Contemporary Architecture in Prague
17 August, 2016
Practically the whole of 20th-century architecture is represented in Prague’s urban fabric. Even today you can admire examples of major achievements in the various styles that emerged over the last century. Here at My Vueling City we have prepared an introduction to these styles, as embodied in some of the city’s most emblematic buildings.
Among other things, Modernism was born of a desire to harmoniously depict “a total artwork”. One of the most prominent illustrations of this in the Czech capital is Villa Bílek. The sculptor, graphic artist and illustrator František Bílek (1872–1941) – together with Alfons Mucha – was one of the leading exponents of Czech Art Nouveau. This studio and residential villa, located near Prague Castle, was built in 1911. It was designed as a backdrop to reflect a field of grain – indeed, many of its details give form to this idea. For instance, the columns are stylised sheaves of wheat. The villa now houses a permanent exhibition on František Bílek.
Cubist architecture took hold solely in Czechoslovakia. In this style, artistic value prevails over practicality, which often ends up tending to an exercise in style. At any rate, well worth the visit is the House of the Black Madonna or Dům u Černé Matky Boží, designed by the acclaimed Czech architect, Josef Gočár. Design enthusiasts will be pleased to learn that this is the site of the Museum of Decorative Arts, featuring furniture, ceramics, posters, publicity graphics and other select works by the Cubist painter, Emil Filla, and Josef Čapek. There is also an exhibition of Czech Cubism which runs until 31 December 2017. And, there’s more – the building also houses the Grand Café Orient, the only Cubist café in the world.
Functionalism is an architectural principle by which the form of a building is derived from its function. It was the essence of modernity as opposed to traditionalism. The best example of this in Prague is the Villa Müller, designed by Adolf Loos and Karel Lhota for the owner of a construction company, František Müller. In this villa, built from 1928 to 1930, Loos applied both functionalist ideas and the Raumplan theory – instead of dividing available space into different levels or storeys, it is distributed in “cubes”. The latter are arranged so that each room is interspersed on different levels. The building belongs to the City of Prague Museum and the interior still features the original furniture and fixtures. There is also a small exhibition on the life of Adolf Loos.
Functionalism inadvertently created a kind of transition towards post-war Soviet realism. Prague was happily spared from being disfigured by the Communist regime and subsequent Soviet domination. It is not so long ago that half of Europe still lived under a Communist regime dominated by the USSR. Prague was one of the most important cities on the other side of the iron curtain, and it was there that the leading Soviet architects of the time were active – their work can still be admired today. It may not be one of the most widely applauded styles in the history of architecture, but it impresses in that it clearly fulfilled its mandate, becoming an identity trait for a whole era.
Socialist realism architecture tended to be monumental, historicist, symmetrical, decorative and studded with references to Stalinism. The most famous building from that period is the Hotel International Prague, in the Letná district, put up under the direction of the government of the time. Like Warsaw’s Palace of Culture and Science, it was a small-scale copy of seven similar, monumental buildings in Moscow. Completed in 1954, the building with the tallest tower is 16 storeys or 88 metres high.
Independence – Contemporary Architecture
Despite Prague regaining its freedom after the fall of the Communist Bloc, this did not prompt an architectural revival in the city. It did, however, spark a marshalling of valuable resources to restore the city’s historical areas and renovate its residential districts. The most internationally acclaimed achievement of recent times is held to be the celebrated Dancing House – also known as Ginger & Fred for its silhouette, which evokes the two dancers of Hollywood fame. Designed by Vlado Milunič, a native of Prague, and the American Frank Gehry, it initially stirred up considerable controversy due to its placement among Baroque, Gothic and Art Nouveau buildings, seriously rupturing the area’s urban profile. It now contains an art gallery, a bar, a restaurant and a hotel.
This, then, is My Vueling City‘s review of Prague’s most prominent architectural landmarks from the 20th century. We expect you to be surprised by them when you visit the city. Check out our flights here.
Text by Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS
17 August, 2016