Henry Kulka was born on 29 March 1900 in Litovel in Moravia, Czechoslovakia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was of secular Jewish descent. Kulka's parents were haberdashers and textile specialists. His sister Erna Spielberg née Kulka was a lighting designer. Kulka rejected the architectural universities of the day in favour of Adolf Loos's 1919 Bauschule. Contemporaneous with Kulka's attendance of the Adolf Loos Bauschule Kulka undertook an apprenticeship with Loos in a classical master-pupil relationship, where Kulka also trained with furniture makers, stonemasons, brick layers, joiners, cabinet makers, glass cutters and metal crafters. Cubic spatial architecture would become the basis of the Loos-Kulka professional relationship. Kulka worked intimately with Loos from 1919 until 1932 when the severity of Loos's illness prevented Loos from carrying out his professional activities.
Henry Kulka married Hilda Kulka (née Beran) in 1926. Hilda Kulka's family were from Libcany in Czechoslovakia near Hradec Kralove. The Beran family had moved to Vienna where they established a prosperous bicycle business between Vienna and Hradec Kralove. Hilda Kulka became the practice manager for the joint architectural atelier of Loos and Kulka. Henry and Hilda had two children, Maru and Richard, both born in Vienna.
In 1938 Austria's embrace of Nazism forced Kulka's flight, on the Anschluss, from Vienna to Czechoslovakia. This departure was lifesaving. Henry Kulka fled Nazified Czechoslovakia in 1939 for England. He escaped with the assistance of Jan Masaryk, the Czech Foreign Minister in exile in London, whose family had been a commissioning client of Kulka's, and the help of a former English architecture student who had trained under Kulka in the mid thirties. With the help of these two friends the Kulka family were able to gain visas to New Zealand. Jan Masaryk wrote to New Zealand's high commissioner Mr Jordan about Kulka: "Mr Henry Kulka is personally known to me. He is an especially able architect, whose work is well known in central Europe."
In 1939 Kulka and his family began their respective journeys by sea to New Zealand. Henry Kulka travelled via South Africa and the Pacific Islands to New Zealand, describing the journey as 'an exodus to the new world, not an exile from the old world.' Arriving in New Zealand in 1940, Kulka was introduced by the New Zealand prime minister, Sir Peter Fraser, to Sir James Fletcher, the founder of Fletcher Building Limited, New Zealand's largest construction company. Kulka became Fletcher Building's lead architect between 1940-1960.
The Kulka family re-established themselves in the coastal bay of St Heliers, Auckland. In 1945 they built a modern wooden cubic house for themselves that became an important social hub for central European émigrés and New Zealanders to meet. Henry Kulka developed a busy private residential practice, which he ran part-time from 1940 to 1960 and then full-time from 1960 to 1970. His wife Hilda Kulka assisted Henry in matters to do with residential realisations. Separately, Hilda Kulka established the ‘H. Kulka’ fashion item enterprise from a studio in Swanson Street in central Auckland, employing up to 8 craft workers.
Kulka studied in Vienna, becoming a student in Adolf Loos's Bauschule in 1919. He joined Loos's architectural practice in that same year. The composer Arnold Schoenberg described Henry Kulka as "the favourite pupil of my dear friend Adolf Loos." Kulka had distinguished himself in the architectural competitions set by Loos in his 1919 Bauschule. Kulka's first realised projects assisting Loos included the Heuberg and Lainz Siedlungs (workers’ housing) in Vienna. These workers’ housing projects were amongst Europe's earliest.
Early unrealised projects in which Kulka was involved with Adolf Loos include: the Chicago Tribune Competition project, multilevel stepped apartment structures for Vienna, such as the Gemeindebau project and the 20 Villas project conceived for the coast of the South of France.
Kulka assisted Loos on the editing and compilation of Loos's writings published in 1921 under the title ‘Spoken into the Void’ by the French publishing house Georges & Cie, where Kulka was thanked by Loos as his loyal student. In 1922 Kulka assisted Loos on the realisation of the first cubic Raumplan house, the Villa Rufer in Hietzing Vienna.
Between 1922-23 Kulka designed, autonomously, a cubic Raumplan in smaller cubic dimensions than the Villa Rufer (which Kulka had worked on with Loos). Kulka's autonomously designed prototype became subsequently known as the Cubic, Dice or Würfelhaus, and was realised in Vienna by Kulka a decade later.
In 1924 Kulka assisted the German architect Ernst Otto Oßwald on the winning entry for the Stuttgarter Tagblatt Turmhaus design competition. In Stuttgart, Kulka continued his friendship with Gustav Schleicher, a former Loos student of the pre-World War I Bauschule. In Stuttgart Kulka became part of a circle of prominent cultural figures, which included Hans and Lily Hildebrandt, Richard Döcker, and painters Willi Baumeister and Max Ackermann. While in Stuttgart, leading up to the Weissenhofsiedlung exhibition, Kulka developed a friendship with architect Alfred Roth, assistant to Le Corbusier. Kulka would later introduce Roth to Adolf Loos in Paris whilst Kulka headed Adolf Loos's Paris atelier in 1927.
Loos wrote about Kulka's collaboration and Kulka's autonomous architectural work from Paris in 1927: "I am happy to have such a collaborator. I judge his own work to be better than that of the best living architects."
In 1928 Kulka and Loos returned to Vienna and ran an atelier as collaborating partners until 1932 when Loos could no longer work due to illness. Henry Kulka's wife, Hilda Kulka née Beran, was their practice manager. Henry Kulka was the best man of Adolf Loos at his wedding to Claire Beck in 1929.
In Loos's 1930 dedication to Kulka, Loos thanks Kulka for "representing him in all respects during his illness," referring here to Loos's extended periods of illness over the period 1927-1930. Adolf Loos's friend, author Karen Michaelis, described Kulka as "the only real successor to Loos, in the true sense of the word." Henry Kulka was Adolf Loos's principal architectural biographer and in Loos's own description of Kulka, the "Hüter des Loosian- Gedankens," (Guardian of Loosian Thought). In 1930 Kulka authored the seminal monograph of the architectural work of Adolf Loos titled ‘Adolf Loos: The Work of the Architect’ published in German by Anton Schroll Verlag, Wien. In this publication Kulka coined the term Raumplan and Kulka provided the first theoretical explication of his terminology, describing Loos's pioneering 3D approach to interior space modulation, which Loos himself called the cubic method of planning.
After Loos's death in 1933, Kulka continued and expanded their former architectural practice, maintaining their Vienna office and opening a second satellite office in Hradec Králové in Czechoslovakia to service commissions from both old and new clients.
Between 1932-1939 Henry Kulka autonomously authored and realized new cubic Raumplan Villa and Apartment typologies including; the 1932 Weissmann House in Hietzing Vienna, the 1933 Oskar Semler Raumplan Apartment in Pilsen, the 1934 Kantor Cubic Raumplan Villa in Jablonec, the 1934 small mountain Raumplan for Dr. Samuel Teichner in Spicak in Zelezna Ruda and the Villa Holzner Raumplan in Hronov, near Nachod.
Kulka was appointed lead architect of Fletcher Building New Zealand (1940-1960). Kulka is estimated to have designed and realized over 100 commercial structures throughout this period of New Zealand's industrialization; such buildings include: the Fletcher Building Head offices and Plywood factory, Tip Top Ice Cream, Bond & Bond, Dominion Industries, Portland Cement, Fisher & Paykel, Kempthorn & Prosser, Robinsons, The National Bank of New Zealand, The Bank of New Zealand, Dominion Breweries, amongst others. Henry Kulka realized over 40 fine wooden houses throughout New Zealand through his residential practice. Kulka's wooden houses were pioneering in their spatial and material resolution, and he is recognised as an "apostle of modern architecture to the South Pacific." Kulka's typologies were diverse: family homes, bungalows, beach houses, bush batches, galleried houses, apartments, libraries, churches and monuments. These forms were realized in the Pacific Islands (Samoa, Tonga as well as Fiji) and across New Zealand. Kulka's prolific building in New Zealand continues to influence Modern Architecture and the Modern Interior in New Zealand.
Kulka authored numerous professional texts on architecture, including:
· Kulka, H, ‘Das Kawafag-Weekendhaus. Type Hygiene-Dresden 1930-31’, Das Kawafag-Eigenheim, Nr. 3 (1931)
· Kulka, H, ‘Adolf Loos: Das Werk des Architekten’ (Vienna: Anton Schroll Verlag), 1931
· Kulka, H, ‘Adolf Loos’, Österreichische Kunst 1 (1931)
· Kulka, H, ‘Byt a Umeni’, O nezbytnych a zbytecnych vecech v modernim byte, 4, (1931)
· Kulka, H, ‘Portal, Wien 1, Rotenturmstrasse mit A. Loos’’, Profil, 2:4 (1934)
· Kulka, H, ‘Dom jednorodzinny Wien-Lainz’ Dom Osiedle Mieszkanie, 7, (1936)
· Kulka, H, ‘A Small House in Vienna’, The Architect and Building News, 145, 25.03.1936
· Kulka, H, ‘Ein Arzthaus in Gablonz, Forum (Bratislava) 7 (1937)
· Kulka, H, ‘Adolf Loos: 1870-1933’, in Architects’ Year Book 9, ed, by. Trevor Dannatt (London: Elek, 1957)
· Kulka, H, ‘Bekenntnis zu Adolf Loos’ Alte und Moderne Kunst 15 (1970)
· 1919-1922, Heuberg and Lainz Siedlungs, Vienna
· 1922, Villa Rufer, Vienna
· 1922-23, 20 Villas Project, (unrealised)
· 1927, Knize Men's Couturier, Paris
· 1927, Villa Moller, planning in Paris, construction supervised by Jacques Groag Vienna
· 1927, Maison Baker, Raumplan Project (unrealised), for the American entertainer Josephine Baker
· 1928, Villa Müller, Prague
· 1928, Zelenka Commercial Building, (unrealised) Vienna
· 1929, Bojko Raumplan Villa Project (unrealised), Vienna
· 1929, Portal, Men's fashion Retail, Albert Matzner, Rotenturmstrasse 6, Vienna
· 1930, Portal, Men's fashion Retail, Albert Matzner, Kohlmessergasse 8, Vienna
· 1930, Country House (Landhaus) Khuner, Kreuzberg, Payerbach
· 1932, Werkbundsiedlung Dopplehäuser, Hietzing, Vienna
· 1930, Kawafag Weekendhaus, Type Hygiene, realised in Dresden 1931
· 1932, Villa Weissmann, Cubic Raumplan House, Hietzing, Vienna
· 1933, Oskar Semler Raumplan Apartment, Pilsen
· 1934, Teichner Mountain Raumplan House, Špičák/Železná
· 1934, Villa Kantor Cubic Raumplan, Jablonec
· 1934 Knize Menswear Store, Prague
· 1935, Royal Tobacconist retail store, Bucharest
· 1935, Parker Pen Shop, Vienna
· 1937, Villa Hoeboken, Vienna
· 1938-39, Löwenbach stepped apartment building, Hradec Králové
· 1939, Villa Holzner Raumplan, Hronov
· 1941, Fletcher Building Head offices and Plywood factory, Auckland
· 1944, Factory Dominion Industries, Dunedin
· 1947, Methodist Church, Apia, Western Samoa
· 1948, Project for The National Bank of New Zealand, Auckland
· 1953, Portland Cement Works, Whangarei
· 1954, Dalgety & Co., Hamilton
· 1955, C.L Innes and Co. Ltd, Hamilton
· 1955, Factory and Offices Fisher & Paykel, Auckland
· c. 1955, Kempthorn & Prosser, renovations to premises
· 1957, Vulcan Steel, Auckland
· c. 1959, Robinson Printing Works, Auckland
· 1959, Dominion Breweries, extensions
· 1947, House Briess, St Heliers, Auckland
· 1948, House Friedlander, West Auckland, Auckland
· 1948, House Tretter, Kohimarama, Auckland
· c.1952, House Hoffmann, Drury
· 1958, House Fletcher, Epsom, Auckland
· 1960, Speight Road Apartments, Mission Bay, Auckland
· 1960, House Strauss, St Johns, Auckland
· 1962, House Schenierer, Ridge Road Howick, Auckland
· 1964, House Fischmann, Remuera, Auckland
· 1965, House Fraser, Pokuru Road, Te Awamutu
· 1966, House Mayerhoffler, Blockhouse Bay, Auckland
· 1967, House Friedlander, Herne Bay, Auckland
· 1969, House Marleyn, North Shore, Auckland
Through Kulka's writings on Raumplan and its seminal theoretical explication in ‘Adolf Loos: The Work of the Architect’ (1930) and Kulka's Cubic Raumplan works and projects in Austria, Moravia and Bohemia (with Loos and autonomously) Kulka was able to influence other modern architects and designers. Kulka continued to generate diverse Raumplan typologies and to develop new approaches to the subtle modulation of interior space. The study of Kulka's South Pacific legacy is nascent. Recognised as a pioneer of natural modern architecture in New Zealand, Kulka's fine material craftsmanship, and his evolution of Raumplanning techniques for creating cosy, human interiors of great economy are the subject of increasing study. Kulka created a significant body of modern furniture and lighting designs.
Henry Kulka and his daughter Maru Kulka produced manuscripts on architectural and cultural history, whose publication by the Kulka estate is anticipated.
The Kulka Estate is administered by the Kulka Family. Access to archival material and reproduction and referral rights relating to plans, texts and images that are the copyright of Henry and Hilda Kulka are regulated by the Kulka Estate. The Kulka Foundation is a separate non-profit charitable Foundation without rights of access or property in the design or literary assets of the Kulka Estate.