Cubism & Rondocubism in Prague

Cubism in architecture is a purely Czech phenomenon. It flourished in Prague in 1911-1914. It lasted for such a short time that it has often been described as a curiosity or an architectural utopia rather than a full-blown style.

Cubist architecture is characterised by the use of hard geometrical, often crystalline shapes and ornaments, such as triangles, pyramids, cubes and prisms, as well as new forms of windows and doors (e.g., hexagonal). The Cubists tried to break away from the rationalism and conservatism of the older architects such as Jan Kotĕra and Otto Wagner, believing that objects had their own inner energy which could be released by splitting or slicing horizontal and vertical surfaces. Because it combines the fragmentation of form characteristic of Cubism with the dramatism of Expressionism, it can also be called Cubo-Expressionism.

After World War I, when Czechoslovakia gained its independence, Czech Cubism developed into Rondocubism. The latter style used semicircles and cylinders instead of angular shapes. It was more influenced by traditional folk ornaments and was, thus, less avant-garde. It was widely used in industrial architecture.

The buildings below are the most famous examples of Czech Cubist and Rondocubist architecture. I took the photos in late October and early November 2015.

You will find the locations of the buildings on this map:

 

1. House of the Black Madonna

Ovocný trh 19, Staré Město
Josef Gočár, 1911-1912

This is the first and the most famous example of Cubist architecture in Prague. It got its name from a statue rescued from a Baroque building previously located on the same lot.

The building uses the language of Baroque architecture in a Cubist form. It has angular bay windows that are divided by pilasters with letter-shaped capitals and a Cubist balcony railing. With its more classical third-storey windows and pilasters and its double roof it fits well in its Baroque surroundings.

Josef Gočár designed the building for the wholesale merchant František Josef Herbst as a department store. Herbst’s store occupied the ground and second floor, on the first floor there was the Grand Café Orient and above there were apartments.

The building has a reinforced-concrete skeleton, a miracle of engineering of the time, which allowed for large interior spaces without pillar support. This was better suited to Cubist aesthetics and is best exemplified by the Grand Café Orient, which is the only surviving Cubist interior in the world.

The Museum of Czech Cubism currently operates in the building.

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2. Cubist lamp post

Jungmannovo náměstí, Staré Město
Emil Králíček, 1911-1913

This is the only Cubist street lantern in the world. Its crystals are made of artificial stone. It also has a seat.

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3. House complex on Rašínovo nábřeží 6/42, 8/47, and 10/71

Josef Chochol, 1912-1913

This Baroque-influenced complex looks like an exercise in Cubist architecture rather than a fully-developed architectural concept.

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4. Kovařovic Villa and Garden

Libušina 3/49, Vyšehrad
Josef Chochol, 1912-1913

This is one of the most beautiful Cubist buildings in Prague. The alternation of geometric protrusions and indentations conveys, surprisingly, peace and calm. Not only is the villa Cubist, so are the garden layout, the flowerbeds, the boundary wall and the steps.

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5. Hodek Apartment Building

Neklanova 30/98, Vyšehrad
Josef Chochol, 1913-1914

This building displays Chochol’s trademark lozenges. The converging diagonals create a dynamic sense of movement, which is especially apparent in strong sunlight. The steep site enhances the play of light and shadows on the façades. All this make the tenement house look as light as a piece of origami.

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6. Apartment houses on Elišky Krásnohorské 10-14 and Bílkova 5

Otakar Novotný, 1919-1921

These houses were built for a co-operative of teachers. They are utilitarian rather than formalist, paving way to the Rondocubist architecture of the post-war period.

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7. Czechoslovak Legio Bank Building

Na poříčí 24, Florenc
Josef Gočár, 1921-1923

This is a major example of Czech Rondocubist architecture, built as a depository for soldiers that had fought in World War I. It has a white marble frieze designed by Otto Gutfreund, depicting the epic march across Siberia of the Czechoslovak Legion and their embroilment in the Russian revolutions, set into the smoky-red moulding of the façade. The main banking hall has a curved glass roof and a distinctive red-and-white marble patterning.

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8. Adria Palace

Jungmannova 31, Nové Město
Josef Zasche & Pavel Janák, 1923-1926

The gigantic Adria Palace is another prime example of Czech Rondocubism. Built for the Italian insurance company Riunione Adriatica di Sicurtà, it has been described as an imitation of a Renaissance palazzo (note the alternation of angles and semi-circles). It has an open foyer with an elaborate 24-hour clock surrounded by bronze statuettes, representing the signs of the zodiac.

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