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Mies van der Rohe masterpiece at risk

Mies van der Rohe's crumbling Tugendhat House, one of the finest early Modernist buildings in the world, may be in danger of collapse.

Despite being added to Unesco's World Heritage List in 2001, the 1930s masterpiece in Brno - the Czech Republic's second largest city - is decaying and beset with subsidence problems.

Restoration, estimated at £7.5 million, is being handicapped by a bitter ownership battle between Brno City Council and the heirs of the original owners, Fritz and Grete Tugendhat.

Brno Mayor Roman Onderka considers the house a cultural tourist attraction and insists the Tugendhat family lack the expertise and finances to restore the Modernist gem to its former glory - but this is disputed by the family.

Built by German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in 1928, the house is described as 'fundamental to the development of Modern architecture' by Barry Bergdoll, chief curator at New York's Museum of Modern Art.

The design embodies the principles of Modernism: open living spaces, floor-to-ceiling glass walls and column grids instead of load-bearing walls. Other distinctive features include a semicircular wood wall and free-standing solid onyx wall.

Interior finishes and furniture also bears Mies' hallmark, from door knobs and light fittings to Brno chairs - now considered 20th-century design classics.

Since World War II, the Tugendhat has fallen victim to botched restoration efforts and neglect. According to the World Monuments Fund, a portion of the foundations, built on a hillside, are now unstable, causing major cracks in exterior walls.

During the Communist era many of the distinctive interior glass walls were replaced with inferior, smaller sheets leaving 'unsightly' seam lines.

A restoration project began last year but was aborted because of a contractual dispute with builders.

by Clive Walker

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