“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.”
We’ve asked Pavel Kalina if the governmental buildings have any relation to Le Corbusier and his beliefs about the rypolin:
“I don’t think so. He’s an icon in Czech avant-garde, but after the war, I think there was no interest in the work of Le Corbusier in Czech lands.
There’s the exception of the free plan, applied to settlements, not to houses, but to settlements… The free organisation of housing, I mean bizarre restrict street system, from compact cities. It was a Corbusier inspiration, but it was not that much applied to the governmental buildings. The official architecture was influenced first by the so called “socialist realism”. This lasted for several years in the 1950s. It was a real influence by, as I said, the previous tradition, by the brutalism of the 1950s. So, I would not say that there was any specific relationship to Le Corbusier.”
“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.”
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..”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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. […]
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.”
Interviews transcribed by: Marina Gogeanu
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.
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.”
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.”
Interview transcribed by: Marina Gogeanu
“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.”
Interviews transcribed by: Marina Gogeanu