Panelaks (Part 2)

Jan Sladek about the panelaks:

Source: Photographing Prague Architecture (1922-1968)

Source: Photographing Prague Architecture (1922-1968)

“One of the symbols of communism, everyone who been around Europe knows panelak can be found in France, if you look at south cell it’s one of the biggest panelak in France, in Czech republic it depends on the location, you can be part of the cities with panelak which are beautiful with good transports and some that are isolated. Now I talked about shortage, the same shortage that there was with wages was the same with housing, I remembered that my family, it was so hard for them to get a flat because they could not buy a flat. So we had to wait for the regime to build a new one and it took the regime 15yrs to build a flat… for some people that was quite a long time.

Yes it was a solution to quiet a massive shortage in housing and people were all glad for having this, not all the buildings were that bad, some of them were in beautiful location. What the problem was…the management of the building where you have 8 buildings and 40 flats. (I am talking about the panelaks where I grew up) I remember several things when the lights went out, it took days for someone to get it fixed because you had to call to get it fixed, there was no private sector who would fix the problem, you had to call the municipality  and they would say we would put you on the waiting list, our electrician would come and solve the problem in a few days, the same with the lifts systems as well. These are for common places as well as flats.

The flat was also owned by the state so the state was responsible for fixing it, this happened frequently that the people started to help themselves; I would say this was irresponsible form the government, under normal setting, you are a tenant, and you are investing in fixing up the place. People started developing close ownership of the flat. So when the regime failed on of the first question was to what is there to do with all this state flat, they had to find a way to give it out to people so the flats were privatised, so people where glad that they had one secured thing in their lives which was housing.

Again I am coming to my flat 8 stories 40 flats, 40 families. In 1994 each family got the chance to buy the flat which was on the condition that all families would do this, which not everyone wanted to stay or to buy. So there was a huge negotiation we had to renovate all the building, this went okay but there was no law about the management of the public space. So again the problem of lift and light management was still the same, it took some time to develop a strategy on how to solve the problem even though it did not work, one of the problem was, that we shared difference flat but who share the ground beneath the building all this little things lead to do with the ill management of the building and it started to de-tolerate which again was a huge contribution to all the bad image of housing.

The interesting thing about Czech panelaks which is difference from British housing, French housing, I would say even American housing, was giving their housing shortage which was distributed all around society. We had very great mix of social demographic mix in one building it was not like only poor people would leave there, we got professors, physicians and workers in the same building.”

Marina Gogeanu

Interview transcribed by: Lesoda Otu-Iso

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Hotel Crowne Plaza

Klara Mergerova:

“This hotel is known in Prague under the name of Hotel Internazional, which was the original name. It is a hotel which was constructed in the early 1950s, which was a period of the style called ‘socialism realism’ and this was after the communist regime took the power in the 1948. This was the only official style of the early 1950s, so new buildings and new housing estates were built only in this style which was a style that took elements from the history and also linked it to some decorative elements, and it was meant for the working class, for the working people to bring joy into their everyday lives.”

Marina Gogeanu

Zizkov television tower and David Černý

Klara Mergerova:

“David Černý is one of the most popular and also most controversial artists at the moment. Here, in Czech Republic, his way of working is an art of provocation, so he often creates works which are very offensive to some groups of people; so, on one hand, people notice him a lot because very much often his artworks are very much popularized and criticized by the media and he’s also known abroad for that.”

Pavel Kalina:

The Zizkov television, the babies crawling

“It’s joking. It’s a bit parasiting, of course, of the past, but it’s a joke, it’s a groovy joke.  But I think, the author of the building, of the tower, which is still alive, probably was not happy. You find tv tower many times and today they are not necessarily. and… it is stupid to have this tower on the skyline of Prague, especially …. On the historical district. On the other side, it is a part of the history.  The babies are also today a part of history, but I think that the babies,.. the power.. the tower.. it is useless..the babies are just added to the architecture..”

Zizkov television tower

Marina Gogeanu

Prague and The communist architecture

Pavel Kalina

“The communist architecture has many negative connotations, of course. The architecture […] of those townships or settlements built in 1960s, 1970s, are of course not taken as the good address. In the same time, the townships din not change islams, anything like that. They are normally inhabited by the new generations, but usually are the old generations of people. Many of those buildings were renovated, in the last 2 decades, many of them were given façades  for example, so sometimes you would not recognise that they are from the time of the communist regime. So, I think normal people do not take these houses as good addresses, good architecture, as a good place to live. But they are cheap, they are a form outside of the historical cities, so in this aspect is not completely a bad place to live and they are sometimes defended as urban textures by historians of architecture who are interpreting these buildings as a part of our heritages.

I think very problematic. I myself live in a town from 1994, which was designed in the 1980s. And I’m not completely satisfied with the building, but I live there since 1994, so.. but it is not a typical housing, but I think it is a normal place where you  live in present day Prague. In present day Prague, people do not live in the historical centre. The historical centre is futurist and for managers and international accountants, but not so much for normal people.”

Klara Mergerova

“I’m a historian of architecture, so I, myself see the qualities and of course I try to show that there are buildings which were constructed during the communist regime, but which still present some qualities, but I think the general opinion is that those buildings were there to abrupt intrusion and most people refused even to think about qualities connected to the regime, so even buildings which are considered from architectural point of view are not appreciated by the general public. But there are of course, more and more tourists, which try now to see them as something specific for this region and who come to see them.”

Pavel Kalina

“Here in Prague, the  most despised project of the communist era was the so called Palace of Culture. It is just behind the border of the historical city, but even this project, which is ugly, even this project was no exception in the European architecture in the 1970s, 1980s, including Western European. You will find many ugly buildings in Western Europe as well. This building was not much bigger, not much ugly than the lords houses… I don’t like… I would never say that …in this aspect… that the communism expressed the totalitarian character in every house, or in every part of the town. It would be very, very exaggerated.”

Klara Mergerova

“Then you have Czech Department Stores, which are also found all over the country and also in Prague. We have some really good examples in the city centre (Department Store Kotva) which are representants of the most quality architecture of the period.  On the other hand, they are also disputable and not maybe … the quality isn’t fully recognized until today because they are very monumental  and people still see them as the residues of communist architecture. […]

Kotva Department Store

These buildings were financed by the communist regime, so they reflect (the department stores) reflect their aims to compete with the other world, the Western commercial centres, etc. The other buildings reflect the aim to impress and to prove the power of the regime.”

Marina Gogeanu

Interviews transcribed by: Marina Gogeanu

How did the communist regime change the landscape in Czechoslovakia? P2

We’ve also asked Dr. Michal Pullman (teacher of contemporary history at the Charles University, faculty of Arts) how did the communist regime change the landscape in Czechoslovakia and this is what he answered:

“[…] there were huge differences in regions… as you see Prague was not destructed, it was neglected very strongly so the houses were in very bad condition and predominantly, […] the new apartments which were built on the very outskirts of the city centre.

The Czech architects, especially Prague architects, wanted to keep Prague as the special city.

Old town Centre

Old town Centre

There were in the 50’s attempts to build new towns completely such as Habichstein or Nova Dubriica in Slovakia to show the Stalinist view of the new world.  These are big extreme positions and then we have something in between… which is for instance typical for many Slovaks cities even Moravian or Czech and Bohemian cities, rather smaller cities where the city settings were in so far neglected that it was easier  to destroy or it was decided to destroy part of the very city centre and to build apartments…  it is the example of Chi Bram, fantastic place which is let’s say 60km of Prague and was half destroyed because no-one wanted to invest into historical and so this way there were huge differences…

This practise that you’re talking about (the destruction of national heritage) was perhaps even more typical in Romania… we can find that in Czechoslovakia, but it was not the regular procedure because even the communists were somehow… even the political representation did have in Czechoslovakia some kind of national heritage…  I mentioned already that communism in Czechoslovakia was very often perceived as a kind of nation communism, so they had some kind of national heritage… I mean the Ceausescu palace(in Romania) […] was not erected cause something valuable would be destroyed and something not very nice from our perspective would be erected… […] Czechoslovakia was much more not divided, there were various approaches, it was not unified and there was much destruction but not as much as Romania.  Excellent examples would be city of Moos that was destroyed completely because of the coal and it was a historical town also it is typical for Czechoslovakia 1974, the main church was saved and moved to about 2km, it was an unbelievable technicality at that time…  but this was very typical for Czechoslovakia… if they destroyed something they compensated,  they saved the main church and this is also the example German town of Moos is completely destroyed and the new Moos is Built of the panels. […] these approaches were different in Czechoslovakia for instance concerning the moss of the new city which was 5km away at the time was not perceived as a consequence of destruction but as an improvement of the quality of life as the new apartments were better than the old ones and of course they saw predominantly the ideology that as far as I know there was no internal protest there was from the side of the intellectuals in Prague but no specific protests against this.

But today if you come to Moss it’s a sad place with huge unemployment with these panel houses that look much worse today but at that time it was perceived as departing from ~Stalinist historicism towards the progressive constructivism in the 60’s and 70’s, so it was always ambivalent… the communist destroyed much not only Moss, other centres of the cities, but if they did it they always tried  to compensate it somehow and at the same time they tried to keep the historic heritage of Prague and of other beautiful cities… not only Czech land but also Slovakia.”

Marina Gogeanu

How did the communist regime change the landscape of Prague?

During the interview we took him, Pavel Kalina (professor of history architecture in the school of Architecture in Prague) explained to us how the communist regime changed the landscape of Prague.

“The communist regime in Prague did not change so much the character of the historical city.

The communist regime in Prague, in the Former Czechoslovakia was slightly conservative in many issues, including various aspects of architecture.  It means no large destructions or important changes were made in the historical centre of Prague (and it was very similar in other historical cities in Czechoslovakia). The main problem was rather the negligence or raw investments in historical buildings… because many of them ended in bad technical condition.

But what was the real problem and what is even today a problem of Czech towns, it is more what happened around the historical centres, not exactly in the city centres. It means in the time of the communist regime, of course, just like in Western Europe people needed housing, people needed jobs, especially the young families and the regime was not able to supply housing possibilities for large segments of population. There was no market there, there was no market for these housing, these buildings, these flats; everything was seen…the distribution of housing was completely in the hands of the state, so it was no ideal situation.  And, as a result, they constructed large settlements, large townships around the historical city centres. There were many problems:  the housing standards were generally low, or sometimes there were problems with transportations, there were always problems… or the cultural life of those not living in the historical towns…but in fact, I would say never, maybe with some exceptions, the regime didn’t care about the existential problems with supplying people with the most important items or transportations. Anything like this. It would be very exaggerated[…].  It was a political organisation, which of course caused some problems, especially with housing. I would never say that everything was bad, everything was completely bad or that  it was impossible to live in the country… anything like that.

It is even a defence when compared to other parts of Eastern Europe. In Czechoslovakia, in the times of the  communist regime, the monuments, including those monuments created to religious side, were not destroyed, with few exceptions. Especially in the bold religion of the Czechoslovakia, but generally they kept them in good conditions. The maintenance was usually sponsored by state, because state was the only institution able to finance all these projects, so it was not so much of destruction compared to the situation in Russia where many churches were physically destroyed and destroyed on purpose. This was different. […]In this aspect, the conservatism of Czech communists was not that big.”

church

Marina Gogeanu

Interview transcribed by: Marina Gogeanu

Panelák

3-40 1-16 1-15

“During the communist regime, both the architecture and the construction industry were focused mainly on 2 different fields: one of them was the construction of huge panel-houses estates and the second one was the construction of huge cultural or political representatives or even buildings dedicated to sports, for sports events.” Klara Mergerova (PhD candidate at Faculty of Architecture of Czech Technic University in Prague) 

When asked how are the panel-houses perceived by Prague’s citizens, she answered: “On one hand they are still popular because they offer good quality of living and they are cheap, but on the other hand it’s considered as the low cost way of living, so I think no one is really proud to be living is such buildings and above, the young people refuse them and tend to move in more qualitative apartments, they tend to move back to the city centre, and they cut themselves from the past. There is still a huge per cent of population still living in them… ”

We also had a conversation with Pavel Kalina (professor of history architecture in the school of Architecture in Prague) and we’ve asked him if he finds any relation between the tenants blocks (the Panelaks as they call them) and the  Futurist Manifesto- written in 1909 and the idea of the New Man. This is what he answered:

” You can take it metaphorically as a result of what was imagined about future in the early 20th century. But, in reality… Here we are in the Campus of Czech Technological University, so I will remain in the simple reality, and I would say that it was probably more dictated by the needs of the building industry.”  “I think it was much more dictated by the completely technic character of building industry in Czechoslovakia than by any ideology. Of course, as I’ve said, you can take it as a metaphor, as a symbol, but in fact, it was just a technic product, which is itself a metaphor.”

Marina Gogeanu

Interviews transcribed by: Marina Gogeanu

The Former Parliament Building – Prague

At the top of Wenceslas Square next to the majestic National Museum is an unattractive Communist era building. Resembling a giant black glass table that just so happened to sit on another building, this eyesore is anything but pleasing. From 1966-1973 the old building that housed the original Exchange was destroyed to make way for the Communist Parliament, a glass monstrosity with two giant pillars. The building is still complete with nuclear shelters. The demands of the Velvet Revolution were accepted here in 1989 and the building was the of home of Radio Free Europe who rented the location from former president Vaclav Havel for a very small fee per year (rumor has it that the fee was 1 kc). Radio Free Europe has moved to a new location out of the center or Prague and the Old Parliament building is now under the ownership of the National Museum

Bauhaus architecture is a great style of architecture for those who prefer minimalism as well as function or style. Buildings constructed from the Bauhaus design are always cubic in shape. They feature four flat sides as well as flat roof tops. The colors of the typical Bauhaus building are generally black, white, grey or sometimes beige – however an owner can change the color if desired.

The interior of the home or building reflects a functional, open floor plan. Generally, the interior of the homes are often minimalist or contemporary – but it can depend entirely on the owner’s preference. Originally, these homes are designed with function in mind.

The National Museum also known as the Former Parliament Building, is a drab grey concrete building, which can be traced to the Bauhaus architecture, it has distinctive features of a Bauhaus building, the flat roof, glass walls, right angles. The Bauhaus has influenced architectural design since the 1920s and 1930s, this continues today as we can see that the Former Parliament Building has being influenced by the Bauhaus architectural design.

Lesoda Otu-Iso

Power and architecture – Czech Republic

Alongside many other European cities which came across the communist regime (Moscow, Bucharest, Warsaw), Prague experienced besides communism, the communist architecture which has been described either as grandiose (Stalinist architecture), either as massive and grey.

The 1950s architecture and generally the Socialist-Realist style consists mainly in consciously imitating Stalin’s tastes.

One of the very few examples of Socialist Realist architecture in Prague is the Crowne Plaza Hotel, the largest Stalinist building in Prague which was initially constructed as a luxurious meeting space for the army delegates of the Soviet Union.

Crowne Hotel Plaza(Crowne Plaza Hotel, 2011)

The architectural style of the building was inspired by a series of constructions in Russia, and it fulfilled Stalin’s fantasy by becoming a miniature copy of the Seven Sisters group of skyscrapers from Moscow.  The spire is one of Stalin’s individual marks as this element noticeably repeats in all the Moscow’s high-rises buildings along with features specific to the gothic cathedrals.

The hotel was built between 1952 and 1954 under the vigilant eye of the Stalinist Minister of Defense –  Alexej Cepicka and it was designed by František Jeřábek and his group of colleagues. The 254-room hotel is 88 meters high and it has 16 floors along with a fallout shelter which can get together 600+ people.  Its original Socialist Realist architecture and character is imposing, as well as the green star on the top of the hotel (the colour of Holiday Inn company, but also the colour of capitalism) which was once a red one (symbol of being a communist building).

Hotel Crowne Plaza PrahaHotel Crowne Plaza Praha (Prague Convention Bureau)

Crowne Plaza Hotel represents the still-living memory of the socialistic era and is consequently one of the cultural monuments of the Czech Republic.

Another symbol of the power and authority in Prague is Kotva department store, one of the most famous and controversial communist buildings of the Czech Republic.  Finished in 1975, the building instigates through its 6 units the supremacy and the uniqueness of the communist retro design.

Kotva department storeKotva department store

Marina Gogeanu