If You Like Architectural Details, You’ll Love This Comprehensive Archive of Modernist Buildings and Interiors, On View in Milan

Unless you’re very offline, design-wise, you probably know about Prague-based architecture historian and curator — as well as frequent Sight Unseen contributor! — Adam Štěch. On his well-loved Instagram account, @okolo_architecture, he’s been assiduously and beautifully cataloging 20th-century architecture and interior design details for years. His photographic efforts aren’t simply representative, they’re revelatory, and they’re currently on view as part of Salone in his Elements exhibition at Dropcity, a new center for architecture and design in Milan. By focusing on the parts — the lighting, seating, tables, railings, doors, handles, windows, floors, and more — Štěch’s 3,000 images give us a new sense of the whole: not only the larger project of how a particular building was put together in a cohesive way, but a comprehensive view of how architecture and design developed and moved throughout the last century, charting the differences and similarities of Modernist buildings over time and through place.

What he’s created is an indispensable database of design, captured through the lens of one individual’s camera. It’s a project that draws inspiration from the work of the Hilla and Bernd Becher, the married photography duo who systematically shot industrial structures (what they called “anonymous sculptures”) that were beginning to disappear. Štěch does something formally similar with Elements.

The concept of the exhibition originated in 2017 at the Brompton Design District in London, with 400 of Štěch’s photographs curated by Jane Withers. Since then, Štěch has visited over 40 countries to document iconic Modernist houses — from the likes of Gio Ponti, Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, and Adolf Loos — as well as works by little known, overlooked, or long-forgotten practitioners. Elements is on view through April 21. Take a tour of some of our favorites with Štěch below.


Maurice Blanc and Pierre Székely
Church of Saint John
Grenoble, France

“I absolutely adore work of French sculptor, designer and architect Pierre Székely. He designed these doors for a church in Grenoble, designed by architect Maurice Blanc.”

Karl Kohn
Casa Kohn
Quito, Ecuador

“Originally from Prague, German-speaking architect Karl Kohn went to Ecuador with his large family, including his brother Otto, with whom he ran a thriving architectural office in pre-war Prague. Kohn and his wife Vera settled in the Mariscal district in Quito, where he designed his own house, Casa Kohn. The house was inaugurated in 1951 in the presence of the former President of Ecuador, Gala Plaza. Karl and Vera’s new residence was labelled as the country’s most modern building and won several prestigious awards. The built-in furniture creates surprising spaces, including this rounded desk inside of a bedroom where I was able to stay for whole week when I documented the house in 2021.”

Lucien Engels and Roger De Winter
Woning Libeer
Vilvoorde, Belgium
“Last summer I visited several houses by architects Lucien Engels and Roger De Winter in Belgian Vilvoorde. During the 1950s, they built many simple private houses which are characterized by beautiful unique details including this stone door knob.”

Alfred Düntuch and Stefan Landsberger
Apartment Building
Krakow, Poland

“While walking through the historic center of Kraków, in addition to hundred-year-old architecture, you can also come across top modernist realizations of the interwar era. Among them, the work of the pair of architects Alfred Düntuch and Stefan Landsberger stands out. This perforated handrail shows their skill at connecting an industrial look with lyrical abstraction.”

Erik Gunnar Asplund
City Hall Extension
Gothenburg, Sweden

“The interior of the City Hall Extension in the city of Gothenburg is a celebration of democracy, transparency, and freedom. As one of his last works, it was designed in the style of Scandinavian modernism by the father of modern Swedish architecture, Erik Gunnar Asplund. There are so many one-off bespoke details which Asplund designed in poetic organic manner. The clock in the main hall is the highlight of his refined Scandinavian aesthetic.”

Karel Filsak, Vladimír Toms, Vladimír Štulc and Jan Vrana
Embassy of Czech republic
Cairo, Egypt

“Last year, I visited the Czech embassy in Cairo. It was completed in the 1980s by prolific Czech architect Karel Filsak and his team, who also designed Czech embassies in Delhi or Brasília. All these representative buildings were designed to the last detail. Only unique one-off elements, including these robust armachairs furnished the interior. Czech embassies from the 1960s and 1970s are true Gesamtkunstwerks of modernism. Actually, it was a topic which I wrote my diploma project about.”

Ico and Luisa Parisi
Casa Franco Carcano
Maslianico, Como, Italy

“Italian architects Ico and Luisa Parisi worked exclusively around L ake Como. In the 1950s, they built several villas on the shores of the lake. Casa Franco Carcano is the first complex design of the Parisis where architecture, design and art are integrated into one total work of art. I absolutely adore work of Parisi and was already few times on Como to explore their unique houses.”

N. Barillà, V. Gentile, F. Mellia, G. Sambito and Luigi Piccinato
Mediterranean Theater
Naples, Italy

“One of the most important rationalist buidings in Naples is beautifully preserved in its interior. The most interesting feature of it is this handrail decorated by colorful glass balls.”

Marcello Belleri and Mario Bianchini
Apartment Building
Milan, Italy

“Amazing door, probably my absolute favorite from all the great example of organic design. I found them in the beautiful book Entryways of Milan by Taschen few years ago and immediately went to photograph them when I was in Milan in 2017.”

Adolf Loos and Heinrich Kulka
Semler Residence
Pilsen, Czech Republic

“Adolf Loos designed several apartment interiors in the Czech city of Pilsen. His Semler residence was finished by his pupil Heinrich Kulka after Loos’s death. This multi-level dwelling is vertically divided into various spaces according to the Loos idea of so-called Raumplan. Loos also liked to zone the interior with the built-in alcoves and seating areas including this one which was newly re-built according to original plans during a long restoration, completed in 2022.”

E Building of United Nations Palace
Pier Luigi Nervi, Sir Basil Spence, Eugene Beaudoin and Charlotte Perriand
Geneva, Switzerland

“One of my biggest passions in design is the work of French Modernist interior designers and decorators. It is ‘always very big thing for me to find some still authentic interiors done by French modernist designers. This is one of them: one of the assembly halls in United Nations Palace which was furnished by my absolute hero, Charlotte Perriand.”

Jacques Dupuis
Le Parador
Brussels, Belgium

“Belgian architect Jacques Dupuis designed highly individualistic houses. Villa Le Parador was first of his residential designs. In its unique archtiecture, he created an original synthesis of modern classicism and modernism. The splendid interiors are still completely intact and this adjustable wood wall lamp was designed exclusively for the first floor of the house. I wanted to see the house since many years and finally was able to visit it last September.”

Jože Plečnik
Žale Cemetery
Ljubljana, Slovenia

“I was fortunate to photograph around 30 structures by Plečnik in Ljubljana including Žale Cemetery which I call “Plečnik Themepark”, because it is full of very original details and craft elements, such as brass chandeliers.”