Cubism in Architecture – world unique object to be found in Prague
Prague is the Mecca of Cubism lovers. This is not only because some of the Prague pre war art collectors were in favour of this style but mainly due to the fact that Prague is the only city with so many cubist buildings. The worlds unique buildings were build within four years from 1911 until the beginning of the First World War.
Most of the cubist buildings are to be found under Vyšehrad rock. Local cubist villas and even block of flats were included in all contemporary representative publications about cubism. Another cubist build–up area can be found in Prague 1, Street Elišky Krásnohorské. Form experts’ perspective the most significant building of the style is House U Černé Matky Boží on the corner of Celetná Street and Ovocný Market where the Museum of Czech cubism is located. On the second and third floor of the Museum is the most significant period of Czech cubism (1910–1919) documented, downstairs is a shop where you can buy replicas of cubist dishes from Pavel Janák and various publications about cubism including those dealing with Czech cubism in architecture. On the first floor is located the charming Grand Café Orient designed in cubist style and serving delicious cakes. If you wish to see other examples of cubism in architecture you have to walk deeper into town a bit further from the centre.
The main representatives of Czech architectural cubism are Pavel Janák, Josef Gočár, Vlastislav Hofman, Josef Chochol and Emil Králíček to name a few. Architect Pavel Janák (from 1882 till 1956) is considered to be a “father” of the style. He managed to overcome the rather stale atmosphere of Czech architecture and his essay “Prism and pyramid” is considered to be a theoretical backbone of cubism. Cubist architects were sometimes criticised for not understanding the nature of cubism. Those critics considered cubism to be exclusively in the realm of fine art that shouldn’t be used in architecture.
An important role was played by investors. At this time most of investors were rather enlightened. This is apparent especially so if we compare some of the architectural jewels built at this time with quite a few awful current buildings of so called entrepreneur baroque. Apart from sophisticated investors there was another advantage for the members of cubist group. After the old Josefov had been destroyed and many middle aged buildings on the right embankment had disappeared, it was considered appropriate to ask the “Club for Old Prague” association for recommendations regarding the appearance of newly build houses. Pavel Janák, Josef Gočár, Vlastislav Hofman and Josef Chochol were in position when they were able to influence decision of this prestigious association and therefore they were often approached by investors. Thanks to that, there arose the purest example of architectural cubism, a house called Kovařovičov villa that is bellow Vyšehrad and a block of flats in nearby Neklanova Street. Another remarkable example is a lamppost on Jungmann Square that became a kind of an icon of Prague cubism and is to be found in every publication about Czech cubism. Among cubism belong additional smaller buildings that can be found outside of the city centre – one example is Bethlehem Chapel of Bohemian Brethren church in Prokopova Street. It was designed by Emil Králíček who is also a designer of already mentioned lampost and shopping centre Diamant (Diamond) in Spálená Street.
Fascination by cubism was soon over. After the First World War appeared a version of a style sometimes called “rondocubism” or “National Style”. In spite of the style name, the buildings were nevertheless very distinctive. A typical example is a building of Legio bank in Street Na Pořící that was designed by Josef Gočár. His building was decorated with sculptures by two famous artists Otto Gutfreund and Jana Štursy. The first one was a significant representative of cubism in sculpture. Rondocubism was a forerunner of art deco style and it has a positive influence on the appearance of Prague. Many buildings are considered to be real gems, an example being for example Škodův Palace in Jungmannova Street that is currently a seat of Prague municipality.
Czech cubism was, for a long time, marginalized in literature. Only occasional articles in experts’ publications were making references to it. Nowadays there are quality publications available, that were also translated into English.
* Český kubismus (Czech cubism) 1909–1925—painting/ sculpture/architecture/design (Authors: Tomáš Vlček, Pavel Liška, Jiří Švestka).
* Český architektonický kubismus / Czech Architectural Cubism –– Podivuhodný směr, který se zrodil v Praze / A Remarkable Trend that Was Born in Prague (Authors: Zdeněk Lukeš Zdeněk a Ester Havlová)