ARTICHECTS OF CZECHOSLOVAKIA
by Samir Si-Ahmed
At the commencement of the 20th century, architects, such as Bohuslav Fuchs, Josif Plecnik, Josef Gocar, and Pavel Janak, influenced the field of architecture in various ways. This generation of architects successfully managed to introduce new architectural ideas, such as Cubism and Modernism, to the country of Czechoslovakia. Although these four architects wanted to establish a name for themselves, they learned and studied their basics from a man by the name of Otto Wagner, who was not only considered a mentor in the field of architecture, but also a genius in the eyes of the Czechs. Wagner was a man who had taught many young architects his notion of Modern Architecture, because at that time he believed in satisfying the needs of the modern man. Architecture in Czechoslovakia was becoming very important at the beginning of the 20th century, and architects like Fuchs, Plecnik, Gocar, and Janak were able to take the teachings of Wagner, and create their own styles of architecture. Together, they managed to build a beautiful and unique country, for the people of Czechoslovakia.
Bohuslav Fuchs was born in Vsechovice in 1895. He began his education in Prague at the Academy of Fine Arts in 1916, where he obtained his degree three years later. At the start of his career, he associated himself with other famous architects, such as Jan Kotera, Josef Stepanek, and Jindrich Kumpost. Fuchs became one of the most important and distinguished architects, for the city of Brno, between the two World Wars.
Fuchs was an architect that concentrated most of his work in Brno, a city which attracted modernist architects, because unlike Prague, architects did not encounter conflicts with the city and prevention officials. Jindrich Kumpost, Brno's city architect, hired Fuchs to work for the city, because he wanted Fuchs to find a new way of thinking about architecture for urban planning. Fuchs was determined to prove himself as an individual architect, so he decided to build his first projects in a decorative cubist style. This style is apparent in the Meat Market and the Ceremonial Hall of Brno both reflecting a cubist massing. Both of these works portrayed a sense of modernism and gave the city Brno a touch of Cubism. The Czechs certainly appreciated Fuchs' work because his buildings, being different and modern, stood out from the rest of the ancient run down city. Fuchs had built over twenty functionalist projects which included houses, schools, civic buildings, banks and hotels, but his style did not appear to change until his Zeman Cafe was built in Brno. This cafe is whitewashed and includes steel-framed windows, which portrays a sense of functional unity. Another notable example is the Hotel Avion, which at first presented numerous problems. Located at the heart of the city, the parcel was very narrow and Fuchs was challenged to create an acceptable disposition of space. He did so with the usage of skylights, airshafts and mirrored walls.
Construction rapidly slowed down after 1929, which force Fuchs to return to urban planning. In the mid-1930s, he decided to change his orthogonal lined to curved forms. This new architectural aspect showed up in his thermal baths Zelena Zaba, where he curved on side of the building in order to match its surroundings. After the war, the communist regime saw him as a representative of the bourgeois functionalism, thus making it hard for him to continue working. He managed to worked on a few renovations, but Fuchs was not able to express his beauty through architecture after the war.
Pavel Janak was born in Prague in 1882, and was an architect who represented the style of avant-garde Cubism, in the city of Prague. He was a strong believer in the Wagnerian modern trends, which was founded and established by Otto Wagner. Janak's works included spiritual architecture, which was characterized by three-dimensional shaping of facades. This concept came apparent in his work of the Riunione Adriatica di Sicurta Palace in Prague and the Crematorium in Pardubice. These two buildings also strengthened the pride of the Czechs, because the work was very different from the rest of the city, and it had never been seen before. It was not until later that Janak was able to develop his functionalistic style with the influence of Dutch brickwork architecture.
Janak obtained the position of chief architect in the Prague Castle, which gave him an strong interest in renovations of historical monuments. He illustrated this interest in several renovations, such as the Cerninsky Palace, the Theresian wing of the Prague Palace, the Bull Game House and Riding Hall. All of his renovations, although not done from scratch, were still considered very important to the people of Prague, because he gave these old buildings a sense of functionalism and modernism, even though they had been built in a different style. The Czechs strongly believe and understand that his best achievements in the field of architecture came between his years of renovating.
Joze Plecnik was born in Ljubljana, capital of Slovenia in 1872. He was Slovenian, but spent a considerable time in Prague. He was trained in the workshop of his father for several years, before attending the State School of Craftsmanship in Graz, and later going into the field of furniture design in Vienna. He then entered the famous atelier of Otto Wagner, who taught him the idea of modernism. Plecnik was an architect who never ignored the modern trends, but certainly concentrated on classical architecture. He once stated "What [Auguste] Perret does I cannot do but what I do, Perret cannot". Although architecture was changing to satisfy logical needs, Plecnik remained a humanist who preferred the simplicity of the human dignity.
Plecnik enjoyed Mediterranean forms, and made it apparent in several of his works. He designed an office and residential building in the center of Vienna, for Johannes Zacherl, an industrial magnate. The Zacherl House became his most famous and appreciated work. The building was rectangular with sharp edges throughout the facades. Even though it was not a very tall building, he was able to give it an enormous amount of mass, by avoiding the usage of plain, flat facades. He also built the Church of the Holy Spirit, where for this project, he used reinforced concrete creating a sense of monumental architecture. The usage of reinforced concrete had not yet been utilized in Eastern Europe. In 1911, he obtained the post of professor at the Prague School of Applied Arts. It was not until ten years later, when he decided to return to Ljubljana and teach at the newly founded University of Ljubljana. Although his return to Ljubljana was not anticipated, he left behind beautiful works in the city of Prague. These include the restoration of the Prague Castle, which was the presidential residence of Thomas G.Masaryk. He also constructed several churches, including Sacred Heart Church in Prague, university libraries, civic buildings, chapels, and the market place in Ljubljana. For all of these works, he decided to work with the need for individuality and particularity. This meant that his work was different from one another. He was more concerned with the architectural situation, then with the single notion of modernism. Plecnik was able to create this situation, with the usage of a diversity of materials, historical references and finding memorable place to built, so that his work could always be filled with richness. His works will not only be remembered by his people at home, but also by the people in Prague.
Josef Gocar was born in Semin in 1880. He began his studies at the Technical School for building in Prague, before serving seven years in the Austrian army. After the army, Gocar went into private practice in Prague, where he obtained two major positions during his lifetime. He was named dean of the Academy of Fine Arts, and president of the Czechoslovak Association of Architects.
Gocar was an architect that greatly influenced the Bohemian architecture during the early years of the 20th century. His architectural education was similar to Otto Wagner, because Gocar's teacher, Jan Kotera had learned from Wagner. Like many other architects, Gocar was striving to develop his own unique style, which did not appear until he created the Wanke Department Store in Jaromer, showing his viewers a sense of neo-classical discipline with modern materials. Gocar later became discontent with the concepts of Wagner. He and some of his colleagues believed the works of Wagner and Kotera to be very rational and socially oriented. Gocar's indecisiveness was overcome by the idea of Cubism. It was in 1911, that Gocar showed his belief in the spiritual architecture to the people of Czechoslovakia, when he designed the Sanatorium in Bohdanec and the House of the Black Mother of God in Prague. He achieved rhythm and tension in the facades with the usage of angled planes and prismatic forms, which certainly portrayed the ideas of Cubism. It was not until the end of World War I that Gocar decided to change his angled planes for circular elements. By then, the Czech Republic had undertaken the aspect of 'rondocubism', and Gocar made sure to portray this concept in his Legiobank of Prague, which was similar to his previous work, except his shapes were circular, which gave the building a different look. Although Gocar had changed his architectural concepts a few times throughout his career, he remained basically classical throughout his notorious years.
In conclusion, these four architects, among several more, will always be remembered in the eyes of the public. They worked through several historical problems, such as the World Wars, and the rise of Communism, but nevertheless were able to create numerous, genius works behind the ideas of Cubism and Modernism. Czechoslovakia had reached a point where it needed to evolve in the field of architecture, and Fuchs, Plecnik, Janak, and Gocar were the ones who emerged in the contribution of building a country with not only a sense of history, but also a sense of individuality from the rest of the world. They brightened up the country of Czechoslovakia with their works, and have become mentors for generations ahead.
1) Randall J. Van Vynckt, International Dictionary of Architects and Architecture. Volume 1, St. James Press, Detroit, 1993.
2) Adolf K. Placzek, Macmillan Encyclopedia of Architects. Volume 1 & 3, Macmillan Publishing Co., New York, 1982.
3) Alexander von Vegasack, Czech Cubism, New York, 1992