Helena and Hugo Semler’s apartment
1925–1929 / 1931–1932

Klatovská třída 289/19 (Plzeň) Plzeň Jižní Předměstí
Public transport: U Práce
GPS: 49.7432392N, 13.3724531E

In the first decades of the 20th century, as in the second half of the 19th century, the industrial sphere was ever more important for the development of Pilsen. Together with industry, the importance and social status of Jewish factory owners and entrepreneurs grew. They had in common not only commercial, social and family ties, but also a desire for luxurious, impressive homes. That desire was unfailingly satisfied by Adolf Loos, who was well known in such Pilsen circles, primarily due to his work for the Hirsch and Beck families in 1907–1910. Around 1930, Loos got an order within view of the Becks’ (later the Vogels’) flat (C2–455) from the brothers Hugo and Oskar Semler. Their father, Simon Semler, had bought the house at No. 19 Klatovská Avenue in 1897 and established there the offices of the family firm. After the industrialist’s death in 1922, his sons and heirs decided to modify the house. They first approached Adolf Hrussa, a Viennese architect and then teacher at the German industrial school in Pilsen, to modify the Historicist facade, the indoor staircase and Hugo and Helena Semler's own flat. Hrussa’s design for the living spaces facing the street (lady’s and gentleman’s rooms and a living room) is reminiscent of some of Loos’ earlier Pilsen and Vienna interiors, for example the motif of a mirror set above a built-in sideboard in the dining room.  

Adolf Loos only became involved in 1930, when Hugo Semler asked him to draft plans for elevation of the house by two floors (never realised) and to redesign the interior of the social areas of the flat. This was implemented in 1931–1932 by Loos’ collaborator, Norbert Krieger. Two years later, Hugo Semler engaged the Pilsen builder František Kvasnička, another of Loos’ occasional collaborators, to design the reconstruction of the other parts of the flat. Of the work of all the aforementioned, the furnishings of three residential rooms has been preserved to this day. The panelling  and built-in furniture of the dining room and the gentleman’s room are made of wood with a prominent grain; the lady’s room (which also served as a music parlour) is dominated by wall-cladding of light-coloured marble with a dark vein, which the architect composed into a regularly repeating pattern. Despite being the author of the essay Ornament and Crime, Loos was fond of using the “natural ornament” of precious construction materials. Effective architectural details of the parlour consist of the marble cladding of the walls broken by the doorway, built-in shelves and an elm-wood rail lining the cladding, emphasised by a cornice of the same material around the perimeter of the room beneath the ceiling. This feature is repeated in the adjacent gentleman’s room and in the dining room. Here Loos put into play his cherished motif of mirroring spaces by means of placing a sideboard designed by Adolf Hrussa on the same line as a brick fireplace (inspired by early 20th century English villa architecture) in an alcove between two pilasters in the lady’s room opposite.

In 1941, two years after Hugo Semler and his family’s forced emigration to Canada, the German army staff headquarters were set up in the house. At the end of the war it was the scene of the dramatic negotiations on German surrender, culminating in the suicide of the garrison commander, Lt. General Georg von Majewski. In 1949, the former owners applied for restitution of the house, which, however, remained the property of the state and was used up to 2006 for army administration purposes. Then the ownership of the house was transferred to the City of Pilsen on the condition that it would be reconstructed within ten years. Although this requirement has not yet been fulfilled, some Pilsen councillors are making efforts to keep the building and its valuable interior in the city’s ownership. Plans were drafted, as yet unrealised, for restoration of the interior, which has been listed as a heritage site since 1969. The author of the plans was Václav Girsa, who supervised renovation of the Villa Müller as well as the interior of the Vogels’ apartment at No. 12 Klatovská Avenue (C2–455). There is still a question mark, however, over the future function of the space (the establishment of a Liberation Museum has been considered, for example) and, more importantly, over funding of the costly reconstruction. 


LV

Investor

Helena and Hugo Semler

Sources

  • Archiv Odboru stavebně správního, Technický úřad Magistrátu města Plzně
 
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