A deserted Paris house holds the mystery of the brilliant Viennese modernist Jean Welz who worked alongside Le Corbusier and Adolf Loos. His story has never been told until now.
A leading painter still highly regarded in South Africa, Jean Welz was an economic emigre from Europe on the eve of WWII. His prior architectural career has been virtually unknown until a string of discoveries unfolded for author and filmmaker Peter Wyeth over eight years, allowing him to narrate this amazing true tale of genius.
Born in 1900 and trained in ultra-sophisticated, but conservative Vienna, Welz was sent to Paris for the 1925 Art Deco exhibition by his influential employer, renowned architect Josef Hoffmann. There he met preeminent modern architects Le Corbusier and Adolf Loos. The latter employed him to assist in building a house for the founder of Dada, Tristan Tzara. They all mixed in avant-garde circles at the Cafe du Dome in Montparnasse along with Welz’s classmate from Vienna, later Chicago-based architect Gabriel Guevrekian; Welz’s future employer Raymond Fischer, whose archive was mostly destroyed by Nazis; and photographer André Kertész.
Through Welz’s South African family archive, author Wyeth retrieves stories, letters, portfolios, and photographs generations after Welz’s death that unravel his heroic designs, his stunning built critique of Corbusier’s “Five Points of Architecture,” a gravestone for Marx’s daughter, and the many ways that Welz disappeared amongst his collaborators, intentionally and not.
This account of why Jean Welz did not become a famous name in architecture takes us through his brother’s Nazi-dealings, illness, betrayal, self-destruction, Apartheid, and an uncompromising artist’s vision at the same time sifting through significant, literally-concrete evidence of Welz’s built projects and visionary designs.
History has generally been unkind to architects who failed to hit the headlines with publications and an effective publicity machine. Peter Wyeth is to be commended not only for rediscovering Jean Welz and his work but also for reconstructing the network of interactions, innovations and transmission of ideas that constitute the real history of architecture. Our understanding of modern architecture in Paris and South Africa has been enriched.
—Tim Benton, author of The Villas of Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret 1920–1930
Peter Wyeth's vivid and remarkable excavation of the life and work of the Viennese-born architect Jean Welz is a splendid contribution to the history of modernism. Welz, who had been all but forgotten till now, was closely connected with two of the titans of the age, Le Corbusier and Adolf Loos, but, even more, he was an excellent architect whose work was sensitive, beautiful, and inventive. Wyeth tells his story well, bringing known aspects of the tale of modern architecture into sharper focus, while adding much that is new.
— Christopher Long, author of The New Space: Movement and Experience in Viennese Modern Architecture
Praise for Welz's Maison Zilveli
One of the last testimonies of modernism in intramural Paris is the the Maison Zilveli by the Viennese architect Jean Welz, near Adolf Loos and the Roche du Corbusier house. […] British filmmaker
Peter Wyeth, very involved in the preservation of the house, explains that “it is very rare to have a modernist house that has remained unchanged: it is a real case study.”
—Le Journal des Arts
The future of this avant-garde masterpiece of the architect Jean Welz remains in the balance.