pool is hidden behind the terrain wave and it doesn’t disturb the beautiful park and the villa quarter, which was built in the 1920s.
We would highly recommend visiting in the late afternoon when it’s getting darker as Brno’s lights are being turned on and there are only a few swimmers. That’s when you will enjoy the overview, quiet and water splashing the most.
If you want to enjoy a great cup of coffee outside of Prague, you no longer have to carry your own French press in your backpack. Brno, for example, has been raising its game when it comes to cafés for the last couple of years.
Lovers of the Scandinavian design will enjoy SKØG Urban Hub at the Dominikánské Square. SKØG has a great atmosphere – white brick walls, old wooden and squeaking floor, pleasant staff and young guests. Add the great coffee (we recommend SKØG Brew!) and homemade lemonades and you can spend here the whole afternoon.
Other places also deserve your visit. Industra Coffee (as you can guess from its name) is located in the former industrial area of factories/freezing houses. It is very close to the city centre but the atmosphere is very different. You walk through a gatehouse, up a former loading ramp on metal stairs and there it is – a very nice and light space with homemade ice cream, excellent coffee and a side gallery with exhibition space. It appears like a vision.
If you prefer a cosier and more intimate environment, try café Šestá větev. It is a tiny space with a big window, nice baristas and great coffee. They all know each other, have their quick espresso and run to work so they could drop by again in the afternoon for a glass of wine. Ideal life in Brno!
There are of course many cafés in Brno but you shouldn’t miss these three. It it thanks to them that Brno has been experiencing a coffee revolution.
SKØG Urban Hub
Monday - Thursday: 08:00 - 01:00
Friday: 08:00 - 02:00
Saturday: 10:00 - 02:00
Sunday: 14:00 - 22:00
Wednesday - Saturday: 13:00 - 19:00
Sunday: 10:00 - 19:00
Monday - Friday: 10:00 - 23:00
Pokojík in Brno is made for all the lovers of beautiful things. You can find there everything from good-quality clothes, jewellery, home accessories, picnic equipment, inspirational reading and much more behind the stylish window on the Smetanova Street.
Andrea Lojkásková and Jana Longaverová are the ones behind its unique concept. There is also graphic designer Tomáš Procházka in their team who is the author of the simple visual identity of Pokojík. They collectively choose local and foreign brands and talented designers whose products they present in pop-up thematic collections that are available at the store for 2-4 months. The launch of a new collection is a very special event, which is always held in different places.
During our visit in Pokojík we admired Ykra backpacks and Balkanova woollen blankets as well as the 38 HOURS paper guide, whose content is compiled by bloggers, journalists, and photographers from different countries. This year’s pop-up event was based on traveling – called Traveling / Nature & City. It was available in Pokojík by mid-August and was communicated to the public via nice-looking posters. The event was launched in KUK bistro in Mikulov, who provided exquisite catering. Andrea and her team pay attention to every detail. In the store’s space they have arranged a couple of workshops, too. Those who attended learnt how to tie flowers and make their own natural cosmetics.
When it came to choosing a professional from the region for interview, we again decided to choose architects. We spent nearly an hour in the office of Ondřej Chybík and Michal Krištof. We had a very interesting chat about Brno’s public space and architecture but we were also recommended nice dining in MFG bistro in the city centre and ERA café nearby the Villa Tugendhat, which are the architects’ favourites. We tried both places and we were really delighted.
Ondřej and Michal graduated from the Faculty of Architecture at Brno University of Technology. In 2010 they founded Chybik+Kristof Associated Architects studio. Both architects have co-worked on a range of international projects with one of their most interesting projects being the Czech pavilion at EXPO 2015 in Milan.
What signature did your studio put on the architecture of the public space of Brno?
Our first project in Brno was ‘Nádraží v centru’ (Station at the centre). We were invited to it by Občanská koalice Nádraží v Centru (civil coalition Station at the Centre) who does not agree with the displacement of the main station in Brno, which has been a hot topic for almost a hundred years. The coalition needed to prove that the station’s position in the city centre is not a negative thing. The station can work as a high-quality public space. The ballast and the clump of rails can create an exceptionally aesthetical space, which will become a full-fledged part of the city, comparable to, for example, Zurich. Also, we worked with the Moravian gallery in Brno and prepared a strategy of its gradual reconstruction and how to become more accessible to the public at the same time. We are happy about this project because we have turned the originally closed courtyard of the Governor’s Palace into a public square, which has now become a new cultural city space. Then we focused on the southern centre. There is a greenfield of several hectares. We were annoyed that nothing was happening there and that’s why we came up with the plan to organise events there and it is slowly being realised. These projects belong amongst our would-be architectural activism.
But you also have some commercial projects in the city, right?
It is true that we have commercial projects as well. One of out first contracts was a family house for a young family. The house was to follow the terrain. We wanted to connect the life inside with the outdoor environment as much as possible. This project will be realised this year. A bigger project awaits us next year - it is an administrative five-floor building that is supposed to work as a poly-functional building on the corner of the Mlýnská and Masná Streets in the former industrial zone in Brno, which is slowly coming to life again. We will also be preparing a showroom for the ‘My dva’ company in the Žarožická Street in Vinohrady that makes Czech furniture. It is interesting that the façade of the showroom will be comprised of chairs made by the company. What is more, we are working on the plan of a café in the city centre. We want to take this in an avant-garde way. It is something of a paradox that we mainly seem to get bigger projects outside of Brno.
What are your favourite bistros, cafés and other places in Brno?
We like going to the MFG bistro that is run by our former urbanism teacher who used to always during lectures exalt the Italian style of creating cities, and his bistro induces the atmosphere of narrow Italian streets. Café Steiner belongs to the old classics in Brno. Our other favourite cafés are Flexaret, Tunsgram, Morgal and Era. We always go for a pint to ‘Výčep Na Stojáka’ or ‘U Poutníka’ on the Starobrněnská Street.
How is the collaboration with the city? Are the city representatives open to your suggestions about the usage of the public space?
There has been a big change thanks to the last communal elections, where Matěj Hollan’s party ‘Žít Brno’ (Live Brno) was successful. We have previously collaborated with Matěj on the projects around the southern centre and thanks to him and other new city representatives our activist projects, which used to end up in a drawer, have become current again and started to develop in the right way. It is connected to our next initiative ‘Živé město’ (City Alive) that aims at collecting information from certain subjects in the city centre – to map their needs, ideas, and projects that think about to communicate them onwards. City alive should work as a positive think tank for the further development of the city centre.
What is your opinion on the controversial constructions in Brno – the ‘astronomical’ clock in Brno and the shopping centre LETMO opposite to the main station?
The ‘astronomical’ clock was designed by our friend Petr Kameník and academic painter Oldřich Rujbr, after they won an architectural competition. In our opinion, their object is a thoughtful full-fledged sculpture, whose meaning is, unfortunately, met with a mainstream interpretation. Compared to it, the shopping centre opposite the main station is a banal building. It has an attractive façade at first sight; however, its possible functions are very limited because of the lack of windows. For example, flats and offices require a sufficient amount of natural light. There is one and only purpose of this building – to be a shopping centre. It was built according to an old European model of shopping centres that cannot compete with the nearby Vaňkovka, which was built on the basis of the more modern concept of American shopping malls. If the building lost its use as a shopping centre, the owner would hardly find another utilization for it.
The last question we prepared is quite predictable for Brno: what do you think of Brno’s functionalism?
I had this question of Brno and its functionalism for my state exams and it is very vast so you cannot cover everything and satisfy the professors who have a liking for functionalism. Lately I hear opinions that Brno’s functionalism, if we manage to continue preserving it as we are now, will become in one hundred years as important as baroque architecture in Rome. Brno’s functionalism positively affects local people’s general knowledge of architecture. Most of the local kids develop their relationship to the contemporary architecture from a young age, on the grounds of growing up in the unique city environment of Brno.
(Ondřej Chybík and Michal Krištof, founders of the studio Chybik+Kristof Associated Architects)