Ten Adam Štěch photographs of "one-of-a-kind" architecture and interior designs

Architecture historian Adam Štěch highlights ten images from his recent exhibition Elements: Unique Details of the 20th Century Architecture and Interior and explains the stories behind them.

The exhibition brought together an edited selection of nearly 3,000 photographs from Štěch’s archive of buildings and interiors and their bespoke details.

Elements: Unique Details of the 20th Century Architecture and Interior was created for Milan design week and provided a welcome respite from the week’s influx of new products.

It was displayed in one of the previously abandoned warehouse tunnels behind Milan Central Station, as part of the Dropcity series of exhibitions.

Over more than 15 years, Štěch estimates he has photographed about 7,000 projects in 45 countries, capturing buildings and interiors that were completed between 1910 and 1980.

“It’s hard to count them all,” Štěch told Dezeen when asked how many photographs are in the ever-evolving archive.

For this exhibition, he focused on ten specific elements from his archive, grouped according to certain details ranging from entrances, windows and handrails to furniture, lighting, fireplaces and surfaces.

“All of these elements were created by architects as one-of-a-kind and bespoke design solutions for specific houses and buildings all around the world,” Štěch said.

“The ultimate selection of elements celebrate the modernist idea of the total work of art, the so-called Gesamtkunstwerk, and tell stories about the versatile skills of modernist architects from Art Nouveau to modernism and beyond.”

The paper-printed photos in the exhibition were folded simply over an aluminium construction, making the show quick to assemble and lightweight and compact to transport.

The images were freely divided into typological sections in which visitors could explore various formal similarities and analyse modernist architecture in its differences and transformations,” explained Štěch.

“My ambition for this project is to create the biggest database of one-of-a-kind designs from specific buildings and interiors captured by a single person and survey a never before seen chapter in the history of applied art.”

Below, Štěch highlights ten featured photographs, one from each of the typological sections of the exhibition:

Leather-covered door in French house

Schlegel and Brunhammer Apartment by Valentine Schlegel, Paris, France, 1970s

“Valentine Schlegel’s vases from the 1950s are among the pinnacle of French post-war artistic ceramics. Despite the fact that her work was largely forgotten, interest in her has increased again recently.

“I visited her own apartment and studio in Paris, which she shared with her friend Yvonne Brunhammer, writer, curator and director of Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. I was there just a few weeks before its interior was completely emptied and sold at auction.

“Designed during the 1970s, her apartment and studio were conceived as an artificial cave, organically modelled by plaster. It was created at the time when she specialised in designing private apartment interiors, which she transformed into organically shaped spaces. I was amazed by the leather-covered door she designed for the space.”

Double window designed by Carlo Scarpa

Grand Hotel Minerva by Carlo Scarpa and Edoardo Detti, Florence, Italy, 1957-1964

“If you talk to architects, many are celebrating Carlo Scarpa as an ‘architect of the detail’. It is also why I focused on his work and have visited almost all of his projects.

“The one which is not so well known is the Grand Hotel Minerva in Florence, which he designed together with the architect Edoardo Detti. The hotel is located in the historical building close to Santa Maria Novella church.

“The architects created public spaces spread around the external patio which you can look at through this exceptional double window. I enjoyed an amazing breakfast there while photographing this great detail of Scarpa’s.”

Metal staircase with metal handrail

Chamber of Commerce, Work and Industry by Jože Plečnik, Ljubljana, Slovenia, 1925-1927

“Two years ago I was commissioned to photograph a collection of Jože Plečnik’s buildings in Ljubljana.

“This was an amazing opportunity to experience the work of Plečnik who I find to be one of the most important European architects for his ability to combine all historical architectural styles together with absolutely original results.

“This staircase and metal handrail is located inside Plečnik’s first project after he came back to Ljubljana from his stay in Prague. This robust metal handrail beautifully shows Plečnik‘s sensitive approach to details and his skills with metal craft.”

Built-in sofa with brown cover

Casa Carcano by Ico and Luisa Parisi, Maslianico, Italy, 1949-1950

“It took me more than two years before I was finally able to arrange a visit to the unique Casa Carcano designed by my absolutely favourite Italian architects and designers Ico and Luisa Parisi.

“They built it near the famous Lake Como in 1949-1950 at the beginning of their rich career. Parisi was born in Palermo, Sicily in 1916 and settled in Como in the 1930s. Together with his wife Luisa, they designed exceptional houses from the late 1940s to the 1970s.

“I have already visited five of them since 2011. Casa Carcano is their early masterpiece with much bespoke furniture including this wonderful built-in sofa in the middle of the stairs, which is housed in the spectacular entrance hall.”

Wooden lamp with balloon shade

Former Czechoslovak Embassy in New Delhi by Karel Filsak, Karel Bubeníček, Zdeněk Dvořák, Jan Kozel, Karel Filsak and Zbyněk Hřivnáč, India, 1966-1974

“As my diploma project at the Art History department at the Charles University in Prague, I focused on the work of interior designer Zbyněk Hřivnáč. He collaborated with the best of Czech architects during the socialist time from the 1950s to 1980s, designing mostly bespoke interior furnishings.

“These projects included Czechoslovakian embassies all around the world. Back in my student years, I did not have any chance to travel to see these buildings. Finally, now I have resources that allow me to travel worldwide.

“I was finally able to visit two of the Czechoslovakian embassies (now divided into Czech and Slovak) in Cairo and New Delhi. The one in India is an amazing brutalist building with all of the original furnishing details still preserved.

“Hřivnáč also designed this series of wooden lamps including balloon shades.”

Organic fireplace in Swedish house

The Box by Ralph Erskine, Lovön, Sweden, 1941-1942

“Not far from the Drottningholm Royal Castle on the island of Lovön near Stockholm, there is a miniature house that Ralph Erskine built as a starter home in the early 1940s. Its architecture is synonymous with frugality and minimalism.

“If you want to see Ralph Erskine’s house, you must first pick up the keys at the reception of the ArkDes architecture centre in Stockholm. After paying the deposit, they will entrust you with the keys and you have nothing else to do but go to the island of Lovön and open this unique house yourself.

“I did the same to visit this masterpiece by the famous Swedish-British architect who was a pioneer of Scandinavian modernism. He designed this organic fireplace as a centrepiece of the minimal functional interior.”

Painted interior in German house

Bossard House (Kunststätte Bossard) by Johann Michael Bossard, Jesteburg, Germany, 1911-1950

“One of my many specific interests with 20th-century architecture is totally-designed interior environments. These are spaces where all the surfaces are given the attention of the designer.

“This kind of interior can often be found in Germany. They were created by artists influenced by the expressionist movement, very often by painters or sculptors and not architects.

“This is also the case of Johann Michael Bossard who created his own world in the middle of forests in Jesteburg, close to Hamburg. His own house is completely painted inside by mixing mythology and his original visions of the future. I called these interiors ‘3D paintings’.”

Bathroom with mosaic curve

Maison Wogenscky by André Wogenscky and Marta Pan, Saint-Rémy-Lès-Chevreuse, France, 1952

“I was desperate to visit this house, built near Paris by Le Corbusier’s disciple André Wogenscky and his wife, sculptor Marta Pan.

“Despite the house only opening to the public a few times a year, it was one of the most challenging visits because I did not get any answer from the foundation for years. Finally, I made it there in 2022.

“The bathroom, with the beautiful mosaic-clad curve, presents the essence of postwar French interior design.”

Boomerang-like planter in modernist house

Girard House by Wolfgang Ewerth, Casablanca, Morocco, 1954

“Casablanca boasts a rich collection of art deco architecture, as well as modernist and brutalist. That’s why I decided to go there in 2019. With the help of architects from preservation group Mamma, I was able to visit some exceptional houses.

“Originally German architect Wolfgang Ewerth was a follower of progressive modernist tendencies after the second world war and built several remarkable villas in Casablanca. I was lucky enough to visit House Girard, which Ewerth completed in 1955.

“The spacious terraces, glass facades and open living space stand in bold comparison with the best contemporary examples of Californian modernism by Richard Neutra, Raphael Soriano or Craig Elwood, who, like Ewerth, used simple steel frames to allow for freely articulated interiors.

“But unlike his American colleagues, Ewerth also designed more sculptural features including this massive boomerang-like planter.”

Monumental wall clock inside library

University Library by Henry Lacoste, Leuven, Belgium, 1948

“Last summer I had the chance to stay for three weeks in Belgium, supported by the Czech Centre in Brussels. I took advantage of this and visited dozens of Belgian modernist houses and interiors. Every day I woke up very early, travelling to different Belgian cities and documenting marvels of Belgian architecture and design.

“Hidden behind the historical neo-Renaissance facade of the monumental Leuven University Library is the main reading room, which was one of my intended destinations.

“It is a perfectly carved interior treasure, created by Belgian architecture legend Henry Lacoste after the second world war when the library was completely destroyed for the second time. The space is full of sculptural details and symbolic motives carved into oak, including this monumental wall clock.”

The photography is by Adam Štěch. Main image by Piercarlo Quecchia.

Elements: Unique Details of the 20th Century Architecture and Interior was on show as part of Dropcity during Milan design week from 12 to 21 April 2024. See Dezeen Events Guide for all the latest architecture and design events taking place around the world.

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