Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Top Ten of Czech Architecture

Cities are made of buildings, buildings are made by architects, and one of the most reliable ways to see the true highlights of a place is to follow the footsteps of outstanding architects as they went about their life’s work. In no particular order, here are ten of the best to keep in mind as you explore the Czech lands.

There are twelve UNESCO world heritage sites in the Czech Republic, and Jan Santini-Aichl (1677-1723) had a hand in designing two of them; the Church of the Assumption in Kutná Hora and the pilgrimage church at Zelená Hora outside Žďár nad Sázavou in the Czecho-Moravian highlands. Jan Santini-Aichl’s genius was his unique and elegant combination of the best of the gothic and baroque styles; a feat rarely attempted and never mastered by any other architect. He’s also responsible for the monastery church at Kladruby near Plzeň and the Karlova Koruna chateau at Chlumec nad Cidlinou.

Peter Parler (1330?-1399) was a German architect, builder and stonemason who worked in Bohemia during the 14th century. His work in the Czech capital includes Charles Bridge and its gate towers, the stone surrounds of the Prague astronomical clock and parts of St Vitus’ cathedral in the castle grounds. St Bartholomew’s church in Kolín and St Barbora’s in Kutná Hora are two more Central Bohemian examples of his work.

The Czech Republic’s most discussed and most controversial architectural project of the last few years is the design for a new national library by the late Mr. Jan Kaplický (1937-2009). It’s still unclear whether his Chobotnice (Octopus), as it has been nicknamed will ever be built, but while Prague hesitates, České Budějovice is going ahead with a new concert hall nicknamed Rejnok (Stingray), and residential projects will soon be underway in South Moravia and near Konopiště Castle. Abroad, Jan Kaplický is best known for the Lord’s Cricket Ground Media Centre and the Selfridges building in Birmingham (UK).

Dušan Jurkovič (1868-1947) was an ethnographer, designer and architect who developed a highly original style by blending the best elements of art nouveau design and the folk architecture of his native Slovakia. The most notable of Dušan Jurkovič’s public projects include the spa building at Luhačovice, the ski lodges at Pustevny, and renovations of the chateau at Nové Město nad metují and the mill at the place from last week's 'Where the Czech...?'

Jan Kotěra (1871-1923) studied at the Vienna Academy of Applied Arts under professor Otto Wagner. His first big public contracts were for the Okresní dům in Hradec Králové and the riverside Museum of East Bohemia. Prominent Kotěra designs elsewhere include the Narodní Dům (National House) in Prostějov, Tomáš Bata’s villa in Zlín and the Slavia Bank in Sarajevo.

Josef Gočár (1880-1945) was a pupil of Jan Kotěra and also worked in Hradec Králové, where he designed the staircase leading from the main square down through the old city walls, the Anglobank building and the Hussite ‘Church of Ambrose’. But perhaps his best known work is the House of the Black Madonna, which is the most celebrated work of cubist architecture in Prague if not the whole of Europe. The first floor Grand Café Orient is open to the public and features a rare cubist interior.

The most iconic work of architect Karel Hubáček (1924- ) is the television transmitter and hotel on top of the Ještěd ridge outside Liberec, North Bohemia. For this swoopingly graceful tinman’s hat, Mr Hubáček was awarded the prestigious Perret prize by the union of international architects. The tower was voted ‘Construction of the Century’ by the Czech public and is under consideration for UNESCO world heritage listing. In Liberec itself, another of Mr Hubáček’s designs; the love-it-or-hate-it shopping centre of bright orange tiles now owned by TESCO, is currently undergoing demolition.

The Dientzenhofers were a family of German architects who lived and worked in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Between them, Father Christoph and son Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer were responsible for Prague’s old town and Malá Strana Churches of St Nicholas, the churches of St. Bartholomew and St. Thomas in the same city, the monastery church at Břevnov and the chateau at Ploskovice in Northern Bohemia.

Functionalism in architecture is the idea that a building should be designed to suit its purpose. Considered the first truly modern architectural style, one of its leading proponents was Le Corbusier and another was Mies van der Rohe, whose Tugendhat villa in Brno is one of the Czech Republic’s world heritage sites. Brno’s greatest functionalist architect though was Bohuslav Fuchs (1895-1972). Of the dozens of structures bearing his signature, the most notable are the Hotel Avion, the Exhibition Ground pavilions and the Zeman café (demolished in the 1960’s but replaced by a replica in 1995).

Bořek Šípek (1949- ) worked extensively on renovations to the Prague Castle in the first post communist years under the patronage of President Václav Havel. He has worked and taught in Hamburg, Amsterdam, Essen, Prague, Vienna and is currently the dean of architecture at the Technical University of Liberec. His style is sometimes described as neo-baroque but the best way to get a feel for it is to browse through his excellent web pages.

Does anyone have any suggestions for additions to the list?


Karen said...

What a terrific post. Thanks for new sightseeing ideas.

Captain Oddsocks said...

Thanks Karen!

Michael said...

Living in Liberec, I was always a bit partial to Fellner and Helmer's Šaldovo divadlo. If memory serves, they also did the wooden colonnade in Karlovy Vary.

Captain Oddsocks said...

Good suggestion, Michael.

Apparently they also built the State Opera building in Prague and the Mahen theatre in Brno amongst others across Europe including in Berlin, Salzburg, Zagreb, Zurich and their native Vienna. Busy lads!

Brett said...

Great stuff Greg - Jurkovic's work in Luhacovice is really worth seeing - the rustic style makes a refreshing change from the Kaisergelb overkill of the West Bohemian spa towns

Captain Oddsocks said...

Cheers Brett! Any tips for other architects who might deserve to be mentioned among a top ten...?