Garden apartment house of Jana and Oskar Semler with a built-in maisonette flat
1923–1924 / 1931–1934

Klatovská třída 721/110 (Plzeň) Plzeň Jižní Předměstí
GPS: 49.7332279, 13.3696424

Probably the best-known of Loos’ architectural realizations in Pilsen was created to order for Oskar Semler and his wife Jana. Oskar and his brother Hugo were the owners of the family firm Šimon Semler, drátovna a kujné hutě a továrna jehel, which had several manufacturing plants located throughout Czechoslovakia. The company specialised in making wire goods and the popular SEM brand gramophone needles. Its offices were situated in No. 19 Klatovská Avenue, where Hugo lived in an interior modified by Adolf Loos. The famous architect was also meant to design a two-storey superstructure for the house, in which Oskar intended to establish his own residential space. Although the plan was not executed, Oskar Semler did not abandon the idea of a flat furnished by Loos. When, in 1932, he and his wife bought the house at No. 110 Klatovská Avenue from the Pension Institute for Clerks of the Joint Stock Company, formerly Škoda Works, which had been built in 1923–1924 for the company’s employees, he commissioned Loos to design the installation of his own flat. 

The Semlers’ flat is important in that it is the only implementation in Pilsen of Loos’ raumplan concept of apartment architecture. This spatial layout of the interior, known from Loos’ villas, consists of an arrangement of spaces with varied clear heights corresponding to their functions and importance. Nevertheless, this arrangement evokes the impression of a unified whole. Loos’ notion of the three-dimensional composition of the interior of a house was not entirely new: a similar arrangement of interior spaces had been applied in public buildings in the 19th century. What was revolutionary was Loos’ introduction of these principles into private interiors. Loos had been developing his concept since around 1910, but it was his student and later close collaborator, Heinrich Kulka, who first coined the term raumplan, and Kulka also drew the plans for the Semlers’ flat (perhaps on the basis of Loos’ original layout). The grandly conceived apartment, executed in 1932–1934 by Müller & Kapsa, was spread out over three floors of the west wing of the house. In the northern part of this area a service extension was built with a staircase and an entrance lobby and a terrace was created on the roof of the extension. The entrance area was lit from above and clad in stone. 

In the adjacent part of the flat, Heinrich Kulka applied a theatrical design of the space according to the pattern of his mentor – the visitor was led from a darker, narrow space via a lowered living area with seating and a gas fireplace to a high, illuminated central hall. The grand space, spread out over two floors, was lit by large windows with opaque grainy glass. The window alcoves were used as small conservatories. The walls were panelled with Canadian birch, and a built-in bar close to the large fireplace in the western wall of the room was made of the same wood. There was free-standing seating furniture placed before the stone-clad fireplace. The opposite wall was dominated by a huge 18th century Tibetan canvas, The Life of Tsongkhapa. The painting, which Kulka had discovered in Vienna, is now in the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. A small staircase led to a gallery with bookshelves and a coffered ceiling painted in gold and Venetian red and also to the other ground-floor parts of the flat. On the Hruškova Street side of the flat, the architect situated a corner gentleman’s room, a terrace that served as a summertime dining area and the main, octagonal dining room. Its ground plan was derived from the shape of the western bay, which Kulka emphasised with a two-tone pattern of oak parquet flooring. He subordinated the mahogany dining-room furniture to axial symmetry, placing a built-in sideboard with a mirror opposite the entrance and covering the windows with a Japonaiserie grid.  

The architect situated service rooms in the space behind the dining room: maids’ rooms, a kitchen and a food-preparation area. From here an iron staircase for the staff led to the upper residential floor, which was also accessible via a staircase leading from the gallery in the hall. A central cloakroom led to the private rooms. Kulka situated a governess’ room connected to two children’s rooms for the Semlers’ three sons. The rooms had green painted wooden panelling and built-in beds and wardrobes. The parents’ living quarters were connected by a separate hallway and a joint bathroom with a large bath was situated between the lady's and gentleman's bedrooms. The lady's bedroom occupied a corner room and had wood panelling and built-in maple furniture and access to a balcony, also accessible from the gentleman’s bedroom, which was dominated by a marble fireplace with a mirror mounted above it. The remainder of the first floor with sanitary facilities was conceived as a staff area. The entire flat was equipped with a number of technical conveniences, such as a dumb waiter and coal lift. 

In 1938–1939, the Pilsen builder Karel Leibl erected in the north-western corner of the grounds an underground two-car garage with a flat roof that served as a terrace for drying laundry. Shortly after completion of the construction work, the political situation forced Oskar Semler and his family to emigrate to Australia and the house was confiscated by the Nazis. After the war, the Semlers applied unsuccessfully for restitution of the building; in 1950 it became the property of the city and later of the state. Although the Semlers’ grand apartment was listed in 1969 as a cultural monument, over the years it was divided into smaller flats and the hall served as a classroom and later as a photographic studio. Despite the destruction of a significant part of the interior and its furniture caused by the creation of the new flats, an important portion of the built-in features and panelling was preserved.

Since 2012, the whole building has been administered by the Gallery of West Bohemia in Pilsen, which is attempting to restore the Semlers’ apartment to its original condition. The objective is not only to open the interior to the public, but also to establish a scholarly centre for research into 19th and 20th century architecture. The concept also includes the creation of a new permanent Loos exhibition and a venue for cultural events.  


LV

Investor

Jana and Oskar Semler

Sources

  • Archiv Odboru stavebně správního, Technický úřad Magistrátu města Plzně
 
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