CZECH REPUBLIC AND CZECHOSLOVAKIA

The Slavic people, from whom the Czechs and Slovaks originated, have inhabited the
territory of 20th-century Czechoslovakia since the 5th century. The Tatar and Turkish
invasions and occupations over previous countries did not kill the spirit of the Czech and
Slovak people, who, divided for 11 centuries, were unified in the 20th century. Despite
centuries of ethnic oppression, and Germanization and Hungarization by foreign rulers,
the language, culture, and national identity of the Czechs and Slovaks have survived.
The new republic of Czechoslovakia arose from the ruins of the Austro-Hungarian
Empire in 1918 after World War I. The accord between the Czechs and the Slovaks was
ratified in the Cleveland and the Pittsburgh declarations. The founders of the republic
were its first president, Tomas Masaryk, and Garrigue Milan Rastislav Stefanik. The
foundation of democratic principles gave the intellectuals of the young republic a new
platform of liberal ideology. Influential in the cultural sphere was the Devetsil (the Nine
Powers), an avant-garde group of artists, writers, architects, musicians, and actors, started
in 1920 in Prague and in 1923 in Brno. Architect Josef Havlicek was one of the founding
members, and the activist writer and graphic designer Karel Tiege was the leader of the
group. They published a journal and organized lectures and exhibitions. The ARDEV (the
Architects of Devetsil) members maintained contact with a number of representatives of
the international avant-garde and invited them to visit and lecture in Czechoslovakia.
Among them were Theo van Doesburg, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Jacobus Johannes Pieter
Oud, Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, Amédée Ozenfant, and Adolf Loos. The visits of
Loos, a native of Brno, were particularly influential. The ARDEV members, concerned
with the situation of social housing, produced studies of communal housing. These ideas
came from the socialist ideals of Soviet Constructivism. In 1932 Karel Tiege, who was
also an art critic and a theorist of architecture, summarized the housing studies in his
book Nejmens i byt (The Smallest Flat).
At the turn of the 20th century, Czech, Moravian, and Slovak architects contributed to
Art Nouveau. Czech Art Nouveau architecture was not based merely on an endeavor to
dispense with historicism and to create original and independent principles of form and
decorative elements of new style. A pupil of the Viennese modernist architect Otto
Wagner, Prague architect Jan Kotera (1871–1923), preferred a functional layout and
volume to counter the aesthetics of eclecticism. Simultaneously, Kotera emphasized
truthfulness in architecture to counter a slavish imitation of historical motifs. He required
a creative search for the new. Finally, Kotera’s design principles emphasized a building’s
purpose and the clear expression of its structural elements. In 1910 Kotera was appointed
professor of architecture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. His teaching was very
influential on the new generation of architects in Bohemia (Czechia).
In the midst of Art Nouveau, the evolution of modern Czech architecture was
characterized by a rather homogeneous design philosophy noted for its rationalism. Apart
from the work of Kotera, this rationalism is seen in the designs of the rest of the pioneers
of Czech modern architecture (Otakar Novotny, Josef Gocár, and Pavel Janák), Slovak
modern architecture (Dusan Jurkovic, Michal Harminc, and Emil Bellus), and Moravian
Encyclopedia of 20th-century architecture 648
modern architecture (Arnost Wiesner, Jan Visek, Jiri Kroha, and Bohuslav Fuchs). Their
familiarity with the progressive ideas of Otto Wagner, Adolf Loos, P.H.Berlage, Henry
van de Velde, Tony Garnier, Auguste Perret, and Peter Behrens fueled the process.
Kotera consistently enhanced serviceability and simplicity of form, using traditional
building materials. His first significant Art Nouveau building, the Peterka House (1899–
1900) on Wenceslas Square in Prague, is a mixed-use row building. Other notable Art
Noveau projects include the National House in Prostejov, the Chamber of Commerce
Pavilion (1908) at the exhibition in Prague, and the Municipal Museum (1906–12) in
Hradec Kralove.
Kotera’s significant residential architecture also includes the Laichter Apartment
House (1908–09) and his own villa (1908–09), both in Prague, noteworthy for their
careful fenestration and brick and stucco finishes. Similarly, in the Laichter Apartment
House, the materials for the five-story structure are brick and stucco. Devoid of any
embellishment, the asymmetrical composition of the building’s plan and corresponding
facade features an offset cantilevered mass. The restraining simplicity and the lack of
decor distinguish these designs.
The Mozarteum (Urbanek Department Store, 1912–13) in Prague is a symmetrical
composition separated from its neighbors by a rectangular concrete frame topped by a
triangular gable. The building’s dynamic facade is a precedent to Kotera’s Cubist period.
His 1913 entry in the competition for the monument to Zizka on Vitkov Hill in Prague
represents an articulate application of the Cubist language widely accepted among Czech
modernists.
The search for a new architecture preoccupied many early 20th-century architects.
Social and political changes were accompanied by a search for national identity.
Architects returned to their ancestral origins for elements specific to the people and their
region. Architect Dusan Jurkovic (1868–1947) relied on traditional peasant wooden
architecture. He was interested in the indigenous architecture of villages and in the Arts
and Crafts movement. After studies in Vienna, Jurkovic’s first built works were the
mountain resort buildings located in Radhost and Rezek. In his Luhacovice Spa (1902–
03), the half-timber construction buildings for lodging, dining, and services were
designed in the Art Nouveau style. During World War I, in 1916–18, Jurkovic designed
for the military command in Krakow a series of soldier cemeteries, monuments, and
grave markers located in southeastern Poland. Here, inspired by the indigenous
architecture, he used carved wood. A singularly important work of Jurkovic’s is the
Memorial to General Stefanik (1925–28) at Bradlo. Working conscientiously with the
landscape, Jurkovic designed stations (1936–38) for the cable car to the Lomnicky s tit
(peak) in the High Tatras. A leader in modern architecture in Slovakia, Jurkovic designed
the four stations by combining the natural features of each site with the demands of
technical operations and human habitation.
Architect Vladimir Karfik (1901–96) apprenticed with both Le Corbusier (1924–25)
and Frank Lloyd Wright (1927–29). From 1930 to 1946, he was the chief architect of the
Bata Company, where he developed “Zlin Architecture,” based on an efficient and
economic construction system of a distinctive industrial image applied to a variety of
building types. The Zlin Architecture construction system was used for a number of onefactory
towns in Czechoslovakia and abroad. After World War II, Karfik was appointed
Entries A–F 649
to the new school of architecture at the Slovak Technical University in Bratislava, where
he was one of the most influential professors.
The history of Czechoslovakia has been tumultuous. In 1938 Nazi Germany forced the
European powers to agree to divide the country into a Czech protectorate and the Slovak
Republic. After World War II, Czechoslovakia reunited, but soon the population faced
another catastrophe with the communist political takeover in February 1948, when the
Soviet government took over Czechoslovakia. Architects had to give up private offices to
become employees in large state-controlled design institutes. Functionalism was
condemned as an expression of a bourgeois cosmopolitanism.
Despite the oppressive conditions, extraordinary buildings were designed under the
totalitarian regime. The 1969 International Union of Architects (UIA) Perret Award was
given to the Television Tower (1963–71) on Jested Hill near Liberec, designed by Karel
Hubacek. Hubacek started a groundbreaking architectural office in Liberec, Atelier SIAL,
which now runs an architecture school. From this office came the project of the
Department Store Maj (1973–75) in Prague, designed by Miros-lav Masak (b. 1932),
Martin Rajnis (b. 1944), and Johnny Eisler (b. 1946). The husband-and-wife team of Jan
Sramek (1924–78) and Alena Sramkova (b. 1929) designed the Main Train Station
(1972–79) and the CKD Building (1976–83), both in Prague.
The carefully sited crematorium (1967) in Bratislava by Ferdinand Milucky broke out
of socialist realism. For his work Milucky was awarded the prestigious Herder Prize in
1999. A prolific designer, Jan Bahna made a number of proposals for revitalization of
Bratislava, among them the Department Store Dunaj (1990–92), designed with Fedor
Minarik, Lubomir Zavodny, and Martin Fabry. The young Prague architects known as the
Golden Eagles, the D.A. Studio, and the Brno group of the Municipal House have also
been rediscovering the heritage of Czechoslovak functionalism of the interwar period.
This can be seen in the Fitness Center (1991) in Ceske Budejovice by Jiri Stritecky and
Martin Krupauer, the Riviera Swimming Pool (1986–92) in Brno by Petr Hrusa, and the
Rowing Race Course (1989) at Racice by Zbysek Styblo, Tomas Kulik, and Jan Louda.
Czechoslovakia had contributed significantly to the international fairs, including the
all-glass pavilion built for the 1937 Paris Exhibition by Jaromir Krejcar (1895–1949). At
the 1958 World Expo in Brussels, the pavilion designed by Frantisek Cubr (1911–76),
Josef Hruby (1906–88), and Zdenek Pokorny (1909–84) won the award for the most
visited exhibition.
Several architects have contributed to 20th-century architecture in Czechoslovakia.
These include the Villa Mueller (1928–30) in Prague by Adolf Loos, the Villa Tugendhat
(1928–30) in Brno by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the synagogue (1928–31) in Zilina by
Peter Behrens, the Villa Palicka (1932) in Prague by Mart Stam, and the National
Netherlands Building (1992–95), known as the Fred and Ginger, in Prague by Frank
Gehry and Vladimir Milunic.

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