The flats of Martha and Wilhelm Hirsch and their son Richard
1907–1908 / 1927–1930

Plachého 812/6 (Plzeň) Plzeň Jižní Předměstí
GPS: 49.7431775N, 13.3710892E

Behind the Historicist facade of the three-storey house at No. 6 Plachého Street, originally designed by Eduard Jahl in 1886 for Karel Komáreck and his wife Agrippina, was concealed Adolf Loos’ first realised Pilsen interior – an apartment for Wilhelm Hirsch. Hirsch had come across the architect’s work via his sister Rosa, who in Vienna had married into the family of one of Loos’ closest friends, the journalist Karel Kraus. Loos had designed the Vienna apartment interior for Rosa and Alfred Kraus in 1905. Two years later in February, he came to Pilsen for the first time to view the house, part of which had been bought in 1898 by Wilhelm’s father, Richard Hirsch, co-founder of an important local wire manufacturing mill. According to the testimony of Martha Hirschová, the famous architect sketched the design of the five-room flat in a few moments and it was executed within a year in almost unmodified form. Today it can be admired only in archival photographs showing three interconnected, luxuriously furnished social rooms.  

Here Loos employed for the first time a layout based on joining spaces into larger units. He subsequently implemented the same principle in the majority of his other realisations in Pilsen and elsewhere, connecting individual rooms by means of large openings through the former partition walls, which he usually accentuated with the use of prominent pillars and transoms. In the Hirsch flat, Loos joined the dining and living rooms by this means and set a small space between them, which was used as a winter garden. He also cut other symmetrical apertures in the original wall separating the two rooms, thus creating surprising views through them while maintaining a sense of a flowing, unified space, which he further emphasised by “stringing” the main rooms (living room, children’s room and bedroom) along a lengthwise axis.  

The aesthetic impression of the interiors was also enhanced by the architect’s skilful use of a range of precious materials, which he favoured for their noble appearance and timelessness. In the Hirschs’ dining room he combined mahogany-panelled walls with Skyrian marble and placed a massive fireplace of the same material symmetrically in the centre of the room. The walls and planters in the adjacent winter garden were adorned with the same marble, and the dominance of the material gave that space a distinctly classical feel. In contrast, the living room with a brick fireplace and coffered cherry-wood panelling referred to the Anglo-Saxon patterns favoured by Loos. He terminated the southern, street-facing section of the flat with the children’s room and the parent’s bedroom. A new bathroom, accessible both from the hallway and directly from the bedroom, was designed and installed by the Pilsen firm Müller & Kapsa. The service areas of the kitchen and laundry room, accessed via a separate staff staircase, were situated in the courtyard section of the flat (as they probably had been even before Loos’ design). In the same section was a veranda, the modification of which Loos had most likely already designed in 1907, though it was only executed twenty years later when his collaborator, Pilsen industrial school professor Karel Lhota, took on the job of renovation. The furnishing of the veranda as well as the adjacent lady’s boudoir is conspicuously reminiscent of the interiors of Villa Müller in Prague, the design of which both architects were working on at that time.  

In the subsequent years, the Hirschs’ Pilsen builder, Karel Leibl, carried out minor repairs and alterations to the house (concerning the drains and facade, for example). In 1935–1936, the same Leibl was site manager of the modification of the second floor into a bachelor’s flat for the Hirschs’ son, Richard. The smallish, two-room flat with a bathroom and a balcony facing the garden had no kitchen, because the parents’ staff served the young gentleman. The bedroom and living room were situated on the street-side section. A room with a raised relaxation nook panelled in oak was furnished with free-standing and built-in furniture with a range of clever functional features, such as a fold-down writing desk and a built-in bar. 

In 1937–1938, Karel Leibl built an extension to the courtyard wing of the house with garages and other service spaces. The construction project also included modification of the garden with the addition of a gazebo with an air-raid shelter, illustrating the then widespread fear of imminent war. In 1939, Richard’s parents managed to flee from the Nazis via Israel to Australia, while Richard and his wife found refuge in Argentina. Following the war, the American Institute had headquarters in the house on Plachého Street and in later years it was adapted into a youth centre. The building is today owned by the City of Pilsen, which is leasing out part of the property. Most of the furnishings of Wilhelm and Marta’s apartment were lost during WWII and a 1962 reconstruction of the flat. The only feature that was preserved was the ceiling beams in the dining room, from which a massive chandelier, called a “snow boiler” by Loos, had previously hung. Parts of Richard Hirsch’s flat, on the contrary, can still be appreciated today. The apartment is occasionally open to the public, although only a handful of original architectural features remain (the built-in furniture of the bedroom). A large part of the original furnishings was moved to Prague, where since 2010 its has been installed in the interior of the privately-owned Adolf Loos Apartment and Gallery.


LV

Investor

Martha and Wilhelm Hirsch

Sources

  • Archiv Odboru stavebně správního, Technický úřad Magistrátu města Plzně
 
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