Karel Teige’s Modern Architecture in Czechoslovakia (1929)

Translated from the Czech by Irena Murray and David Britt.  From Karel

Teige, Modern Architecture in Czechoslovakia and Other Writings.

(The Getty Research Institute.  Los Angeles, CA: 2000).

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Modern Czech architecture originated at the turn of the century.  In Prague, as elsewhere in Europe, two conflicting trends, two divergent views, and two different centuries provoked a collision of generations: a historical confrontation between the eras of modernism and historicism, between the past and the present.  It was a clash that portended a rich and fertile future.  Something was born with the new century, and something died: a new era of Czech culture arose.

At the end of the last century, when a moldering provincialism was stifling Czech cultural life, a few courageous and assertive spirits — fiery advocates of the new — flung the windows open onto Europe.  A blazing sun flooded well-aired studios to herald a new spring.  The sun sped to its zenith across the deep blue sky, weaving its way among sails of white clouds; it made the world reverberate like a fugue of colored light.  Shadows assumed blue and purple hues.  Without a doubt this sun was truly impressionistic.  The same sun that enveloped [Claude] Monet’s cathedrals with its glow and caressed the sensuously bathing or languorous women of [Pierre-Auguste] Renoir now pierced the open windows and shone above the red roofs of [Antonín] Slavíček’s country houses; it peered over the alleys in Luhačovice Spa and above the panoramas of Prague.  And, in the quiet evenings, the moon so revered by the symbolists crept into the attics inhabited by poets and kissed the forehead of the author of Mstivá kantiléna [A Song of Vengeance; 1898].  [Jan] Preisler’s triptych Jaro [Spring] was an authentic symbol of this era as well as of his own: a burgeoning of all that gave birth to the new springtime of Czech art.  Against the increasingly impressionistic landscapes of Slavíček, the unfortunate [Otakar] Lebeda, and [Miloš] Jiránek, a suggestive poetic accord of allegory endured.  It was a lonely, melancholic, and expectant longing, an uncertain promise — an unrest, a caprice of subtle nuances, a mood (yes, that is the right word) of youth and art.  It was an awakening of new art, a sacred spring.

Like Dutch modernism, Czech modernism was fortunate in that architecture assumed a leading role in the first years of the new century.  Credit for this is due to the great founding personality of Jan Kotěra who became a leader of Mánes (the association that represented the vigorous new avant-garde).  This is the same Kotěra who had been the leader of a whole generation of impressionists whom he eventually surpassed to become the precursor of a generation of constructivist architects.


The Nineteenth Century: A Retrospective

Liberating the architecture of the nineteenth century from the stylistic confusion of historicism was of paramount necessity.  This doddering, infertile, and uncreative architecture, this spiritless antiquarianism and outmoded craft, this plagiarized reconstruction of historical styles had to be repudiated.  Nationalism, the continuation of historicism, with its concomitant ethnic or folkloristic vogues (which condemned even the most talented painters to provincialism), erected mighty obstacles for healthy architectural design throughout the nineteenth century.  In the same way, sentimentality in the methods and rules of historical preservation threatened urban development.  While architecture vegetated in a historicist, provincial, and academic atmosphere, technology moved ahead with speed and vigor.  Even in the early years of the nineteenth century, a remarkable technological tradition flourished in Czech lands.  The first engineering school was founded in Prague in 1717, thirty years earlier than in Paris; in 1806 it became a polytechnic school, once again the first in Central Europe.1 The classicistic Empire style, which in the 1820s reigned as the official style, was characterized by high-quality construction sustained by a relatively advanced technological and engineering culture.

The vigorous industrial and capitalist development in Czech lands attests to a high level of civilization both during the Napoleonic era and later, under the empire.  Industrial development was closely linked with the development of transport; as evidence of this progress, the first railway on the European continent was built in Bohemia by F[rantišek] A[ntonín] Gerstner, professor at the Technical University of Prague [Pražská technika].  The new line, sixty-three kilometers long, connected České Budějovice to Linz and was constructed between 1825 and 1828.  Initially, the cars were drawn by horses.  Another line between České Budějovice and Trojanov opened on 7 September 1827.  The twenty-five kilometer Buštéhrad line that followed in the spring of 1830 was also horse-drawn at first.  The line between Prague-Bruska and Vejhybka came next.  A further extension to Lány, another twenty-seven kilometers, opened in the fall of the same year; in 1833 this line was extended another five kilometers, from Lány to Pině.  Even so, the first steam-operated railway came comparatively late.  In 1842 the state initiated construction of a steam-operated line from Olomouc to Prague and of the line from Prague to Podmokly on 26 April 1845.  The former was inaugurated in 1845; the latter, in 1850.  At this point, railway construction ceased for a full twenty years and resumed only in the 1870s.

The Empire style, the official style of 1800, was the harbinger of the new architectural thinking.  It bore an affinity with the actual practice of architecture. It strove to impose a particular building type (this would prove beneficial from the viewpoints of economics, manufacturing, society, and aesthetics).  It lacked ornament and displayed a preference for a simple classical line, combined with horizontalism that favored flat roofs.  In addition, it manifested an understanding of technical progress, new materials, and construction.  In short, it breathed a spirit of collectivism and materialism — and made the [61-62] Empire style the authentic predecessor of those new architectural tendencies that would only come into their own a hundred years later.

Toward the end of the 1830s steam-operated factories supplanted manual labor; by the 1860s steam engines were commonplace.  By this date the use of girders, crossbeams, and cast-iron piers had also increased, especially in industrial construction, where roofs of greater spans were being fitted with iron struts.  Glass appeared as a surface material for the first time.  Factory chimneys climbed sixty to eighty meters high; chimneys built before 1840 were constructed by specially qualified bricklayers from France and Belgium.

The Empire style proved sober, materialist, formally restrained, and free (in Bohemia as in Russia) of all academic veneer.  It gave Prague and the countryside a number of buildings of elegant proportions and simple functional forms.  Foremost among the buildings in Prague was the customhouse on Hybernská Street by J[iří] Fischer.  This is one of the most beautiful buildings from the city’s past, despite the fact that it imitated the old mint in Berlin by [Heinrich] Gentz (much in the same way that the majority of new provincial buildings copied from contemporary Ideenmagazine [idea magazines]).  Other prominent buildings include the Piarist Church [kostel Piaristů] on Na Příkopy by the same architect, the Kinsky summer palace by Jindřich Koch, and the Platýz apartment building by J[indřich] Hausknecht.  Outside Prague, Kačina Castle near Čáslav, Částolovice Castle, and the spa buildings in Mariánské Lázné, Františkovy Lázně, Teplice-Šanov, and Karlovy Vary all deserve mention.  Still, the most admirable works in the Empire style are the utilitarian structures — engineering works of bold iron construction.  Notable examples include the suspension bridges in Žatec (1826), Loket (1834), Prague (1839-41), and Strakonice (1842).2

Following the Empire period, the integration of construction and architectural form disappeared for many decades.  This entailed the loss of forms typical of all great architectural eras: styles that represented truly integrated constructional systems — attuned to the requirements and manufacturing methods of their times rather than to mere decoration — faded away.  With the passing of the Empire style — characterized by the noble uniformity of its utilitarian buildings, interiors, and furnishings — no further styles emerged; only academic or artistic vogues prevailed.  The Empire style had achieved specific solutions and provided rational answers to the exigencies of its time, but the architecture that followed sought only to dazzle us with vacuous academic formulas borrowed from a dead past.

Historical academicism, in which today we rightly see both the true manifestation of nineteenth-century bourgeois culture and the mature expression of its ideological thought, remained hostile to the prosaic, almost scientifically exact and sober work of the classicistic Empire style.  The romantic cult of the Gothic, the romanticizing fancy sought in ruins and asymmetrical forms, would lead the art of building astray, away from true architecture.  The stylized, historicist architecture that reached its zenith in the 1850s and persisted until the century’s end (or at least until the completion of the National [63-67] Theater [Národní divadlo]) was affected, unhealthy, exhausted, and decadent.  It produced formally decorative and monumentalizing agglomerations, which merely led architecture down a blind alley.  [Eugène-Emmanuel] Viollet-le-Duc, who visited Prague and was an important influence on Czech architecture, awakened a scholarly interest in the Gothic.  The consequences — academic Gothic and the unfortunate restorations of historical monuments — were pernicious.  This disoriented era imposed Gothic forms on modern materials and constructions, where they lacked all sense and made a ludicrous impression.  A horrifying iron Gothic imposed ugliness on many viaducts and industrial buildings; it even disrupted the impact of grandeur implicit in the bold and inspiring structure of the Štefǎnik suspension bridge in Prague.

Historical styles dominated the construction of monumental and ecclesiastical buildings above all, such as the Church of Cyril and Methodius [kostel Cyrila a Metoděje] in Karlín by [Vojtěch Ignác] Ullmann and J[an] Bělský, which was originally planned by [Karl] Rösner in 1855, and the Church of Saint Ludmila [kostel sv. Ludmily] by Josef Mocker in Prague’s twelfth district. Mocker, an advocate of neo-Gothic, completed a substantial part of the Saint Vitus Cathedral [Svatovítská katedrála] and also the restored Prašná brána [Powder Tower] and Karlštejn Castle.

By midcentury, when architecture had exhausted itself on the historical academicism of monumental buildings, and industry had only just begun to create the necessary preconditions for modern construction, housing was in a deplorable state.  One example of the bourgeois and petit bourgeois dwelling was the “panský byt” [patrician apartment] in a palace or mansion made up of many rooms, with an endless enfilade of living rooms and other rooms that only later assumed a specialized function: to wit, gentleman’s room, lady’s room, library, children’s room, reception room, music room, dining room, and boudoir.  Only later, too, would even minimal facilities form part of the program.  At first, the urban apartment consisted merely of rooms and a kitchen.  Not until the nineteenth century do we find a foyer in an urban apartment; toilets, moreover, were shared by the whole house or at least by the whole floor.  Only in the 1840s or 1850s did each apartment begin to have its own toilet.  The larder came at about the same time — at first far too big but nonetheless poorly lighted and ventilated.  Around 1900 bathrooms appeared in apartments of at least four rooms but only after 1920 in smaller apartments.  Pavel Janák, who published a number of articles in the review Styl [Style] describing the evolution of Prague apartment houses (articles to which we make reference here), correctly observed that the appearance of the bathroom and the toilet in ordinary apartments was an important event in the history of Czech building.  Cloakrooms and maids’ rooms were added only in larger apartments.

The profound but gradual change that housing units experienced in the twentieth century may be also seen in the changes to windows and doors.  By the end of the nineteenth century, windows had been modified, gathered, and grouped.  A new triple window replaced the high, vertical window of the [68] baroque and the Empire style.  In the 1880s inward-opening windows were introduced.  During the Secession, the traditional form of the window was abandoned and we find bizarre windows of all conceivable shapes.  Only in the twentieth century was the triple window reduced to an almost square shape.  After 1925 horizontal or ribbon windows, especially suited to metal or reinforced-concrete construction, were frequently used along the entire length of the front façade.  As for doors, by 1800 only a double-door model had appeared, perhaps so that each entrance could retain its formal aspect.  Later, only kitchens and amenities would have a single door.  Double doors were always as tall as possible, because the rooms of patrician apartments, modeled on baroque castles and palaces, were also quite high.  The plan for a palace (Renaissance or baroque) positioned doors and windows symmetrically in a bourgeois apartment, while rooms were placed in a line along the corridor, one behind the other.  As a result, the apertures destroyed the plane of the wall; inside the rooms any rational arrangement of furniture was sacrificed to an unimpeded enfilade.  No housing reform could take place until the frames and hinges of windows and doors had been standardized, their proper disposition established, and the palatial conception of the urban apartment abandoned.  In Prague, as in the rest of Europe, the entire nineteenth century sacrificed practical functional requirements to powerful decorative lavishness and the monumental backdrop.  The apartment building — that tenant barracks on dark and narrow streets in the poor, often filthy yards of overcrowded city blocks — harbored pretensions of being a palace or a castle. Inside, the apartments were not dwellings at all, if by dwelling one understands something more than just a place to sleep or four walls in which to move around.

The aristocratic residence, which served as example for the bourgeois dwelling, was scarcely more habitable or of higher quality than the urban apartment.  Castles and palaces, much like the apartment buildings of the nineteenth century, lacked bathrooms.  Their main façade was always oriented with respect to some point de vue; they faced north, while their staircases faced south — that is, without regard to the movements of the sun.  Space was squandered to accommodate an enormous monumental staircase; useless spaces were designed purely for effect.  Thus, the staircase in Ullmann’s Czech Technical University [Česká technika] on Charles Square [Karlovo náměstí] in Prague occupies a major part of the entire building.  Somewhat better and more sanitary conditions existed in villas, which were being built only as of the late 1860s.  At first villas also adhered to the “château formula.”  The aristocratic country home and the turn-of-the-century villa districts are the hideous outcome of an art historical, “stylistic,” and decorative understanding of architecture.

The Gothic dogma later gave way to the academic neo-Renaissance style.  Here, however, we may already anticipate the first healthy, if unclear, signs of a turn toward rationalism.  The works of Ignác Ullmann — the Czech Savings Bank [Česká spořitelna],3 the girls’ academy, the Czech Technical University [69-73] on Charles Square, and die Šebek and Lažanský Palaces, all in Prague — mark the threshold of the neo-Renaissance period.  His Provisional Theater [Prozatímní divadlo), or first National Theater, belongs here: modest and simple, “without pomp and circumstance,” as [František Ladislav] Rieger put it.  This work already reveals the transition from historicizing romanticism to a fashionable — if also romanticizing — classicism; we sense a significant change in the very substance of architecture.  We observe such a change in the works of Ullmann if we thoughtfully study their objectively conceived layouts.  We detect the change as well in the works of Antonín Banitius: not so much in his Saint Wenceslas Basilica [basilika sv. Václava] at Smichov but rather in his secular buildings, particularly in their avoidance of both deliberate monumentality and rigid academic correctness.  Here the designer attempts to solve a new and modern problem: the integration of architecture with landscape; that is, the problem of a garden villa and that of the suburban dwelling.  The Groebe Villa in Havlíček Gardens [Havlíčkovy sady], built in 1880 by Barvitius in the twelfth district of Prague, signals that Czech architecture has begun to recover from the mold of historicism and monumentalism; here it has begun to breathe a universal air and to achieve an undeniably European standard.

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When the “nation unto itself” built the famous National Theater, the most beautiful Czech building of the nineteenth century, the manacles of historical captivity dropped away.  This was truly the pinnacle of the fine arts in Czech lands in the nineteenth century.  The generation of the National Theater4 constituted an illustrious chapter in the history of Czech art.  The generation of painters and sculptors who decorated this “golden chapel of Czech art” was itself historically split.  The painters [Mikoláš] Aleš and [František] Ženíšek professed a nationalistic, provincial, and fundamentally historicist art.  [Vojtěch] Hynais, influenced by protoimpressionist French art, emerged as a more cosmopolitan, if weaker, artist.  Finally, the architecture of the theater itself was no longer a blind copy of the actual historical Renaissance.

Josef Zítek, the designer of the National Theater, was an architect who had transcended the dogmas of historicism.  Originally an adherent of romanticism and the Gothic, Zítek came home from his study trip to Italy (1859-62) a convinced devotee of the Renaissance.  Upon his return, he undertook the design of the Weimar Museum and its urban surroundings, that is, of the entire district situated between the train station and the old part of the city.  There, at the very axis of the main avenue, he placed his museum; construction began in 1864.  With his famous Weimar Museum, Zítek proclaimed himself an avid supporter of the neo-Renaissance, and a proponent of [Gottfried] Semper’s teachings, which were then conquering the world.  Out of the reservoir of Renaissance forms, Zítek was able to create stylistically vigorous and individualistic works of art.  Interestingly, it was a writer, Jan Neruda, who acutely perceived the importance of Zítek and his work.  In 1887 Jan [74] Neruda wrote that Zítek meant for Czech architecture what [Bedrich] Smetana meant for Czech music; Ladislav Čelakovský, for poetry; and Jaroslav Čermák, for painting.  Neruda further observed that these four men had raised Czech art to world standards.  When the National Theater burned down in 1881, shortly after its opening, Zítek earned reproach for errors in its design — errors that were due, however, to the confined construction site and the imperfect technology of gas lighting.5 The calamity that befell Zítek’s most famous building, and the accusations that the architect endured from an agitated public, forced him to retreat utterly both from public life and professional activity.

Today critics concede, and rightly so, that the National Theater’s location within the context of Prague — the beautiful disposition of the frontal and in particular the lateral loggias over Theater Street [Divadelní ulice] — attests to a high architectural culture and a privileged sense of form.  Josef Zítek used historical, that is, Renaissance, forms in all his work, but he used them in a spirit of modern composition; ultimately he achieved a distinctive elegance and monumentality.  Zítek was as important for the development of Czech architecture as P[etrus] J[osephus] H[ubertus] Cuypers was for Dutch architecture.  The Dutch trace the origins of modern architecture back to Cuypers’ secular buildings: his Rijksmuseum (1876) and his main train station (1880), both in Amsterdam.  Of course, mature and genuine works of modern architecture appeared in Holland a number of years after Cuypers with the pioneering works of H[endrik] P[etrus] Berlage, and later, with those of J[acobus] J[ohannes] P[ieter] Oud.  Likewise, a truly modern Czech architecture was created only later by Jan Kotěra, Adolf Loos, and their successors.

The work of Josef Zítek — marked by a repudiation of doctrinaire, historicist, and formal themes; by a relaxation of the transmitted compositional order; and by individualized, subjective, and creative interpretations of architectural styles — signals a renewal in Czech architecture.  Notwithstanding the persistent, thoughtful, and logical use of Renaissance forms, all of Zítek’s most important works herald a modern rationalism: his colonnade in Karlovy Vary, his House of Artists [Dům umělců] in Prague, and his Weimar Museum.  These are mature and harmonious works of architecture of decidedly European standing.

The House of Artists (today’s parliament building) was a collaborative project by Josef Zítek and Josef Schulz; its new architectural conception represented a clear step forward.  There is conspicuous progress in its highly rational and functional layout — a plan logically expressed in its exterior as well as in its overall articulation of mass.  Semper’s influence is manifest.  Zítek’s own contribution quite distinctly predominated in this work.  Other works by Schulz were also marked by this new, Semperian, rationalist tendency, as exemplified by his designs for the Museum of Decorative Arts [Uměleckoprůmyslové muzeum], and even more so by the National Museum [Národní muzeum] on Wenceslas Square [Václavské náměstí] in Prague.  Still, to his position as professor of architecture at the Czech Technical University, [75-78] Schulz remained a stubborn conservative and a sworn enemy to new and more progressive architectural efforts.

The National Theater was built in an era of great monumental building projects.  Buoyed by the cultural flowering of the maturing Czech bourgeoisie, these large-scale projects achieved for the first time a full measure of success and did so in a virtual absence of tradition.  Almost immediately on the heels of the National Theater came the House of Artists (now the parliament, 1876-84), then the National Museum (1885-93).  Then came the smaller buildings of the Municipal Museum [Městské muzeum] and the Museum of Decorative Arts.  Finally, in 1897, [Václav] Roštlapil’s Straka Academy was built.  The Prague German Theater by [Ferdinand] Fellner and [Hermann] Helmer, which was contemporaneous with these, deserves mention as well.  After this period of monumental buildings, often of truly European standard, both the quality and quantity of Czech architecture once again reverted to provincialism.  The Czech financial boom found its appropriate expression in the construction of such buildings as the Land, Mortgage, and Industrial Banks [Zemská, Hypoteční, Průmyslová banka] in Prague, all built around 1900.  On the whole, of course, these bank buildings were conceived in a palatial, monumental, and heavily decorated style rather than as simple office buildings.

Of the important nineteenth-century buildings in Brno, one must mention the community house of Česká beseda [Czech Dialogue] by [Anton] Hauser, built around 1870, as well as the earlier Buchta Building at no. 15 Freedom Square [Náměsti svobody], built by [Ludwig von] Fǒrster in 1845.

After the era of the National Theater, Czech architecture once again compromised its high standards and devolved into a desert of mediocrity: an architecture without creativity or invention, a soulless and lifeless formula.  Palatial, Renaissance-inspired, pseudomonumental axial planning prevailed.  The period of greatest decline in planning and design occurred between 1890 and 1900, after the work of Barvitius, Ullmann, and Zítek had been accomplished.  This period witnessed a massive deterioration of craftsmanship, eroded by the industrial boom and by machine production.  Attempts at a national style, characteristic of the 1880s, and the effort to create a “Czech renaissance” of sorts (inspired by the 1895 Ethnographic Exhibition, for which Antonín Wiehl created a strange wooden gate and a “typical Czech cottage’’) represented regressive forces in Czech architecture.6

Concomitant with this decadent and disoriented period came new industrial development and the sudden growth of cities.  Entire districts sprang up on the periphery of Prague and other large cities in Czechoslovakia, districts disfigured both architecturally and urbanistically.  Abominable suburbs emerged; Vinohrady, Žižkov, Smíchov, Košíře.  These suburbs destroyed whatever good the neoclassical and Empire styles had achieved in the first third of the nineteenth century.  True, the abolition of the Prague ghetto and the razing of the entire fifth district were important urban developments; the former entailed designing a new avenue from the Old Town Square (Staroměstské [79-80] naměsti] to Letná Hill as well as the continuation of the new tunnel under it (later the avenue was extended through the Old Town, all the way to Wenceslas Square).  Nevertheless, this project, undertaken to achieve a beautiful new axial connection and an important traffic artery between the National Museum and Stromovka Park, sacrificed the advantages and potential of the fifth district to the ideas of a contemporary architecture that could do no better than raise new residential barrack-style apartment buildings, riddled with poor taste, upon the ruins of old and unsanitary houses.  To erect unsightly new residential districts may be even worse than to force people into unsightly old residential districts.  When new apartment buildings sprang up on the sites of old districts plagued with dirt and disease (apartments decorated in false baroque or false vernacular motifs, with tasteless towers, gables, and other bric-a-brac), when the architectural horrors that marked so many cities of Central Europe imparted false splendor to world exhibitions (in the form of spa hotels on the Riviera, in Ostende, in Mariánské Lázně), then and only then did full disenchantment set in.  Only then did we understand all the monstrous cultural depravity of this new architecture — that gave Prague the Rieger Embankment and Mikulášská Avenue.

The Rieger Embankment in Prague expresses nothing but the mercantile “individuality” of landlords.  A nouveau riche butcher commissions a “very art nouveau” house.  An industrialist sees some pseudo-Gothic thing in Vienna and wants die same.  The wife of a successful stockbroker fancies a particular palace in Venice and has it built in Prague.  A pharmacist is persuaded that baroque is the only possible style.  The daughter of a grain merchant is so inspired by a tale from The Thousand and One Nights that she wants to live in Arabian style.  Such is the origin of the Rieger Embankment, where “creative individualities” clash with one another so mercilessly that one can only weep over what an abomination they have made out of one of the most beautiful places in Prague.

With these words the writer Ivan Olbracht fittingly described the bourgeois ravaging of architecture.

Another writer, Vilém Mrštik, witnessed the destruction of the Old Town and blamed it on contemporary architecture.  His “Bestia triumphans” [Rozhledy 6, no. 12 (15 March 1897): 551-97; no. 14 (15 April 1897): 633-44] sounded a call to arms against the ruin of the old architecture, threatened by contemporary life.  Such were the origins of the Club for Old Prague [Klub za starou Prahu], a group devoted to the preservation of historical monuments and the “genius loci.”

An era characterized by weak architecture, and one that plagiarized historical or vernacular styles, had to value old historical monuments.  They were authentic examples of beauty.  Any typically classical or baroque work was much more perfect and beautiful than any typical “modern” work.  Architectural decadence gave rise to an exaggerated cult of historical monuments.  One good reason to admire Old Prague was that Old Prague was born of an [81] era that had its own culture — whether that culture is familiar or foreign to us today, or whether we like it or not — an era that had order, planning, and an integrated approach.  This order is what we see in old architecture.  And in this sense Old Prague is better than an average street in the Vinohrady district, though the latter may be broader, have more air and light, and have buildings equipped with bathrooms and elevators.  But such a street, on the whole, is not unlike a grocery store or a bazaar.  Still, this does not alter the fact that a modern person, though forced to live in inadequate pseudomodern houses, cannot live in Old Prague: the place is unsanitary, uncomfortable, dead, moldy, and has nothing to do with us.  The era was not strong enough to sweep away obsolete and dying buildings and to replace them with a new modern city, as healthy eras did in the past.  The age’s own confusion deflected it.  A fickle era driven by commerce and speculation chipped away bit by bit; despite the protests of preservationists, it retained only the best, and sometimes not even the best, as historical monuments.  This is how new districts with chaotic traffic patterns gradually grew upon the ruins, and the plan, of old districts.  Interestingly, the very same people who enthusiastically praise the charms of old districts and shingle-clad roofs are never quick to live in those dark and confined rooms under their leaking shingles; they leave these undignified dwellings to the poor.

The nineteenth century, spurred on by the energetic development of industrialism and capitalism, as well as by the rapid growth of major cities as industrial and commercial centers, was the first to face grand but insoluble urban tasks.  The suburbs of Prague shot up like weeds.  In 1870 the district of Vinohrady (Prague’s twelfth district) had 5,600 inhabitants; by 1900 it had already reached 77,100.  In the same period the district of Vršovice swelled from 3,600 inhabitants to 24,000, and the inner city of Prague itself expanded from 152,000 to 225,000.  Plzeň almost quadrupled from 23,000 to 81,000 inhabitants; Brno grew from 74,000 to 126,000.  At the time, we looked to Vienna and Paris as examples of city planning.  Grand urban projects — for example, the series of parks at Petřin Hill and Stromovka and Charles Square; the serpentine of the Chotek Avenue adjoining Letná Hill — accompanied the new century under the tenure of Governor Karel Count Chotek (1826-63) in Prague.  Another important project of that time was the founding of the suburb of Karlín.  Situated on an ideal flat area, so rare in Prague, the district took shape based on a regular orthogonal system around a central square.  These projects were followed at century’s end by an expansion of the city without any unifying conception or plan.  In the 1860s the inner fortifications of Vienna were demolished; and in their place a circular tree-lined boulevard came into being — the Ringstrasse — with architecture by [Theophilus Edvard von] Hansen and [Heinrich von] Ferstel.  Shortly thereafter, Czech cities (Prague, Brno, Olomouc, Hradec Králové, Plzeň) followed this example.  The Brno fortifications were destroyed between 1861-64.  No longer fortified, the city of Prague was destined to become a modern metropolis.  A number of partial urban schemes were devised in connection with the erection of the [82-83] major buildings around the National Theater: the House of Artists, the National Museum, and the maternity hospital (designed in 1867-75 by the architect [Josef] Hlávka).  Nevertheless, when the broad avenue from Old Town Square to Letná Hill was built in the face of many protests — during the necessary revitalization of the fifth district (then the Jewish ghetto) in 1896 —  this single great urban scheme of century’s end was so virulently attacked by members of the Club for Old Prague that the city’s bold and often merciless urban development from a medieval town into a modern metropolis was considerably hampered.

Between the 1870s and 1890s Prague managed with its narrow streets, as transportation problems had not yet arisen.  A horse-drawn railway eighteen kilometers long was built for Prague in 1875.  Only in 1891, on the occasion of the country’s Jubilee Exhibition (Jubilejni vystavaj, did the engineer [František] Křižík build the first temporary electric railway, which led from Letná along Ovcnecká Street to the exhibition grounds.  The funicular on Petřin and the electric railway to Letná Plain were built in the same year.  The funicular is no longer operational, and the electric rail has been converted into a continuous moving sidewalk.  Five years later, between 1896 and 1897, the city decided to assume control of the existing horse-drawn lines, owned until then by a Belgian company.  In stages the city built a network of electric tramways.  The first electric tram was operating in 1897, connecting Wenceslas Square to Žižkov and Olšany, and the lines between Wenceslas Square, Vinohrady, and Olšany were joined in 1898 to form the first circular belt, some six kilometers long.  Buses were introduced only after 1925, when the length of Prague tramways already exceeded one hundred kilometers, and the narrow streets were so congested with traffic as to make increased speed impossible.  The removal of tramways from the inner city was considered; so too was construction of an underground line which, because of Prague’s hilly terrain, could not have been entirely underground.  These plans were based upon the plan for a Prague railway network and the relocation of train stations, as well as on the plan for suburban lines, which would allow the connection between recreational and summer homes on the outskirts of the city.

The statistics of streetcar use during this period reveal dramatic increases.  In 1929 Prague trams transported 163 million people, while a figure of 240 million passengers was projected for 1930.  Today Prague has 20,000 cars and other motor vehicles; about 5,000 cars drive into the city from the country each day on the twelve major roads that pass through.  On a normal working day 26,000 vehicles enter Republic Square [Náměstí republiky] (only about 5,000 in 1925), that is, only about 4,000 fewer than in the rue de Rivoli in Paris.  Since 1925 the Prague tramway network has been supplemented by buses.  Jos[ef] Božek introduced the first bus in Prague in 1815.  The first automobiles were manufactured in 1889 in Adamov.

Prague’s development was adversely influenced by the fact that its suburban growth took place without a unified plan; new districts present a gruesome picture in terms of their sanitation and crime rate.  In Prague the crisis [84] in housing erupted long before the world war, but its worst manifestations became apparent only later.  The clearing of entire slum districts had been a long-standing need, as 90 percent of Prague’s inhabitants had to live in apartments with inadequate sanitation.  The population density — that is, the number of inhabitants living on one hectare — ranged from 200-1,300 on the periphery of Prague to 600-700 in the center of the city.  In England the maximum recommended density is 350; even in the center, population density should not exceed 500 per hectare.  In terms of population density per average apartment building, Prague ranks fourth among the most neglected cities in the world; and in terms of space between houses, Prague is quite unrivaled! We are far removed here from the ideal of a modern city built with a plenitude of space.  Our buildings are mostly of our own time: coffins three and six stories high.  One can find more space between the tombs in a cemetery than between our apartment buildings.  Each grave is surrounded by a lawn; each is a green island.  But the peripheries and central spaces of Prague are overbuilt — one stone atop another, a sea of stones.

By the end of the nineteenth century, Prague had the worst record for sanitation.  A step in the right direction entailed slum clearance in districts where sanitary conditions were most atrocious.  Dr. Augustin Stein initiated the slum clearance of the ghetto (fifth district).  Simultaneously, however, factories were being built next to apartment buildings in the suburbs of Prague; sometimes in streets as narrow as those of the Middle Ages, both steep and difficult to negotiate (Žižkov and Smíchov are two examples).  The suburb of Libeň is full of soot and smoke.  Given the prevailing winds, the entire industrial district of Smíchov is situated in the Prague basin in such a way that the inner city is constantly being smothered under soot and smoke.  Up until the 1890s, before the introduction of sewage treatment according to [William] Lindley’s plan and before the construction of the water supply system from the Labe/Jizera region (laid out by Tieme), Prague was plagued by typhoid, just as Marseilles is plagued with it today.  And just as in Marseilles it is necessary to clear the entire quartier behind the stock exchange between the Cours Belsunce and the Vieux-Port, so, too, will the same prove necessary in Prague — in the districts that grew in the 1890s, as well as in the medieval center of Old Prague.

More favorable nineteenth-century urban development can be witnessed in Brno, even though it too experienced rapid growth from a small provincial town into a city that today has over a quarter of a million inhabitants.  Brno has been an industrial city from the beginning of the nineteenth century.  It has never been the seat of secular or ecclesiastical power and so lacks luxurious or monumental buildings; it has no palaces.  The stifling antiquarianism and sentimentality of the historical preservation of monuments thus find fewer pretexts in Brno to obstruct healthy, modern urban development.  With the removal of fortifications between 1861 and 1866, twenty-four suburban areas were added to the city.  The small, woody hills surrounding Brno provide some urban and sanitary advantages, even though the factories have managed to penetrate almost into the very core of the city.  As a result, Brno has a number [85] of unclean and smoky streets and requires rather extensive revitalization of its inner city.  The mayor of Brno, [Christian] d’Elvert, wanted to counteract the smoke of factory chimneys with the green of orchards and air reservoirs.  The hill of Špilberk, whose fortifications were destroyed by Napoleon in 1809, was planted in 1862, but only d’Elvert succeeded in having the entire hill planted with trees and transformed into an orchard.  Another great advantage of Brno lies in its numerous and rather ample parks and green spaces that extend into its center.  There is an almost continuous greenbelt leading from the Lažanské Square to Pisárky.  Kolišté, by contrast, is a remnant of the once continuous greenbelt leading from the train station, a belt that was disrupted by the construction of the customhouse and the station.  The great Brno park of Lužánky originated from an old Jesuit garden, made accessible to the public and developed by Antonín Schebanek into a beautiful English park in 1846.  The Denis Gardens [Denisovy sady] were designed in 1815.  In addition to these parks, Brno has a number of tree-lined boulevards.

In contrast to Brno, Prague has only one urban advantage: a navigable river, with the possibility of a good port in Holešovice.  But Prague suffers from a lack of nearby green space, or forest, to form the lungs of the city.  Its main arteries are too narrow; widening them would be difficult.  In addition to financial costs and the opposition of the preservationists, there is also the very historical nature of the city.  A special problem for the redevelopment of Prague involves the large number of urban train stations.  By contrast, Brno (or Greater Brno since 1919) was built on a relatively flat terrain, and its surrounding area is also flat, apart from some wooded hillocks.  Brno has an abundance of trees surrounding the city on three sides, and so today it possesses a greenbelt.  It has relatively straight broad avenues and a single train station.  Finally, Brno still possesses no defined city center or downtown.  This downtown could be achieved simply by shifting the train station to the south; on the land thus obtained a new modern avenue with hotels and commercial and office buildings could be developed according to the development plan by B[ohuslav] Fuchs, J[osef] Peňáz, and F. Sklenář.

• • •

This false and spiritless architecture took long to climb out of its doldrums.  The heavy Gothic vestments, the robes of antiquity and the Renaissance, were weighing it down.  It built houses according to a stereotypical historical pattern; and it was complacent, even proud of its inability to do otherwise.  A new generation of artists, who began their work at the start of the century, grew disgusted with the senile impotence of such architecture.  With revolutionary courage, these young architects aligned themselves with the words of the writer F[rantišek] X[aver] Šalda: “We hate everything represented by this old (building) art; life itself is desecrated at its core, made impotent, plundered, and robbed.  We want to leave the order behind and shake the old dust from our shoes…,” (Boje o zitřek [Struggles for Tomorrow]; 1905).

First and foremost, it was necessary to purge eclectic forms from and reject [86] all academic historicism in architecture.  The very purpose of the Secession is to relinquish the flea market of historical bric-a-brac.

At century’s end, the powerful wave of modernism overwhelmed all of Europe.  Art and architecture turned international, even if individual works occasionally retained a nationally distinct and determined character.  This movement encompassed the English Arts and Crafts, German Jugendstil, the Parisian art nouveau, and the Belgian, Scandinavian, Viennese, and Prague Secessions.

In Czech architecture, the turn of the century betokened a certain flourishing of ornamental naturalism, a legacy of the schools of decorative arts.  Impressionistic vegetal embellishment replaced the decorative historical wardrobe and affixed itself to old-fashioned buildings, to obsolete conceptions and plans.  This was the reign of the Viennese Secession; eclectic, moody, undisciplined, chasing after effect, in love with a complicated silhouette or a restless colorful surface.  This artistic orgy of decorative fantasy and unstructured formalism found its models in the work of the Belgian, Viennese, French, and German Secessions, England’s influence was also evident.  [William] Morris and [John] Ruskin were acclaimed as apostles of the new, though in reality they were apostles of the medieval.  In this medieval spirit the arts and crafts experienced a revival, and a third-rate industrial art was born.  With too much “art,” weak as it was, and too little industry, this created an anomaly in a period of mechanized civilization and industrial mass production on a grand scale.  The taste for this “industrial art” is one of the most perilous aspects of modem architectural thought.

The chief merit of the Secession was primarily negative: the final condemnation of historicism.  The effort to replace the totality of historical forms with contemporary decorative elements was in itself misleading.  The Secession had boldly, and correctly, made a tabula rasa of the past; it had rid building surfaces of historical forms, but it could not support them with an honest display of construction, that is, without ornaments or embellishments.  The effort to create a new style was historically determined: a style was understood not as a constructional system but as a decorative order.  And it was the goal of the Secession — unaware that the substance of modern “style” resides in the very fact that it cannot coexist with any decoration — simply to replace historical decoration with new decoration.

The decoration invented by the Secessionist imagination often lacked a sure and cultivated taste.  And thus the very positive work of the Secession, which today strikes us as weak and impoverished, has far less significance for the development of the modern movement than does its revolutionary and traditionalism, its liberating and negating gesture toward the past.  The Secession, which freed architecture from the yoke of tradition, grasped the call for a new style but did not understand its own significance.  It considered the task of creating a new decorative style and reviving the decorative arts to be the key features of the nascent architecture.  Even so, it would be unjust to overlook certain technological aspirations in the works that this movement left [87] behind in Czechoslovakia, exemplified by the use of great panes of glass, tiles, steel columns, glass sheets, and cornices.  There was a certain principle of lightness and of dematerialization of the building.

A typical example of the fashionable Secession, of its eclecticism and ornamental formalism, was Bedřich [Friedrich] Ohmann (1858-1927).  An architect of Viennese origin, Ohmann came to Prague in the last decade of the nineteenth century to be a professor of the School of Decorative Arts [Uměleckoprůmyslová škola].  Having made peace with the moribund conventions of historical styles, he attempted to adapt a modern — or rather, fashionable — new form to the Prague baroque.  For unknown reasons baroque had been declared the genius loci and was deemed untouchable.  Still, in the aesthetically rather disoriented works of Ohmann, we can observe a certain anticipation of later architectural thought, even if it is fragmentary as a consequence of the prevailing weight of historicism.  All work undertaken at the dividing line between two philosophies of life, two opposing directions, is doubly difficult; because it stands on the precarious ground of a period of transition, it entails twice as much responsibility.

Ohmann’s personality was not strong enough to resist and surmount the pressures of the time.  After his return to Vienna he became “officially” academic all over again.  And yet this eclectic, late representative of nineteenth-century styles did make a contribution with his interpretation of the Secession and the Jugendstil — two stiles most prominent in his work.  The later evolution of these styles led to some rather nonarchitectural whimsies and meaningless decorative games; efforts to deny historicism and stylistic imitation.  Ohmann made the first, somewhat indecisive step toward freeing architecture from the atavisms of the Middle Ages, a step perhaps involuntary but still meritorious.  Having depleted the popularity of his brilliant historical paraphrases, this mentor of rich and inexhaustible decorative talents dared to design in Prague the first building without historical stylistic reminiscences; the Café Corso on Na Přikopy (1897).7 The Hotel Central in Hybernská Street in Prague’s second district is another of his Secessionist works, designed in collaboration with his students A[lois] Dryák and B[edřich] Bendelmayer.  These two works represent a Jugendstil intermezzo in Ohmann’s work; having created them, the architect repented and returned to historicism.

As stated earlier, the whole period of the Czech Secession fell under the influence of the Viennese Secession and similar movements in France and Belgium.  These influences protected Czech architecture from the seduction of Darmstadt-style Jugendstil, which was Germanically morose and heavy-handed.  The Czech Secession, by contrast, is distinguished by its lighter, more luxurious elegance, a certain moody impressionism in its composition, and by its vegetal decoration.  The Wilson Station in Prague, designed by Josef Fanta, was already conceived in the spirit of the then-modern French architectural school.  The World’s Fair of 1900, in itself notable for its showcasing of new French architecture, drew the attention of Czech architects to new French buildings.  A French orientation is also visible in the work of [Antonín] [88-89] Balšánek.  Thanks to French art nouveau, the esoteric influence of the Orient, particularly of Japan, reached us.  The Japanese influence was largely an external heightening of the picturesque, but the time was not far removed when the Japanese influence would cause a radical change, a revolution in civilization and style of living.

What the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris meant for the nascent young architecture in France, the Jubilee Exhibition of 1891 meant for the new Czech architecture.  The Jubilee Exhibition demonstrated the possibilities of iron, it prefigured the modern architecture of glass and iron.  Naturally, this caused a negative reaction among the aesthetes of Prague, much as the Eiffel Tower outraged the aesthetes of Paris.  [Bedřich] Münzberger’s industrial palace (1891), erected on the Prague exhibition grounds, was in itself a remarkable and important building.  The only thing that mars the monumental effect of its boldly constructed exhibition halls is the walled “architecture” of one part of the building: the columns and the ridiculous tower.  Both pay homage to that debilitated pseudoculture that was responsible for Prague’s Mikulášká Avenue, that unfortunate local “boulevard Raspail.”

An even better example of architecture from the same exhibition was the machine hall (today destroyed).  Also from the same year (1891) dates that little Prague version of the Tower, the Petřín observation tower, an iron tower sixty meters tall.

The Czech Secession marked a rather boisterous period: full of conflicts and complications, yearnings, uncertainties, and early starts.  Its works, however, were characterized by their individuality and by their revolt against both academic and historical architecture.  Creative intuition had free rein.  The new style required a smooth unbroken surface (though not yet base or without ornaments), large unarticulated openings, and an untrained form.  It was a period of ferment, of errors and promise, a period that brought a phase of utilitarian stagnation, devoid of outstanding works, to an end.  Only the utilitarian structures — bridges, viaducts, train stations, and factories — evinced good building quality and modern character.  But even the Secession period, which displaced and vanquished the historicist era of architecture in our country, was filled with compromise, uncertainty, and disorientation.  It was scarcely a blueprint for the architecture of the future.


1 Prague Polytechnic, the oldest such school in Europe after Paris, counted Jan Ferdinand Schor and František Antonín Gerstner among its first professors.  The latter, together with the engineer [Bedřich] Schnirch, designed the first suspension bridge in Bohemia and also built the first railway line on the European continent.

2 Cast iron and suspension bridges during the Empire period and later viaducts of all types followed the English model.  England, the birthplace of all railway systems, furnished the matrix for cast iron and railway bridges.  The first such bridge, near the National Theater [Národní divadlo] in Prague was made of wood with hanging trusses [90] and a strut frame.  The next suspension bridge — which was torn down in 1906 and replaced by the current Bridge of the Legions [Most legii], designed by [Antonín] Balšánek — was the work of Schnirch who had also designed the suspension bridge over the Danube Canal In Vienna. For the construction of suspended arches, the Czechs used chains similar to the model of the famous bridge in Budapest; only later did they follow the American example of using cables. The latter method was used, for example, in the reconstruction of the suspension bridge in Prague that now bears the name of Štefánik Bridge.  An example of the use of girders in the herringbone pattern is the bridge near Břasy and the flood-barrier construction of the bridge in Déčín.  Among cantilevered bridges, the most outstanding example of which is the English [sic] Firth of Forth viaduct with the span between piers of 520 m, we can mention lie railway bridge on the line Tabor-Pisek, which extends across the Vltava River near Červená.  The height of the bridge is 67 m, each of the three arches spans 84.4 m, and the entire length of the bridge is 253 m.  The iron construction was executed by the Czecho-Moravian Machine Works [Českomoravská strojirna] without scaffolding. The project engineer of the bridge completed in 1889 was Inspector [Ludwig] Huss. An earlier railway bridge spans the valley of the Jihlavka River near Ivančice in Moravia on the Brno-Vienna line.  The bridge was constructed between 1868 and 1870 by the French ironworks F. Cail & Cie. and Fives-Lilles.  It is 42 m high and 374 m long, ft was reconstructed in 1892.  Finally, we must mention the pedestrian bridge in Prague near the Rudolfinum, which was replaced by today’s Mines Bridge in 1913. It is of some interest that, independently from [Charles] Brown’s system, [Michal] Ránek, a Prague carpenter, had submitted a model of a chain bridge across the Vltava.  The earlier footbridge had one pier in the middle of the river, whereas Ránek proposed his scheme without a pier.  Ránek’s scheme resembles projects by Riders and [Ithiel] Town.

3 During the construction of the Czech Savings Bank, with a façade designed after the example of the Venetian library, the contractor, [Jan] Bělský, successfully used concrete for parts of the foundation for the first time in Prague, and perhaps in Bohemia.

4 The members of the generation of the National Theater were F[rantišek] Ženišek, Mikoláš Aleš, J[osef] Tulka, Vojtech Hynais, [Václav] Brožíik, Adolf Liebscher, Schnirch, [Josef Václav] Myslbek, and others.

5 The renovation of the National Theater and its expansion, including administrative and rehearsal space between the former Provisional Theater and the neighboring buildings, were executed in collaboration with Josef Schulz in 1883.

6 [Antonín] Wiehl, [Jan] Vejrych, [Jan] Koula, and [Jan] Zeyer are representative of the “Czech renaissance.”

7 Destroyed in 1929.



What do our train stations and our theaters have in common with the Alhambra?

Wherever the decorative urge subsides, wherever construction is permeated with the notion of the functional, we experience maximum modernity…The trains bound by snakelike iron rails that disappear into the black gullets of tunnels, the steamships that crisscross oceans along determined lines in order to unload their contents on vast cavernous docks, the thunder of electric hammers, lifted by the contained force of nature, that smash down on the writhing ore — in all these phenomena the real life of our age courses and beats.  Here we must seek the conditions of the new building art, the germs of our future architecture.  Tunnels and viaducts, the enormous railway bridges stretched across great rivers and bays, give us direction.  The building process developed out of the satisfaction of everyday needs; its renaissance will happen the same way.

These are technical problems, but their solution need not be exclusively technical.  The new architecture is the true embodiment of the new spirit, the core of creative talent.  It is wholly rooted in modern science, mathematics, and continual experimentation.  This guarantees that the architectural renaissance I will not become exclusively “technological,” as it is imbued with true spirit, the spirit of modern science.  We have already seen several works that prefigure, at least partially, a future architecture: the Gallery of Machines and the Eiffel Tower at the World’s Fair in Paris.  Like a philosopher who by walking has proved the possibility of movement, iron has proved its ability to create architecture.  Iron construction has no precursors; it is a new material, a new style, and thus a new architecture.

— Hubert Gordon Schauer, “Stavitelství budoucnosti” [The Architecture of the Future], 1890

A constructivist manifesto avant la lettre, a document of the new spirit from the end of the nineteenth century

The real birth and beginning of the new Czech architecture must be sought in the twentieth century, our new century, which has clearly declared the new architectural order to be one of materiality, logic, functionality, economy, and purpose. Returning to purpose, elevating it as the principle and criterion of the new architecture, signified a revolutionary renewal.  In the preceding era, by contrast, form remained a principal concern: just enough attention was paid

[92] to function for the building to manage in spite of its form.  In the new century, modern people with good common sense prefer functional engineering constructions 10 decorative architectural games.  With the new century, a new materialist and technological orientation began to assert itself.  We find precursors of a new “style”; it is no longer formalist but instead has arisen from the work of engineering and industry.  Factories, train stations, viaducts — not palaces, castles, and temples — arc the forms and building tasks of the new era.

What matters in this new era is to build simply and economically; to reject everything illogical, uncomfortable, and superfluous; to master light, air, and spatial freedom.  It is simply a matter of good taste to adopt modernity as a way of building, much as we do in dress.

The architecture of the new century has been a broad international movement and its pioneers have come from different countries.  This was the defining moment.  In Holland, H.P. Berlage has declared a new program that rejects the old, academic, historical architecture and instead hoists the banner of a materialist and constructional building and declares composition to be based on geometry.  In fact, it does not allow the use of nongeometrical forms, because the geometrical form is in itself always beautiful, noble, simple, and spiritual.  Berlage first explained this theory of architecture in his famous Zurich lectures of 1907, published in Berlin in 1908 as Grundlagen und Entwicklung der Architektur [Foundations and Development of Architecture].  This is one of those apostolic texts that represent a threshold in the development of a new body of architectural thought.  In it, Berlage maintained that individualistically conceived buildings are alien to the modern milieu, and that the essential strengths of the era can be understood and contained only through objective and materialist work.  He further maintained that the new architecture still lacked the general capacity to create a new style; it cannot develop one in a time of uncoordinated capitalist production.  It will first be necessary to create a new vision of human equality, based upon socialism, and then transform this vision into social reality.

At this tune, too, [Henry] van de Velde wrote his Lay Sermons on the Arts and Crafts [Kunstgewerbliche Laienpredigten; 1902], a breviary of modern thought that outlines the new architectural aesthetics.  Van de Velde perceived the purest embodiment of the new beauty in the machine and in engineering.  Themes such as the undervalued beauty of machines, cranes, and transatlantic steamships began to emerge elsewhere, generating an interest in technological functionalism.  [Edmond de] Goncourt summed up these new architectural tendencies with an apt umbrella term: “the yachting style.”  This nascent interest in mechanical beauty and engineering creation was purely romantic and artistic at the start, particularly for van de Velde.  Indeed, he was the first representative of modern machine romanticism, “mechanomania,” the adoration of the machine later proclaimed by the futurists under [Filippo Tommaso] Marinetti.  The same “mcchanomania” would become fashionable in modern painting, where machines replaced the Renaissance Venus as a leading theme (e.g., [Fernand] Léger, [Willi] Baumeister, and others)


This religion of the machine would also be adopted as a credo by many constructivists, who mistakenly understood constructivism in an aesthetic and formalist way.  The superficial machine mentality was of a purely romantic nature; it thus represented a disorienting and reactionary element within the modern movement. Such machine idolatry resembled the opinions of the old romantics who considered mathematics a new religion.  (Novalis wrote a famous ode on mathematics!).  Aesthetics, as proclaimed by van de Velde, was essentially based on a purely romantic Einfühlungstheorie [theory of empathy]; modernity was in effect a mere fashion, a superficial decoration, an individualistic game of art.  This is why the chaotic influence of van de Velde on modern architecture was not uniformly positive.  His romantic incomprehension led directly or indirectly to expressionist anarchy.

Simultaneously, Otto Wagner formulated the laws of a new architecture in his famous book Moderne Architektur [1896], In contrast to the formalist and romantic contentions of van de Velde, Wagner presented the principles of modern architecture resolutely and unequivocally.  “Something useless cannot be beautiful,” he proclaimed. He affirmed rational planning in modern architecture as it complied with the needs of modern life, along with an exact understanding of purpose — that is, solutions based exclusively on the appropriate choice of material.  He also insisted upon a light, economical, and efficient industrial execution, a clear tectonic and structural plan, and a consistent antitraditionalism.  Wagner did not always succeed in achieving this clear functional form and logical beauty in his own work.  Following Viennese taste he tended to enhance it with a certain decorativism; but even so he did dispense with the romanticism of the English and German school.  Wagner’s book Die Großstadt [The Metropolis; 1911] is also an important herald of modern urbanism.  The architects of the Secession undoubtedly felt the necessity — as well as the prerogative — for modern times to have a corresponding modern “style,” to give their own expression to modern buildings.  Nevertheless, the concept of “style” was still historically understood.  Wagner’s chief merit was that in his theory he clarified and made specific the fact that the new architecture had to arise from modern construction.  Wagner’s oeuvre represents a cathartic process: from the Secession to materialism and constructivism.  This process was later traduced by some of Wagner’s students who wrongly sought out the forms of eclecticism.

Wagner’s student Jan Kotěra returned to Prague to lay the foundations of modern Czech architecture.  Plagued by difficulties, he fought for the final victory of the new architectural ideas, which he embodied convincingly in a number of masterpieces.  He articulated his ideas in “O novém umění” [On New Art], a visionary article of revolutionary import published in 1900 in Volné směry (Free Directions; vol. 4:189-95].  His viewpoint requires emphasis:

Architectural design it concerned with space and construction, not with form and decoration. The former constitutes the actual truth of architecture; the latter can at beat be an expression of that truth. New form cannot arise out of aesthetic [94] speculation but only out of new purpose and new construction.  Any movement that has its origins in form, rather than in purpose and construction, remains of necessity only a romantic utopia.

Throughout the world at this time (or at least in all developed countries), a new generation of architects, a new school of architecture, claimed its place.  This was the time of innovation: Berlage in Holland, [Victor] Horta in Belgium, [Alfred] Messel and van de Velde in Germany, Wagner in Austria, [Louis Henry] Sullivan in the United States.  Peter Behrens began his work in Berlin, August Perret and Tony Garnier in France, and Jan Kotěra om Bohemia.  Naturally, the evolution of materials and technological processes was slower, more gradual than a revolution of progressive thinking.  The architectural theory and programs formulated by Berlage, Wagner, and Kotěra — and even more radically by Loos and F[rank] L[loyd] Wright — are for the most part modern and topical even today, and they constitute a postulate still not wholly realized.  Nevertheless, we would be closer to these original goals had the evolution of architecture not been hindered by reactionary artistic tendencies.  The romanticism of van de Velde exemplified and architectural thought opposed to the development of new ideas.  Another such regressive element was the archaic superstition about the inviolability of the arts and crafts: the ethical and aesthetic value of the handmade product as proclaimed by Ruskin and Morris, the English apostles of the Middle Ages.  Thanks to the bold and revolutionary Adolf Loos, this delusion today has been altogether dispelled.

Programs that the pioneers of modern architecture formulated then could be endorsed today, with few exceptions, by our own avant-garde.  How many times, after all, have architects been compelled to refer to Berlage, Wagner, Kotěra, and Loos in their polemics against artful, decorative, and reactionary nationalism? Even so, those who formulated clear and radical principles in theory were not able to put them into practice until later and then only partially.  In their work they were forced to grapple with both traditional and inherited problems.  Although they promulgated new materials, new conceptions, new forms, and new methods of construction, they could not proceed directly without compromise.  Early on, Wagner was caught up in the tradition of academic Renaissance composition.  By 1903, however, he realized his most significant work: the Viennese Postal Savings Bank with its beautiful glass and iron hall, an example of a thoroughly modern interior and clear harmonic elegance.  Only by 1914 did Berlage realize a work that fulfilled his own theoretical program, namely, the famous Müller & Co. department store in London.  Meanwhile, van de Velde continued to indulge in that individualistic decorative design so unbearable today.  Alfred Messel even reverted to traditionalism.  Only after 1907 did Behrens manage to free himself from the decorative delusions of the Secession and Jugendstil with his factory hall for AEG in Berlin; later he ended up resorting to various other formalist decorative devices that skirted evolution and met a dead end.  In France not even the Perret brothers, those rational and inventive designers, or Tony Garnier could [95] lighten their still important work from the useless ballast of inorganic forms or an antiquarian academic spirit.  In our country, Jan Kotěra did succeed, circa 1908, after a long and concentrated effort, in creating works that represented a pure expression of the theories he had formulated around 1900.  In his later work, however, he did not always sustain the same level of modernity and authenticity, as seen in his own villa or in the Laichter House in Prague’s twelfth district.

This was also a time when new architectural theories were discussed in Bohemia.  In 1890 H.G. Schauer published his essay “Stavitelství budoucnosti” [The Architecture of the Future] in Národní listy. It was an important historical manifesto for contemporary thought: a summary of what would become — thirty years later — a manifesto of the new generation of constructivists.  In this essay Schauer rejected the historical eclecticism of nineteenth-century architecture; he demonstrated the chasm between the genuine and imitative Gothic styles; and he delineated how the conflict between form and purpose was particularly flagrant in new buildings serving contemporary needs.  What does the Gothic style have to do with our parliament buildings? What do our train stations and theaters have in common with the Alhambra? Schauer’s assessment was that “wherever the decorative urge subsides, wherever construction is permeated with the notion of the functional, we experience maximum modernity.” Those buildings that still followed old forms, but had to adjust themselves to specific modern needs, already displayed an updated modification of the traditional type, thus rendering them superior to the most splendid Renaissance palaces that followed the sole requisites of “art” and “style.”  Schauer saw how

a new architecture is born out of the effort to satisfy life’s needs — not in temples, city halls, or theaters but in railways, tunnels, and viaducts.  The very solution of new and unprecedented problems gives a new basis to architecture.  These problems are primarily technological and are solved chiefly through technological methods.  The engineer is the sovereign of our times.  He stands on the ground of new science, exact calculations, and continual experimentation.  The renewal of architecture is not exclusively a technological issue but rather is permeated by the true spirit of modern times and modern science.  The Eiffel Tower is a model for future architecture and demonstrates how iron can serve the great tasks of design.  The new style is born out of material and construction, not out of form and ornamentation.

The architecture of iron has no historical precedents, no artistic pretensions; in the simple act of construction, iron has proved its ability to create new architecture, is not this half-forgotten document of modern views a manifesto of Czech constructivism avant la lettre?

It is becoming ever clearer that the basis of modern architecture is not, and must not be, some kind of ephemeral fad, a studio invention, an a priori aesthetic intention, or an abstract artistic trend; it is contemporary life itself and its categorical requirements.  We are beginning to understand that the purpose [96] of design is purely to organize life and invest it with comfort and hygiene.  We have found that economy and purpose must determine not only material and design but also the disposition and plan of the building; they should be thoroughly permeated with an economy of means and with the rapidity of modern life, and geared to the utmost efficiency in supporting a household.  The principal architectural problem — the residential building — should be realized as practically and as rationally as the industrial building.  It should be viewed as a residential space architecturally organized and constructed in accord with human specifications; it should not be a decorated artistic object.  We must understand that in modern times we can succeed only with those tasks and those buildings that correspond to the spirit of modern life.  Where the material and cultural requirements of modern life are neither respected nor taken as departure points, the unavoidable result is a nonarchitectural, pseudoaesthetic monstrosity.  The ethical meaning of the new architecture lies in its effectiveness and social purpose.  The conservative public, of course, clings to impossible atavisms and remains inimical to everything new, like an equally conservative officialdom, this public has adopted an extremely unfavorable view of these new trends.  This applies also to the magazine Arcbitektonický obzor [Architectural Horizon], [Antonín] Cechner, Balsanek, and so on.  Thus cultural progress picks a difficult path within the general stagnation, that desert of debility inhabited by Czech architecture.  The latter has lacked strong and creative individuals since the time of the National Theater.



Architectural design is concerned with space and construction, not with form and decoration.  The former constitutes the actual truth of architecture; the latter can at best be an expression of that truth.  New form cannot arise out of aesthetic speculation but only out of new purpose and new construction.  Any movement that has its origins in form, rather than in purpose and construction, remains of necessity a romantic utopia.

— Jan Kotěra, “O novém uměni” [On New Art], 1900

The historical mission of Jan Kotěra was as important as it was thankless: the mission of an apostle, pioneer, propagandist, leader, and founder.  He was a student of Otto Wagner, a contemporary of the Viennese architects [Josef Maria] Olbrich, Josef Hoffmann, and Josef Frank, as well as of the Yugoslav Jože Plečnik.  He represented the connecting link between the Czech architectural avant-garde and Vienna — the latter remaining one of the important centers of modern architecture.  Wagner’s influence in Bohemia was pervasive and its consequences fruitful.  Wagner’s Viennese practice had Renaissance and classicist tendencies that were modified here and there by a certain latent Oriental mood and a somewhat effete tendency toward decoration, evident in the work of many of Wagner’s students.  In Prague the local milieu required of modern buildings a certain affinity with the baroque, wrongly thought to be the characteristic Prague style and “genius loci.”  Neither the Secession nor Wagner’s or Kotěra’s school, nor the Czech cubist architects, nor even the postwar nationalist and decorative efforts, represented primarily by Pavel Janák and Josef Gočár, were able to escape this false affinity.  As in Hungary, Wagner’s architectural influence in Czechoslovakia became progressively more nationalist over the years.  Once again, the ethnographic and picturesque features promoted a false “populism,” while folkloristic and nationalist ornamentalism threatened the new architecture with provincialism and regionalism.  Sometimes modern architecture succumbed to this temporary delusion.  The result was poor, a nationalistically deformed Secessionist style as seen in the work of [Dušan] Jurkovič; in later years, it also affected the arabesque [malúvka] decorativism of [František] Kysela.

An important task of purgation as well as a great lifelong struggle awaited Kotěra in Prague.  Kotira’s fate became the hard, truly tragic fate of a pioneer and a leader: the fate of one who breaks and prepares the ground, who brings [98] in fresh air to invigorate the new work, and who then painstakingly struggles for more favorable conditions to allow this work to flourish.  He was the one who, by virtue of his historic mission, was forced to lead, to teach, to orient the new generation, as well as to fight for a critical theory.  He devoted so much energy to the cause of the new generation that his own work suffered.  An overview of Kotěra’s work reveals a number of projects that today we would be inclined to criticize and underestimate were it not for the date of their origins.  Even those buildings that today seem of less importance or value were created at a time when only a few dozen fourth- or fifth-rate designers were active in our country.  New Czech architecture, often consisting of works that considerably surpassed Kotěra’s own, owes its present flourishing condition and the power that propelled it to the forefront of international interest largely to Kotěra’s self-sacrificing role as instigator and leader.  It is a matter of historical justice to give credit to the man who in wanting to bring in a new architectural era deliberately diminished his own work.  Every true leader puts collective interests before his own individual work.

The new era required a new architectural order, and Jan Kotěra made efforts in every direction to support it.  This pluralism often led him astray, into ephemeral fashions.  Nevertheless, he quickly shed the salon tastes of the Viennese Secession, and when naturalist decorative ornament was replaced by folkloristic ornament, Kotěra — whether fashionably or unfashionably — always hewed closer to pure tectonics than to the inclination toward facade decorativism.  In some of his furniture designs Kotěra succumbed to the delusions of arts and crafts that reached us through the unfortunate teachings of Ruskin, on the one hand, and the influence of the German Werkbund, on the other.  And in some of his interiors, with their characteristically elastic and fantastic curves, he remained close to the Secession.  Later, these tendencies were visible in Teutonic monumental surfaces and in geometric stylization.  But wherever there was a clear architectural or even purely industrial task (in contrast to the more decoratively conceived furniture and interior design), Kotěra acted truly as a modern architect rather than as a decorator.  This is conspicuous in his design for a waterworks or in his railway cars for the Ringhoffer factories.  His exterior design for the dining car of the Swiss railways (as well as the Prague tramway), in particular, is remarkably more elegant, restrained, and modern than its interior.

An early work by Kotěra at the start of the new architectural era is the People’s Bank [Lidová banka] (Peterka Building) on Wenceslas Square in Prague (1900).  It testifies to the fact that both folklore and decoration are subservient to the desire for a simple surface free of decoration.  It is a typical work of the Wagner school and combines within itself a certain hint of both impressionism and the baroque.  Whereas many contemporaries both here and abroad, including those students of Wagner who had not correctly understood their teacher’s principles, yielded to an exaggerated ornamentalism, Kotěra (who was always moderate in these passing interludes) once again did not.  In contrast to the populist nationalization of architecture, Kotěra remained faithful [99] to the ideal of the classical, balanced, and harmonically articulated massing reminiscent of Semper and Wagner.  Like the Secession and Jugendstil before it, the folklore craze faded away relatively quickly.  Wagner’s maxim “purpose — construction — poetry” emerged once again with renewed radiance.  And Kotěra stood by the credo that he had so forcefully expressed in the article published in Volné sméry.  The same challenge was taken up rigorously in his architectural realizations devoid of decoration, with restrained and geometrical detail and without the gratuitous appendages of balustrades, cornices, bays, decorative window casings, and so on.  In his own practice Kotěra never achieved the kind of revolutionary logic that he promulgated in the above-cited article, and that was acknowledged by the new, postwar generation of constructivist architects (a generation that, in its postwar polemics against nationalist decorativism, considered Kotěra its own forerunner and a representative of modern rationalism and functionalism).  Even so, he subordinated his ever more austere decorative and formal experiments to an overall spatial and cubic solution.  Kotěra devoted himself to seeking primarily spatiality and structural solutions, and he worked in a purified and restrained manner.  As already stated, Kotěra deserves to be considered the real creator of modern Czech architecture, both social and monumental; he is to Prague what Berlage is to Holland and Horta to Belgium.  Yet his modern spirit of experimentation went further than did the contributions of Wagner and Berlage.  Around 1908, in the years that represent the period of the greatest efflorescence of his creative forces, Kotěra suddenly found himself on the same platform as his contemporaries.  He counted among the most modern of European architects and won a place of honor in their midst.

Kotěra’s work in this period assumed a wholly international character for it was conceived in the spirit of European democracy.  This distinguishes it from that of Plečnik, whose rather sacral and remote character already renders his work outdated.  Today Kotěra’s work is compared to that of Behrens and Wright.  Kotěra’s own villa in the twelfth district of Prague, dating from 1908-9, and the contemporaneous house built for J[an] Laichter in the same district, both exude a truly modern and cosmopolitan character; they anticipate much of the later development of international architecture.  It is possible to place them on the same level as certain works by J.J.P. Oud and W[illem] M[arinus] Dudok of fifteen to twenty years later.  To put it simply, Kotěra’s villa and Laichter’s house are two of the most modern and significant buildings of their time in Europe.  A total absence of ornament, an austerity of form combined with the plasticity and well-apportioned articulation of mass, as well as the sensuous charm of material of these two important buildings, invite a comparison with the works of F.L. Wright, who must be considered the true creator of the modern villa.  Although not always beneficial, the powerful and momentous influence of Wright affected nearly all of modern European architecture, particularly in recent years.  Observing the influence of his work on building practices in the American West, Wright himself once commented with some regret that the architectural form he had achieved in his [100] works had proved of greater impact than the conception that had given birth to their form, a conception that concentrated more on the function than on the form itself.  And, in fact, European architecture — that of Holland and Germany in particular — borrowed mainly its exterior, its surface form, from Wright.  By focusing on the displacement of surfaces and the dominant horizontal, Wright’s European imitators ignored the essence of his contribution: the radical architectural reforms determined on the one hand by the style of the American Midwest and on the other by the influence of Japan, which resulted in new types of floor plan, a free assemblage of spaces, and finally, a spatial continuity between interior and exterior. Equally forgotten was the fact that Wright’s plans in general were really designed for American middleclass life (“high life”), and that in Europe it would have been necessary to make them more democratic, or even more proletarian, in order to have some general impact.  The significance of Wright’s architectural reforms reached their European culmination only in the work of Le Corbusier, [Walter] Gropius, and other leading architects (as demonstrated by the exhibition Die Wohnung [The Dwelling] in Stuttgart in 1927).  These architects simplified the apartment building to a standard architectural unit, in such a way that it could be built in mass production, relying on duplication of identical modules to create building complexes.  Carrying on Wright’s work is something different than following and imitating him.  In his most important works Jan Kotěra adopted Wright’s “high life” style, but he did not succumb completely to Wright’s influence.  He learned from Wright, and he used his experience of the contemporary family home in the English style to confront and modify what he learned.  He was able to find practical solutions that mirrored existing social and living conditions.  Even though Kotěra’s principal works are close to those of Wright by virtue of an inner affinity, they did not originate simply from imitating Wright’s style.

Kotěra’s reconstruction of the castle in Radboř (1911 — 13) represented a pertain rapprochement with the Empire style.  Once again, it is an architecture of emotion, even: deliberate yet formally composed.  His designs for a hotel in Opatia display a worldly, modern elegance, much like the grand and unrealized design for the Koruna Palace in Prague.  The fate that prevented both designs from being realized — beyond drawings and a plaster model — has robbed us of two significant architectural works.  The Villa Blanka in Prague-Bubeneč was so disfigured by its recent renovation that nothing has been left of the original, fresh design by Kotěra.  The preservation groups that vigorously protect every old portal here did not protest much when an example of the modern architectural spirit was destroyed prematurely, carelessly, and unnecessarily.

Kotěra’s museum in Hradec Králové (1906-12) suffers from a certain disharmony between the older and the newer parts of the building, which were realized in stages.  The older facade displays a heavy, oppressive, and rather Teutonic pathos in its massing as well as a forced vertically of form.  In addition, the polychrome statues by [Stanislav] Sucharda, conceived entirely according [101-103] to a faddish taste, have a very disturbing effect.  The large, smooth brick surfaces of the new addition and the appropriately situated glass-and-iron construction reminiscent of a studio have an agreeable, strikingly modern character.  This is true in particular of the back façade: very simple and clean, with light iron balconies at the top; a façade that reminds us of the façade of Gropius’ Bauhaus studio building in Dessau of 1926.  The interior space of the museum is also very good.

Kotěra borrowed some cubist forms, though with great restraint, in the architectural detailing.  These forms are not intrusive, particularly m the monumental building of the Pension Institute; they enhance its great mass, classical horizontality, and distinguished and elegant impression.  In the Mozarteum building Kotěra created a fine concert hall and one of his best interiors.  By contrast, the façade is marred by a deliberately “Germanic” tenor.  After the stagnation and forced inactivity of the war period, Kotěra’s last works before his death once again display a certain formal weakness, an uncertainty in resolution, and a reversion to the decorative.  These last works of Kotěra suffer from compromise and too much individualism; they are remote and estranged from both the new spirit and the new architectural thought — the very forces that Kotěra approached so closely during his most creative period, between 1908 and 1912, The offices of the Vttkovke Mines in Bredovska Street in Prague are mediocre and anything but modern.  Contrary to what critics claim, the designs for the university buildings, interrupted by Kotěra’s sudden death, are far from being his best work.  Indeed, their weakness leads one to believe that, had he not died, Kotěra would have significantly modified both the plans and realization.  In the end, the project was built as a somewhat dubious tribute to Kotěra’s oeuvre, which generally was of a much higher caliber.

If we review Kotěra’s work critically today over the totality of its twenty-five painstaking years, we must above all honor the singular personality of the architect.  Kotěra, a man of international horizons and rank, suffered like few others from the provincial pettiness of a nation whose political dependency and lack of freedom prevented a full and generous cultural development.  The struggle against official academic opposition cost Kotěra much energy, which under more beneficial circumstances could have been devoted to the realization of his ideas and his own intensive work.  His mission as a teacher and leader of the young generation, as a pioneer and organizer of Czech modem artists, forced him to fight against outdated historicism and in favor of new programs and viewpoints, and he was left with fewer opportunities to build than an average contractor.  A man of great personal initiative always has to resign himself to the fact that a struggle for better working conditions in a movement he supports will of necessity undercut his own work.  Kotěra’s rich oeuvre is by its nature and qualities very diversified.  On the one hand, there is the Laichter House and Kotěra’s own villa, both milestones in Czech architecture and both of an undeniably European standard.  There is the hotel [104] project in Opatia, the Koruna Palace project, the Pension Institute, the museum in Hradec Králové, the Mozarteum, and the remarkable housing project for workers in Louny — all sufficient to guarantee their designer an outstanding place in the history of modern Czech architecture.  And on the other hand, there are works that by the advanced critical standards of the new generation rank as average or even less than average: inadequate, of poor quality.  From today’s perspective the latter may even predominate in Kotěra’s oeuvre.  Even so, Kotěra’s fundamental and historically significant works testify to the strength of his personality and fertile creativity in their rigor, lack of sentimentality, spatial and constructive clarity, simple and discreet style, and polished taste.  If we reproach Kotěra’s projects today for a certain inconsistency and unevenness, we must remember that much of what has been taken for granted in new Czech architecture, much of what represents today’s standard, was first articulated by Kotěra.

In terms of construction, little can be learned from Kotěra’s work today.  Admittedly, Kotěra barely pursued the structural possibilities of new materials, particularly of concrete.  In this respect, the most interesting is perhaps the Koruna project.  Nevertheless, one should not ask of Kotěra what was beyond the reach of his contemporaries.  Many of those who worked alongside him, also students of Wagner, did not achieve his stature as a leader.  In their designs both the plan and the system of construction remained unchanged; the architects themselves were often content to seek solutions to some contemporary practical problems without questioning the problem of architecture or responding to the revolutionary logic demanded by their time.  Real answers emerged only with the new generation of constructivists that assumed leadership after the war.  The lone outstanding work of Kotěra’s time is an engineering project that surpasses the narrow definition of architecture: the iron hall of the Wilson Station in Prague.  Otherwise, the work of both Kotěra and his contemporaries is dominated by archaic artisanal methods, uninfluenced or modified by technological achievements.  In its failure to exploit the possibilities of concrete, the architecture remains heavy and oppressively bulky.

By contrast, the floor plans of Kotěra’s work exhibit a certain degree of innovation.  Kotěra’s will to new form was based on his desire to devise a new floor plan; modern architectural form is the result of a new plan.  The ponderous architectural forms so characteristic of the period preceding Kotěra can be seen in the decadent plans of Barotitis, Ullmann, and Zítek.  The Renaissance model of a palace plan — regular, symmetrical, axial, and monumental — persisted.  Only in Kotěra’s work do we perceive a correct understanding of more modern principles of the plan, as proclaimed by Wagner and others.  The plans of Kotěra’s family houses and villas are modern, flexible, and lively, attesting to an acute sense for the needs of the population and the bask (hitherto often ignored) requirements of modern civilization and hygiene.  The reforms Kotěra made in his plans are influenced by contemporary examples from abroad — for example, the English house (home and bungalow type) and the influence reaching us in part through Germany.  Muthesius’s principles of [105] standardization, the floor plans of some modern French architects, and the examples of F.L. Wright also informed Kotěra’s efforts.  Kotěra correctly understood that the creative task of the architect lay not only in the facade (so dear to the decorative inventiveness of Secessionist architects) but above all in the plan.

With the plan and the construction, an engineer can express without any superfluous and supplemental artistic form the “monumentally” of a factory, a hangar, or a train station.  The plan of a medieval château or of a rococo mansion can, if you will, be as poetic as its exterior.  Consider, for instance, the plans of the French châteaus on and around the Loire River; with their spiral staircases they seem predestined for scenes of decadent life in which the protagonists pass without recognizing one another.  Look at the plans of some summer residences, such as the mystical plan of the Karištejn Castle.  Can you not see in them the poetry of life and its rhythm, which the floor plans shape, regulate, and organize? The plan of a family house, as understood by the new century, was in fact supposed to be a lyrical architectural poem.1

A family house means nooks in which one can dream; where one can talk in twos, threes, and fours; where the place around the piano is a nest for dreams of tomorrow (as Salda says in his Struggles for Tomorrow). The hotel in Opatia and above ail the Lemberg House in Vienna have well-thought-out plans.  Kotěra conceived the workers’ housing colony in Louny after the model of an English cottage, a highly influential exemplar in European housing reforms.  The English cottage is a type determined by middle-class standards of living that bordered on affluence, by the taste for family life, and by the love of nature so highly characteristic of the British.  English garden houses in the countryside and on the peripheries of large cities are sustained by a tradition going back to Elizabethan times.  The basic type, which originated from a peasant dwelling, developed in modern times under the — essentially romantic — aesthetic influence of William Morris.  It was further developed in the work of English architects, from [Charles] Voysey to [Mackay Hugh] Baillie Scott.  The latter articulated a program in his book Houses and Gardens, which was not only translated into Czech but much discussed here as well.  This British group also included [Charles Rennie] Mackintosh, who no longer took a traditional farmhouse as his model but aimed at a more abstract solution, rather puritan in form — a dwelling that directly opposes the southern, classical, Renaissance conception of a villa.  An English cottage is basically northern in its nature: the high-pitched roofs with attics and bays (an authentic Gothic element) push the internal space out and beyond the perimeter of the walls.  By contrast, the southern Italian or Mediterranean principle refers to a summer house as an open system: a balcony, veranda, sala terrena, and loggia — all forging a seamless continuity of interior with exterior space.  This open, southern continuity of exterior and interior is characteristic of the villas designed by Wright and Le Corbusier, and is also an element in the design of transatlantic ships.  Kotěra and his contemporaries adopted the English model: a layout with a large inner hall, sometimes used as a luxurious foyer [106-107] but at other times used more rationally, and appropriately, as the living room or residential center of the house.

Modern architecture will probably one day adopt the Mediterranean model.  This is closely linked in form to the house in antiquity (the Greek peristyle type of house, turned inward, which embodies an explicit architectural anthropocentrism), or to the ancient Italian type of a house with an atrium, or to the developed form of the Pompeian house (the plan of which seems so modern to us in its separation of residential and housekeeping quarters).  Then the individual functional units of bedrooms, studies, living rooms, and bathrooms will be grouped around one large residential hall and open to light, sun, and air, and, if possible, full of greenery.  It will be analogous to what an atrium or megaron represented in the houses of antiquity.  Without multiplying historical analogies, inevitably approximate, we can say that the plan of the oldest residential house excavated in Crete, the work of a southern and Mediterranean culture, is more closely attuned to the ideals of modern dwelling than the medieval Gothic apartments of European castles.

It is important to focus on the class aspects of modern architecture’s tasks and forms.  These aspects were defined simply by the period of developed capitalist production.  Advanced capitalism and its means of production determined the bask principles of today’s architecture.  Machine manufacture and the capitalist system created architectural conditions roughly similar the world over that were nonetheless fundamentally different from those that evolved from medieval styles.  The decorative orders of medieval style were expressions of a civilization based on manufacture; and their splendor was a by-product of a feudal regime displaying wealth, based on cheap statutory labor.  A developed capitalist industry created very different conditions and requirements for building.  To maximize profits and the exploitation of labor, capitalism posited the requirements of rationalization, economy, and functionality.  Forged by industrial labor, such conditions gave birth to the first buildings of modern architecture.  The modern megalopolis was born of commercial necessity, as well as of the need to concentrate an overflowing urban population.  In America it engendered a new form of building: the skyscraper.

We can see the class issue in today’s architecture most clearly in the solutions applied to housing, the basic problem of architecture.  Architects now offer a solution in the form of the family house, viewed as an ideal.  A family house, in particular the villa or house surrounded by green spaces, is a building type that corresponds to bourgeois individualism and to the social system in which the family represents the economic unit.  In its social aspects, a family house remains a bourgeois dwelling even when it is built through mass production as districts, garden cities, or as entire complexes made of identical, standardized houses.  Furthermore, the building of family houses is demonstrably uneconomical, a luxury.  Building villa and garden cities could not eliminate the housing shortage crisis, as has been shown.  Even so, the single-family house proved to be the most relatively satisfactory building unit, if only for the wealthy.  By contrast, our apartment buildings built for maximum [108] profit are unsanitary and disagreeable barracks, whose great “economy” engenders other costs and problems.  In today’s so-called bourgeois style of private and family life, they are subdivided into individual living cells and uneconomically managed.  The capitalist system resolves the housing problem by choosing the apartment building, whose purpose is maximum profit; it is incapable of solving the problem on an elementary level, that is, of being a residential house directed to maximum living comfort.  Today’s apartment enslaves the woman-homemaker and is itself exactly like a bourgeois marriage.  The housing reform undertaken by modern architecture could operate only within the limits determined by this social system, the Western European and American forms of which are imposed even upon the proletariat.  Workers’ houses constructed today in industrial centers are merely impoverished versions of the bourgeois villa.  New architecture, which undertakes to reform housing, understands that today any logical solution presupposes a far-reaching revolution in social customs and forms.  Only a new organization of society can facilitate the creation of new architectural forms — forms essential by today’s standards.  A standardized type of apartment and the implementation of collective housing can take place only in a socialist society, a society unencumbered by private property or by the social and economic unit of the bourgeois family.

Like his contemporaries and followers, Jan Kotěra sought the solution to the problem of modern housing in a manner consistent with bourgeois social conditions in which the family is the principal unit.  This class determination and dependence of modern Czech architecture were historically inevitable.  It was not a question of the architects’ own social convictions.  Even today, when constructivism bases its theories on Marxist sociology and socialist views, actual architectural practice can nevertheless operate only within the limits determined by the existing social state.

A principal and significant merit of elaborating the modern type of dwelling as a family house within a garden city was that it isolated the housing problem.  The solutions to this problem were sought with great conscientiousness, sensitivity, and scientific precision.  This approach yielded considerable progress in a relatively short period.  The dwelling, an architectural form neglected and unimproved for many decades, quickly caught up with new developments.  Progressive new solutions to the plan, corresponding to new requirements, were worked out.  It is remarkable to note the progress achieved between the time of the original impulse and initiative found in the designs for Kotěra’s villas and that of [Jaromír] Krejcar’s unrealized concrete villa for a doctor or [Jaroslav] Fragner’s villas in the district of Barrandov.  New efforts to develop a mass-produced house were taking place simultaneously, even though they were still only variations on the form of a family house.  Similar to the design of municipal housing in Vienna today, best efforts toward a logical solution to the problem of minimum dwelling” are found in the residential houses in Prague’s twelfth district of Hostivař, designed by Evžen Linehart.

Among the works of modern Czech architects, the straightforward revolutionary [109] solutions of the kind undertaken by Le Corbusier in his villas or even the less revolutionary solutions represented by Scharoun’s boardinghouse at the WuWA [Wohnung und Werkraum Ausstellung] exhibition in Wroclaw are hard to find.  The transformation of an apartment house into the communal residential form of an apartment hotel, in which individual apartments lack kitchens but the complex is equipped with a large restaurant, club facilities and so forth, has so far not appealed to our architects; this may be because this type of cooperative residential facility does not conform to our social and family system.  The plans for various villas designed by O[takar] Novotný, Dušan Jurkovič, B[ohumil] Hübschmann, J. Gotar, F[rantišek] Roith, and, above all, Jan Kotěra represent an important evolutionary step over those patrician, aristocratic, neo-Renaissance villas of Ullmann and Barvitius.  Nevertheless, the villas and family houses of the new generation of architects, by virtue of their simplified plan and their utilization of the advantages of a ferroconcrete construction, represent still further advances.  A closer link with the garden and with green spaces has been realized by extending the window space with balconies, terraces, and roof gardens.  The evolution from the villa type to that of the mass-produced house is only today being addressed.  The issue now is no longer a normalization of the family house built in entire colonies by antiquated artisanal methods, in the way that Kotěra realized them.  The mass-produced house is not merely a problem of planning and construction but above all a burning problem of building technology: it presupposes mass production and an industrialization of building.  The first realization of mass-produced houses was undertaken in Brno by the Bytová společnost [Standard Apartment Company, SBS] under the direction of J[an] Vaněk and a group of Brno architects.  Otherwise, modern Czech architects interested in the industrially mass-produced modular house have so far confined their projects to paper.

With regard to the rental apartment (a testimony to the reactionary influence of private capitalism on modern architecture), we see that the apartment remained rooted in the nineteenth century — an object of speculation whose organization and plan aimed at achieving the greatest degree of rentability at the expense of hygiene and comfort.  For this reason, the urban house could not match the advances achieved in the development of the family house, which in itself was the form proper to capitalist lifestyle.  In contrast to the apartment house, the family house was merely a means of capitalist exploitation.  (As examples of the amelioration of the urban apartment house, we must acknowledge the following: Kotěra’s Laichter House in Prague’s twelfth district; the builder [Václav] Havel’s house, At the Two Thousand [U dvou tisic] on the Rieger Embankment in Prague, featuring glassed-in loggias, albeit disfigured by Secessionist decoration; a block of apartment buildings designed with an open plan by R[udolf] Hrabé in the Maniny district of Prague; and, finally, the above-mentioned apartment blocks by Linhart.)

Kotěra’s influence has been immeasurable.  If we say that Kotěra is the founder of Czech modem architecture and a precursor of new architects who [110] were not even his pupils, we give at least some sense of the extent and intensity of his influence.  Even though he may have come temporarily under fashion’s sway, and even though he could not avoid those errors m the decorative arts that affected all his contemporaries (with the exception of the revolutionary and energetic Loos), Kotěra’s work represents a definitive departure from historical academicism and the decorative Secession.  For this reason, those modern architects who pursued the ideals of constructivist architecture after the war referred to his example.

Indeed, it is appropriate to see in Kotěra a designer who remained true to the ideal of modernism throughout his career, even if he periodically strayed from if under the influence of Secessionist, cubist, nationalist, or formalist trends.  To be sure, modern architecture in Czechoslovakia has already passed beyond the direct influence of Kotěra’s work; his individual designs have become dated and can no longer be considered direct models.  Nevertheless, it is important to acknowledge that the new architectural worldview formulated today was anticipated by both Loos and Kotěra.  Loos’ principle of economy, j which had anticipated the theory of modem European architecture by a full thirty years, was particularly ferule and influential.  Loos, a critic of Ruskin, helped the new generation to break with aestheticism and “art” by negating the role of architecture as an art.  Kotěra can serve as an example of an architect whose work is fully informed by life and its actual conditions.

As the first modern Czech architect who brought ideas of architectural renewal to Prague in the late 1890s, Kotěra represented real progress and real leadership.  Though initially derided with the epithet Malerarchitekt [painter-architect], Kotěra designed a number of important urban projects, multipurpose buildings, family houses and apartment buildings, exhibition pavilions, and memorial structures, many of which remain among the most significant works of the new Czech architecture.  F.X. Salda, who occupies the position in the evolution of our literature that Kotěra occupies in the evolution of new Czech architecture, expressed his admiration for the power of Kotěra’s work.In an essay he wrote on the occasion of the first posthumous exhibition of Kotěra’s oeuvre (Tvorba 1 [1926]), Šalda asserted that Kotěra’s work, born of a modern secular intellect, had more vitality than the templelike architecture of Wagner; moreover, it demonstrated ‘necessity and power, concomitant dependence and freedom, as well as the spirit that discovers the measure and the law of things in itself.”  In Kotěra’s work Šalda saw “a certainty, integrity, and victory as hard as diamonds,” and he urged the young and the uncommitted to understand the purpose of Kotěra’s great work and its legacy: “To achieve assurance, all must be measured by the yardstick of the human heart.  And all divine measures, past or present, were once also measures of the human heart.”  Indeed, Kotěra’s buildings were the first works of modern Czech architecture conceived on a human scale; his was an anthropocentric architecture of genuine human and social needs, noc just a stylistic and decorative formula. [111-112]

• • •

Though they did not share his qualities of leadership, a number of architects who worked with Kotěra also merit mention for their contribution to improved standards of building.  To be sure, they made insufficient use of the new structural possibilities; their solutions did not go beyond Kotěra’s improvements to the plan.  Many were content with a merely efficient solution.  Aesthetically, however, they were willing to affirm a bare, ornament-free form (the geometrical elements of which appealed to the modern spirit) as well as to acknowledge the inherent honesty and nobility of material.

Among Kotěra’s contemporaries and followers (that is, the other pupils of Wagner and Kotěra) one should above all mention Otakar Novotný, whose house for the art publisher [Jan] Štenc (1908) is an important milestone in the new Czech architecture.  Regrettably, the designer of this elegant brick building with skillfully articulated glass-clad studios ignored a simple, functional architectural style.  With his design for the Teachers’ Cooperative Housing [Učitelské domy] in Prague’s first district, he was temporarily seduced into embracing cubist architecture; later he compromised his work by eclectic compilations of historical styles.  Perhaps under the influence of the new spirit in architecture, today he seems to have liberated himself from his past mistakes.  František Roith is another name whose eclectic work now belies his earlier efforts, which between 1910 and 1912 produced several villas in Černošice.  Emil Králík, Antonín Engel, J[aroslav] Rössler, and the German architect Josef Zasche (designer of the Viennese Banking Union [Vídeňský bankovní svaz] on Na Přikopy in Prague, 1911, a remarkable building for its time) all belong to this prewar period of Czech architecture, a period we could call Kotěra’s era.  Josef Chochol, Pavel Janák, and Josef Gočár also commenced their work during this period.  Here, too, a special place in this era belongs to the sculptor [František] Bilek, designer of his own family house in the fourth district of Prague, as well as the Yugoslav Josef Plečnik, a student of Wagner who realized his most significant work, the Zacherl House, in Vienna, in 1905.  Plečnik succeeded to Kotěra’s post at the School of Decorative Arts in Prague; later, after the establishment of an independent Czechoslovakia, he became the architect of Prague Castle.  Both Plečnik and Bilek are exceptional personalities among contemporary architects; their work has a kind of spiritual, old Christian, nonsecular character.  Plečnik’s significance as an architect and his influence as a teacher, however, have been basically negative and counter to the new healthy tendencies of today’s architecture.


1 The words “plan as a lyrical architectural poem” require explanation.  It is necessary to emphasize that a modern plan and its “lyrical” quality differ from the plans of medieval castles and baroque palaces in the same way that a modern song differs from a troubadour’s.  The modern conception of home is neither a castle nor a palace but, above all, a minimum dwelling — be it a family house in a garden district or in a collective apartment building — of either a hotel or boardinghouse type.  Such a dwelling [113] with an area perhaps smaller than forty square meters, does not allow for ceremonial halls, knights’ chambers, boudoirs, or exquisite and sweeping staircases — nor all of the complex and indirect internal communication so characteristic of the plans of aristocratic, feudal seats.  As A[dolf] Behne wittily remarked, it was owing to this complexity that Casanova could flee so easily from his jealous rivals.  Since the space of the modern apartment is functional and thus partakes directly in the operation of the household, it can also be smaller.  At the same time, it will not be narrow or oppressive if its windows, balconies, and terraces open onto gardens and fresh air.  A modern apartment and its plan denote the following: precision, conciseness, and function — all characteristics of modern poetry, all highly lyrical qualities.



Only a very small part of architecture belongs to art: the tomb and the monument.  Everything else, everything that serves a purpose, is excluded from the realm of art.

— Adolf Loos, “Architektur,” 1910

In earlier chapters, we sketched the origins of modern architecture and mentioned the names of its early pioneers: Perret in France (though both [Henri] Labrouste and [Gustave] Eiffel also deserve to be included).  Otto Wagner in Central Europe, van de Velde in Belgium, Berlage in Holland, and Wright in the United States.  These architects are generally recognized as the proper creators of the new “architectural style.”  Of course, there is no simple formula for this “style,” nor can we unequivocally declare one individual its creator.  In fact, modern architecture is not a question of some kind of new stylistic formula.  The new architecture is a great discovery conditioned by the needs of contemporary civilization and production, a solution with far-reaching cultural, social, and economic consequences.  Strictly speaking, a great invention or a major discovery can never be attributed to a single person.  Just as America was already known before Columbus and Vespucci, so too we cannot attribute to Gutenberg alone the invention of printing.  Just as cinematography was invented by [Thomas] Edison in America and by the Lumière brothers in France, so too “modern architecture” is not an exclusive “invention” or “discovery” of any of the above.  At a given moment of economic and social development, and within a particular cultural situation, certain problems became highly pressing and demanded definitive clarification.  Economic, social, and cultural requirements set tasks for human creativity and these tasks became an essential part of historical evolution.  Their great discovery became part of the response to this impetus — not by chance or by sudden illumination but out of historic necessity.  A great discovery, a great event, is inevitably the outcome of collective effort, based on the work of many predecessors, Its origins are complex and remote.  Social and historical forces always collaborate in a great discovery; it is therefore the work of a collective, a community, and the inventor is but one member of this community.

Albert Einstein’s theories, [Pablo] Picasso, [Guillaume] Apollinaire, Le Corbusier — no great work is possible without antecedents.  And the revolutionary effect of all great discoveries could never occur if the era were not [116] mature enough to adopt and apply these discoveries.  This is true above all of modern architecture, which would not have come to be without the rapid evolution of industry and transport in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the simultaneous growth of cities, and indeed even the housing shortage.  Both here and abroad these conditions made modern architecture possible.

The only architecture of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that can be considered modern is that which understood the economic and social conditions of its time, allowed them to make themselves felt in its work, and was able to assimilate them.  Its program became an expression of an evolving industrialism.  The problem of architecture even became a major social problem.  Not by accident, as has been noted, was the vocabulary of sociology derived from the vocabulary of architectures

Metaphors of life, once drawn from the plowman’s labor, are now taken almost exclusively from the architect’s vocabulary.  Who knows whether poets and dramatists, with their parables of building, have not contributed most to our perception of builders as a social aristocracy, in whom the very essence of the mystery of building a modern world and society is contained.  How tempting it would be to investigate whether growing materialism was not in some way correlated with the inordinate growth of the authority of architects, (R[ichard) Weiner in his article on Loos [“Adolf Loos chůvou” Lidové noviny 34, nos. 3-4 (April 1926): 9])

Architecture today is really a synthetic expression of modern methods of work within society and can even give reliable clues by which we may predict future developments.

Every great discovery has not a single author, a sole initiator; at best it may have one prominent representative who is not a leader but rather an exemplar of a certain principle, movement, or historical interest.  Then too the same discovery can be made by several people simultaneously, quite independently of one another, and sometimes without mutual awareness.  Nevertheless, we do not deny the influences of personal initiative, the vitality of inventiveness, and creativity.  Conceivably, great inventors do not create their eras, though an era can create great inventors; moreover, these inventors are rarely isolated and never for very long.

The process of evolution, this series of greater or secondary discoveries, inventions, and revolutions, is a flowing and dynamic course, in which complex and multifaceted relationships converge.  It is impossible to pin down the exact role of individual initiative in this dynamic process.  Similarly, it is not possible to define the full effect that the work of any of the representatives of architectural modernity had on the evolution of modern architecture.

Leadership should not be ascribed exclusively to the person who has had the greatest opportunity, and the energy, to realize himself.  All too often (though not by accident) we see that the greatest discoveries are apprehended only after considerable delay.  Columbus could not have been conscious of the significance of his discovery.  The ideas that conquer immediately and irresistibly [117] are not the strongest: the conquering ideas are those best adapted to their temporal milieu in history.  They are those that most skillfully surpass or elude their enemies and so win more or less general acceptance.

Alongside the conquerors and the recognized leaders, history also knows neglected and unacknowledged spirits.  These are not representatives but forerunners.  The name Adolf Loos is rarely mentioned among the pioneers of modern architecture.  He began his work at the very moment when the “modern style” was coming to birth (in Vienna, according to the usual opinion of the historians), that is, when Otto Wagner, Josef Olbrich, and Josef Hoffmann were being acclaimed for initiating a new era of architecture.  Let us say that the neglected Adolf Loos is a forerunner of this era.  Only today, with a certain detachment, can we see that he was the sole member of that generation to respond to the question of modern architecture in a way that the present fully affirms.

Adolf Loos — a forerunner, not a representative — possessed the enthusiasm and fanaticism of a revolutionary rather than the qualities that might have gained him eminence among his contemporaries.

In Prague, Jan Kotěra seized the apostolate of the new architectural faith — the ahistorical, civic architecture that he had learned to understand as a pupil of Otto Wagner in Franz Joseph’s imperial, aristocratic Vienna of high-ranking military officers (the Vienna symbolized by the “Makartian style”).  At the very same time one of the precursors of a new spirit  (“l’un des precurseurs de l’esprit nouveau,” said Le Corbusier) was struggling.  This was a great man, long misunderstood, the most radical and significant herald of the new architecture.  Here was a man who in many respects anticipated the different theses of the constructivist program and French purism.  This man was the apostle of a new age of architecture and as such, an extreme adversary of Ruskin, that herald of the Middle Ages.  This man was Adolf Loos.

A Czechoslovak citizen, born in Brno (in 1870) and at present based in Paris, Loos worked for many years in Vienna.  There he created a number of unusual projects, the most significant of which was the Häcking villa colony near Hüttelsdorf (1900).  Other major executed works are the studio villa with curved sheet-metal roof in Hietzing, Sankt Veitgasse; the terraced villa for Dr. Scheu (now renovated), also in Hietzing; and the department store of Goldman & Salatsch on Michaelerplatz.  In addition, a series of interior designs for cafés and commercial spaces, such as the Café Museum (1898), the flower shop on Kärtnerstrasse, the American Bar (1907), and the entrance to the Kniže tailor’s establishment, deserve mention.  These realized projects by Loos generally evoked much protest and polemic.  In their day they epitomized polemical architecture, for they were swipes at petit bourgeois taste and prejudice.

Loos’ initiative has proved infinitely stronger than his actual, historically demonstrable influence.  He worked almost unknown, in obscurity and neglect, and was even silenced.  His work elicited excitement, but it was the excitement of conflict, disagreement, polemic.


The Goldman & Salatsch department store facade is clad to the height of the first floor in green marble and the entrance has several authentic-looking Ionic [recte: Doric] columns.  The rest of the facade is coated white; its smooth surface is unruffled by moldings or cornices.  At a time when the Secession and Jugendstil had banished any historical building forms from their vocabulary and instead contrived house facades through a panoply of the most fantastic, playful, and eccentric forms (small pillars, glass, minisculptures, and reliefs), Adolf Loos was using Ionic columns.  He was convinced that the Ionic column was not some kind of museum relic but a living form, the purest and most perfect form of column.  He permitted no other column than this perfect, cultivated Ionic form.  He saw no reason for inventing any other form, here or elsewhere; we have at our disposal a form that is noble, imbued with culture, and wholly adequate.  Loos used marble sheathing and columns only for the store’s facade and entrance portal to create an impression of distinction.  The remaining floors received a coat of plain white stucco.  This was because the architecture of apartments or offices, unlike entrances and front elevations, resided for him in the interior, in the practical furnishings that conveyed what happened inside.  Furthermore, Loos was convinced that an apartment building should not be an object on exhibit; the streets of a metropolis should not be an exhibition of decorated architecture.  Instead, streets should present a large market of samples from behind the display windows of stores; a pedestrian walking along the streets, who more often than not is in a hurry, does not raise his eyes higher than the first floor of buildings.

The terraced villa for Dr.  Scheu in Hietzing also provoked a loud outcry.  One petitioner even demanded that in the future the city council prohibit such building methods outright.  Others objected that a terraced building was more suitable for Algiers than for Vienna and Central Europe.  And yet, Loos no more intended to “orientalize” European architecture than Wright intended to “japanify” American homes.  More Oriental influence came from exhibition pavilions or spa hotels; more Japanese influence, from the villas of the Secession than from Loos or Wright, Loos saw nothing exotic in the use of terraces.  To be able to step from a bedroom, living room, or bathroom onto a terrace open to the sun and air, or even designed as a garden, is as agreeable in the Orient or Tunisia as on the Riviera, in Prague, Vienna, or Paris.  If such terraces were used in the Orient or in the south and only exceptionally, until Loos’ time, in the climate of Europe, it was because contemporary construction methods and materials allowed flat roofs only in warm, dry climates.  But plywood, asphalt, and other new materials and methods of construction now permit horizontal roofs as the best, cheapest, and most durable building covers everywhere, including those regions with a harsh climate and abundant rain and snow.

Loos became convinced that no modern architecture could exist without the horizontal modern roof.  The terrace roof was not just a cover for the building but a function of many living values.  Instead of the tiny yard where one feel confined and deprived of prospect, one can bask on a terrace that [119-121] opens the surface of the garden — never big enough! — up to the horizon, to sun, light, air, and view.  It is, if you will, the most pleasant place, the brightest “interior” of the whole house.  Loos’ terrace house solution lent impetus to many ideas in modern architecture.  Loos remained faithful to it even in much later works.  Loos’ terrace buildings, the first of which were created a quarter of a century ago, offered a more rational solution than later buildings by [Henri] Sauvage.  The latter’s house on rue Vavin in Paris, for example, was based on the notion of a sunken terraced structure; this resulted in dark, airless spaces behind the living spaces that, less valuable than a yard, could only be used as storage areas.  In Loos’ villas, by contrast, the receding terraces can function without a similar arrangement.  Furthermore, Loos’ terraces are more rationally designed than the continuous balconies that are supposed to secure air and light on a smaller scale for the corresponding rooms but that simultaneously rob the lower floors of direct light by casting shadow and blocking access to sunlight.  Loos’ terraced building influenced the urbanistic conceptions of Italian architect Antonio Sant’Elia (who perished in the war), who in his “futurist metropolis” proposed entire streets lined with terraced houses and sidewalks.  This same idea has been perpetuated by a number of contemporary architects, foremost of whom is Le Corbusier.  He designs terraces in the form of gardens and often uses a concrete-framed pergola not merely as a formal extravaganza but as a psychologically justified space.  The terrace becomes a more intimate part of the living space; the dweller has a view of the landscape from inside the house.

Numerous projects for villas and family houses gave Loos the opportunity to improve the conception of the terraced building.  Prior to his departure, Loos worked on a major project for the municipality of Vienna.  After political changes put power in the hands of the Social Democrats, the city government began to socialize building in Vienna and to develop a major social program of construction.  Unfortunately, Loos’ project for a collective workers’ terraced apartment building never took shape.

Loos had long dreamed of realizing a terraced apartment building for workers.  He considered the fate of the proletarian child particularly harsh from birth to school age.  Loos felt that a large common terrace could unlock for children the jail the apartment becomes when their parents have to lock them up in the common barracks of their living space.

Prior to his departure for Paris, Loos conceived the design for a grand terraced hotel in Nice called the “Grand Hôtel Babylon” (the name had been taken from a popular novel by Arnold Bennett, The Grand Babylon Hotel). This design aroused major interest and response at the Salon d’Automne of 1923 (Loos with his solo show had become one of the first non-French architects invited to participate in Paris exhibitions before the war).  The terraced Babylon Hotel project eliminated the greatest burden of hotel management: Second-rate, dark, inhospitable rooms facing the courtyard.  The sunny eastern and southern orientations are even extended by this type of building.  Terraces are attached to each room, with the exception of the vertical northern wing.  [122-123] The large roof terrace, by contrast, can be used in a variety of ways, even as a landing for aircraft.  The Babylon Hotel consists of two pyramids, pyramids closer to the Aztec-Mexican type than to the Egyptian.  The space within the pyramids, traditionally occupied by a small mortuary hall, is occupied in Loos’ pyramids by a ballroom, a winter garden, and a skating rink.  Between the two pyramids is a great hall lit from above.  Instead of a glass-and-iron or shed roof type, which would not give an attractive view from the terraces, we find a decorative pool with a Luxfer bottom.

The villa for Tristan Tzara on rue Lepic on the Butte de Montmartre in Paris is among Adolf Loos’ more recent realizations.  The villa exploits the unevenness of the terrain in its terrace design.  The terraces face the sunny side, toward which the entire house is oriented, and offer a beautiful panoramic view of Paris.  By contrast, the narrow facade facing the side street is a stone wall, bare and almost windowless, except for the entrance to the garage.  According to Tzara himself, his house bares its ass to the street and to the honorable bourgeois.

The number of realized buildings by Loos is relatively small, but this belies the fact that his buildings are above all important historical events in contemporary architecture.  One can appreciate their value and radicalism within the evolution of the new building types (which anticipates much of what later becomes the ABC’s of the international style) only if one is aware that Loos’ early works of over more than a quarter century ago used the same elements and followed the same principles; those very principles sought for decades by the “purist” (i.e., constructivist and functionalist) architecture of our day.  Furthermore, the most recent works of Adolf Loos, now close to sixty years of age, do not lag behind the works of his youth in their radicality and in the resoluteness of their solutions; they are superior only because of their greater maturity and the architect’s experience.  (It is immaterial whether Loos through his own initiative was ahead of his time in the evolution of new architecture, or if the times lagged behind Loos.  One can say decisively, “Loos’ time” has come only now.)

Loos’ architectural projects were accompanied by revolutionary theoretical activities as well as by promotional initiatives.  Promulgated over three decades in frequent lectures and publications, his architectural views provoke scandals and polemics as sharp as those his realized projects and designs occasioned.  As early as 1897 Loos fought for a new conception of architecture, which in its articulation is remarkably close to today’s theory of constructivism.  As with every revolutionary manifestation, Loos’ theory of architecture harnesses negative, denying, and destructive forces as much as positive, affirming, and constructive ones.  Loos declared war on decorative art and on architecture conceived as such, while simultaneously heralding a new conception of architecture that is at once artisanal and scientific.

He gathered his theoretical and polemical essays in his book Ins Leere gesprochen [Spoken into the Void; 1921], which was also published in a Czech translation [Řeči do prázdna; 1929] supplemented by several more-recent [124-125] articles that did not form part of the original edition.  The clear, unambiguous language of this book, its firm and resolute points of view, its courage — all embody the crystallization of the modern point.  The book resists the call of the nationalistic decorative architecture, and its thesis affected subsequent discussions of modern architecture.

Loos declared war above all on any type of ornament — whether folkloristic, historic, or fashionable — related to the Secession.  He emphasized the evolutionary tendency of life toward simplification, eliminating everything secondary and capturing only the essential the substantial, and the universally valid.  All inventions of human civilization — technology; science, even the so-called arts — tend in this direction.  Painting objectifies the image, reducing it to its essence: color harmony.  Architecture, too, is objectified by limiting itself to its concrete function.  Thus, in our times the ornament is logically eliminated as something secondary and additional, as something that contributes nothing to the usefulness of the whole and is therefore superfluous.  Ornament is rejected by modern civilization as an obstructive and expensive extempore.  Our civilization is a time in which ornament — a primitive creation — reached its ultimate decadence and thus condemned itself to extinction.  In humanity’s early stages, ornament was probably a symbol of communication, a standard whose symbolic aspects emphasized and recorded the contents of an ornamental pattern.  Such ornament was similar in nature to the dances of primitive tribes, for instance; it played a role in erotic and religious life; it was a symbolic manifestation and a concretization of the rhythm of life; and it was used by architecture as an element in the articulation of space and its orientation.  In time, ornament became removed from its primordial, physiological sources and degenerated into a mere decoration serving human vanity.  Ornament turned into a mask that obscured weakness and eventually became a kind of “art” to which our machine civilization definitively denied a raison d’être.  In the era of early capitalism and the beginnings of machine production, ornament represented a social and economic element that challenged surplus production: it detracted from the simple economic purpose of production and thus became a prominent element of social repression.  Ornament demanded additional work from the worker.  To force workers to perform socially unnecessary work is an expression of sadism on the part of the feudal lord or capitalist.  “To torment oneself for many months with making lace, so that this lace could be torn in a single night, is an expression of social evil,” Loos understood correctly.  “Every era is economical in its own way. The eighteenth century lavished money on decoration and on food but was extremely stingy with cleanliness.  That century stinks, you can still smell it in its furniture!” After a century of serfdom in which 95 percent of the population worked up to sixteen hours a day for the 5 percent of feudal lords, ornament shed its religious, erotic, and symbolic significance and entered the century of capitalism.  This new century was able to acquire in an eight-hour workday a workforce cheaper than that of slaves and serfs.

Despite its rationalizations, the capitalist system did not dispense with [126] ornament; on the contrary, the production of accessories and luxury items today represents about a third of total industrial production.  This is because in today’s industrial evolution — as distinct from more progressive social systems (socialism), which did not experience a crisis of surplus production-ornament betokens undesirable technological progress.  Ornament represents a kind of production that de facto does not produce, does not create positive values.  Nor does it make products suitable for general economic use.  At certain times, capitalism slows production forces down in such a way that they either get destroyed or become grossly complicated: consider wars, eggs dumped into Lake Michigan, thousands of Ford automobiles burned after the war behind the French front so that their use would not threaten the domestic car industry, American steam engines heated with corn in a year of catastrophic Russian starvation, customs complications, commercial inflation — and decoration.  Decorativism is a kind of purification system: it obliges some people not to participate in production and it renders certain types of work superfluous.

In addition, the use of ornament allows for various deceptions in production and commerce.  A product compensates for its lack of functionality by the addition of ornament.  This is a pitiful and trivial substitute.  Medieval chests resembled monumental architecture and concealed their true objective substance and function, which were lost within them.  Rich decoration covers important and substantial deficiencies with a fig leaf.  A correlation between defects and decoration is almost everywhere discernible.  This is an old burden of humanity: ornament as substitute.  If the ornamental object once was expensive, machine industry inverted its value.  Today the most ornamental object is the cheapest, because the ornament conceals otherwise obvious deficiencies of poor material and execution, whereas only a solid article made of quality I material can find a market if it lacks ornamental patches.  As a cheap substitute, ornament is correlative with the greed of capitalist production; greed stripped ornament from those objects where it hindered mass production but kept it where it could serve as commercial chicanery and a hedge against surplus production and low prices.  In principle, however, ornament is incompatible with the demands of rational, machine-made, standardized production; it is an anachronism that every properly organized society must eliminate and that is already being eliminated in the most advanced stages of industrialism.

Loos wittily remarks: “From the ornaments on working tools during the last two decades we have acquired, in succession, Renaissance, baroque, and rococo calluses.”

And elsewhere; “Today ornaments are associated only with those objects designed by a very small part of the population, what I refer to as the barbarian part: architects!”

In his essay “Ornament and Crime,” which caused a sensation in 1912, Adolf Loos demonstrated the psychological connection between ornamentation and criminality.  Loos maintained that a healthy modern person has no need for ornament.  Ornament was once a primitive necessity, whereas today [127] the person who feels the need to gussy up walls is either a criminal or a pervert.  Ornament disappears as culture evolves.  We find the highest percentage of tattooed bodies in prisons and insane asylums.  Ornament is a crime against society because it obstructs economic, technical, and moral progress, makes a shorter work week impossible, and administers a slap in the face to rational economic endeavors.  Modern society has no need of ornament; one hates equally the fashionable and the historical ornament.  Folkloristic ornamentation is dying out; no more folk songs.  The chansons of music halls, Negro spirituals, and blue-collar ballads are all international.  The international proletariat is ignorant of fairy tales and legends, but it does go to the movies.  Folklore is entombed in the crypts of museums or lives on in those regions where a medieval darkness still lurks.  National style was predicated on a lack of transport.

(Loos’ argument concerning the connection between ornament and crime can be supplemented with the opinions expressed by Adolf Behne somewhat later, in 1926, that link ornament and war.  Throughout history weapons and instruments of destruction have displayed a particular penchant for loud ornamental decoration; socially beneficial instruments have been rather free of decoration.  Compare the attire of the mechanic, the doctor, the chemist, or the deep-sea diver with the soldier’s uniform, which became Feldgrau or bleu horizon [the colors of the uniform of the German and French armies, respectively] but has its own elegant decorations, epaulets, swords, headgear, medals, and badges.  As Behne said, decor always has one foot on the battlefield.  Every decoration and ornament is a ditch and a rampart surrounding function and object.  Ornament is a weapon aimed at humanity, a trench hollowed out between a person and object, a moment of conflict and dissolution.  An indigenous primitive abjures his natural humanity with his masks and his tattoos. The last vestige of this effort can be seen in military decorations.)

In the name of rationalization and economy, Loos fought not simply ornamentalism but all decorative art that makes a free play of forms out of construction and products for practical use (even if sometimes devoid of ornament).  In this way, Loos confronted the conception of architecture as a decorative art.  He was a fierce antagonist of Ruskin, that patron of contemporary arts and crafts.

In the nineteenth century, the industrial artisan was already an anachronism at birth; he was born of the medieval spirit that permeated the Pre-Raphaelite school in England.  Morris and Ruskin were obviously medieval spirits.  Ruskin emphasized the moral advantages stemming from the revival of handmade crafts in industrial art.  In his view, work that nourishes everyday needs will gain beauty and gaiety only if it becomes art, and art will acquire social justification only if it is connected with artisanal work.

Nevertheless, the mass production of art did not confer social justification on art; on the contrary, it aestheticized the manufacture of everyday objects, by pretending to make works of art out of them.  Under its influence, chairs and other furniture, even eating utensils, became less useful and decidedly [128] more l’art pour l’art than sculpture and painting.  The art industry could not socialize art but it did make production and craftsmanship aristocratic.

“Don Quixote paid a high price for his delusion.  That knight-errant can be compared with other types of society,” Karl Marx wrote correctly.  Our artisanal industry shares the delusion that craftsmanship directed by artistic invention can furnish our life today and that by fashioning “a uniform style” it can achieve the socialization of art.  It does not socialize art; it makes production aristocratic. Not only can it not make art accessible to the proletariat, it makes even kitchen furniture inaccessible.

Because of his beliefs Loos was forced to fight numerous harsh battles with the German milieu in which he worked and whose pride was the Wiener Werkstatte and the German Werkbund.  At a time when the Secession and Jugendstil reigned (when the epitome of fashionable design was the work of Josef Hoffman in Vienna, of [Richard] Riemerschmid and J.M. Olbrich in Germany, when Belgium and Germany celebrated van de Velde, and France lauded [Charles] Plumet and [Tony] Selmershcim), Loos led a crusade against ornament, decoration, and aestheticism.  For almost thirty years he and his opinions remained isolated in his own milieu, and yet he never wavered.  The hour of truth has come only now, in Paris, his new workplace, thanks to publicity from the revue L’esprit nouveau and from Le Corbusier.

Compared to Le Corbusier, Loos did not take a systematic approach to theory.  He did not elaborate an entire theoretical system, program, or plan; his book Spoken into the Void is a living glossary, the journal of a warrior, full of sharp, detailed perceptions and irony.  His commentaries, like his attacks and caricatures, are engaging and often written in a journalistic style, sometimes even as belles lettres.  Through the latter genre he paid his dues to his era and to his Vienna: his small essays can be read as anecdotal dialogues or like the prose poems of Peter A ken berg.  This is also their drawback: the belletristic form in part obscures the clarity and impact of his views as well as his critical judgment.  Today, however, we require a more scientific analysis of problems than this feuilletonistic approach allows.  Still, we cannot deny that Loos expressed his views on modern architecture with a unique perspicacity and clarity, and that he was not afraid to challenge the sacrosanct academic and aesthetic regulations that Le Corbusier’s theories were powerless to avoid.  Loos’ “aesthetic heresy” and Savonarola-like fanaticism against l’art pour l’art and aestheticism are very close to the theories of constructivism.  In Loos’ work you find no assertion that “architecture begins where construction ends,” nor do you find eulogies to the Golden Section.  On the other hand, in his book you will find for the first time the assertion that architecture is not art. This assertion was made by Loos several decades ago and is thus not an “ephemeral fashion of the day” a la Neue Sachlichkeit [New Objectivity]!

It is in Loos that we find the following statement; “Up until the nineteenth century the artist and the craftsman were one.  Works of art were used and consumed.  In today’s world, something of that sort would be considered [129] simply barbaric.  Industry and technology have removed themselves, one after the other, from art.”

“Architecture was once art.  Today architecture is no more art than shoemaking or tattooing.  Buildings exist to be used and to be used up at the same time, to please their era.”

“I know that I am but a craftsman who should serve humanity and the present era.”

Loos’ view that architecture is a craft or science does not preclude the possible aesthetic value of the work of architecture.  One cannot deny that genuine and perfect works of science possess their own strong aesthetic, poetic, even lyrical potential.  Loos, however, did not accept academic or scholastic-aesthetic formulas and rules.”  He consciously accepted the classical Hellenic axiom: “Utility is beautiful” (Socrates), that is, a useful, functionally perfect work is beautiful.

Loos writes:

By beauty we understand the highest perfection; that is why an object that is nor practical (Loos says “object,” he does not talk about art) could not possibly be beautiful.  The first and fundamental condition for an object that lays claims to the epithet “beautiful” is not to sin against functionality.  A practical object is, of course, not necessarily beautiful in itself.  That requires more.

The wise men of the cinquecento expressed it perhaps most concisely when they spoke of the object that is so beautiful that you cannot add or take anything away from it without harming it.

It would be a misunderstanding to interpret the above words of Loos to mean that a practical object needs some artistic “extra” A practical object is not yet beautiful; it is merely a perfect object.  Perhaps in thinking of architecture we could say that an object of craftsmanship is not beautiful; what is beautiful is a work of science.

Loos says it more precisely elsewhere: “The exquisite forms of Greek vases are in the end completely practical.  The Greeks worked in a practical way without worrying too much about beauty or any aesthetic rules, and so an object that was made in the most practical way was called ‘beautiful.’ Today engineers all over the world occupy the place of these Greeks.”

In 1910, in his article “Architektur” published in Der Sturm, Loos wrote: “Only a small part of architecture belongs to art: the tomb and the monument. Everything else, everything that serves a purpose is excluded from the realm of art.”  This statement is fully consonant with the tenets of constructivism, which reduces it to the following: Architecture is not art, because the tomb and the monument, those abstract architectures, are not really a part of architecture at all but rather a pure, absolute, even nonfigurative sculpture.  The tomb and the monument are forms that will disappear with the popular acceptance of cremation (urns will replace tombs) and with the disappearance of the religious and totemic, that is, atavistic sentimentality from human attitudes toward [130] the deceased.  People’s memories, great and small, can be honored more nobly than by monuments.

Elsewhere in Loos’ work we read sarcastic attacks against the aestheticization and individualization of production: “Dear Architect, could you possibly add five guldens’ worth of art to my façade?”

“Only idiots wear individualized clothing.  It is un-Greek to express one’s individuality through objects that pertain to our daily needs.”

“He who places equal value on a pair of shoes and a painting will never truly appreciate the latter; we cough into a spittoon, which is the latest design of Peter Zapfer, published in the magazine Deutsche Kunst und Denkmalpflege.”

What Loos expressed many years ago we read once again in Art, the book of “purist aesthetic,” published by Amédée Ozenfant in 1929:

When the client thinks of his future home he nurses a poetic, lyrical dream.  He dreams that he will dwell in a symphony.  He unburdens himself to the architect.  The architect burns with the desire to be Michelangelo.  He constructs an ode in ferroconcrete, which usually turns out very different from what the client dreamed.  This is the source of all conflicts, because poems, particularly when engendered by others, are uninhabitable.  Oh, those fugues of bathrooms, those dramas of water closets, those sonnets of bedrooms, those melodies of boudoirs!

Ozenfant divides architecture into utilitarian and free realms (that is, the temple, the monument, and the tomb) and admits that only the latter category has any artistic value; he agrees with Loos’ opinion that everything that serves a utilitarian purpose must be divorced from art.

Loos indefatigably proclaims that architecture is entirely different from art both in its purpose and in its conception and creative thought.  Loos sees art as disinterested “pure” design.  Architecture and furniture are tools.  Musical composition is a self-sufficient expression of the feeling from which it was born; the same is not true of a sideboard or a writing table.  An ashtray or a sideboard does not constitute a love poem.  The delusion of decorative art is simply this: You take a cup, a good, utilitarian cup.  It is nothing.  It is good and utilitarian, nothing more.  To become a decorative, artistic cup something has to change; perhaps the cup has to be square and not round, perhaps it should have an opening on the side, or perhaps it should be painted with a butterfly, a flower, a woman’s body.  Thousands of people all over the world are tormenting themselves over how to create a cup that has not existed previously.

By contrast, Loos maintains that architecture and furniture are not works of art, or even pretexts for works of art (decoration).  An artistic treatment is always detrimental to practicality and usefulness.  A decorative chair is not a chair; it is a decorative work of art in the shape of a chair.  The decoration of its surfaces has nothing to do with the function of sitting, unless the skin of our posterior is equipped with non-ocular sight.  Besides, civilized people [131] today have so much respect for art that they could not possibly sit on or walk upon or spit into a work of art.  The chair that purports to become an artwork by incorporating architecture, sculpture, and painting within it ceases to be a chair; thus its evolution toward standardization has been blocked.  The preservation movement is greatly mistaken when it presents the demolition of buildings that are considered works of art: practical life demands that we be rid of houses and furnishings that are no longer functional, just as we get rid of old clothes.  Unlike art, architecture does not aspire to eternity and immortality; it is a tool that must be discarded when obsolete.  Every form represents an evolutionary moment tending toward greater perfection.  This movement lasts until needs change, requiring a replacement by a more perfect form.  A form’s duration is governed by the principles of economy and functionality.  It is nonfunctional as well as uneconomical to produce forms “for eternity” that will become obsolete after a certain time.  It is equally uneconomical and nonfunctional to alter form through whim, artistic fantasy, or fashionable and commercial speculation.  We build semipermanent exhibition pavilions out of materials less durable than houses and furnishings that under today’s conditions should serve at least one generation.  To seek new forms at all costs according to some fashion or speculation is as inadmissible as it is to use atavistic forms, unless they derive directly from purpose.  When a certain object reaches a relative degree of perfection in its evolution, its form stabilizes until such time as changed needs require a new form.  The shape of a violin has not changed for centuries, the shape of a carpenter’s plane is four thousand years old; only the most recent era has demanded new musical instruments.  Industry dictates new machines.

Such architecture is far removed from the conception of architecture as a decorative or fine art.  According to Loos, the architect is not an artist or a decorator but a craftsman and a technician.  Modern people wear their unhistorical, nondecorative, nonindividualistic clothing; likewise, they require a modern dwelling furnished with objects for daily use.  The architecture should work for the client as though he were his tailor.  Domestic architecture is an envelope covering its interior; it is determined by this interior, and the interior, in turn, is determined by the needs of the inhabitants.  It should be clothed simply, practically, and distinctly.  Loos removed from domestic architecture and dwelling all aestheticism and “artism”; he makes them serve man, he shows that artistic concerns are out of place here:

He who wants to learn fencing has to seize the rapier himself; no one can learn fencing by mere observation.  He who builds a home should do everything himself; otherwise, he will never learn.  There will be many mistakes, but they will be your mistakes.  You will soon recognize them if you use self-discipline and simplicity.  You will change them and correct them.  Your home will become you, and you will become your home.  Only you can furnish your home, the backdrop to the joys and tragedies of your life.  A home must never be finished.  Is a person in his physical and spiritual makeup ever finished? Does he ever stand still? And so if a person is in a [132] constant evolution and movement, if his old needs disappear and new ones emerge, if all of nature and everything around us changes, how could that which is closest to us — our dwelling — remain changeless, dead, and furnished into perpetuity? Impossible.  To prescribe for people how everything from the water closet to the ashtray should be arranged is ridiculous.  On the other hand, I like it when people move furniture according to what they (not I myself) need, and it is entirely natural if they can bring in their favorite old paintings, their souvenirs, be they tasteful or kitsch.  I don’t really care about that.  But for them, it’s a part of their life and intimacy.  This means that I am the kind of architect who does things in a humane way, not in an artistic or inhumane way.  I’m always surprised by how many people let themselves be tyrannized by so-called interior architects.

Grab your pens, artists of style! Try to depict birth and death, the cries of a wounded son, the death rattle of a dying mother, the last thought of a daughter who deliberately welcomes death — how does all of that fit in a decorated bedroom designed by Olbrich? Let us imagine: a young woman has killed herself.  A lifeless body on the floor.  A hand clutches a revolver.  A letter on the table, a broken promise.  How “tasteful” is the room of this tragedy? And who would want to know, who would care? It’s a room.  Enough.  But what if it were a salon furnished according to designs by van de Velde, then it would not be just a room.  What would it be? Mocking death!

Loos used human measure as the sine qua non of architecture and he placed it simultaneously within the context of a basic law of economics.  His decorative and fine art, stemmed from his refusal to waste energy and material.  At the same time, he rejected ornament as spurious production characterized by the use of substitutes and lack of quality in work and material.  Loos’ economy is not the economy of greed.  It is a rational social economy that argues that “cheap is twice as expensive” and that promotes economy of effort, material, and time.  It demands quality, durability of material, and perfection of execution; in other words, it admits the expenditure of energy only where it can bring a true, positive improvement.  It excludes fashion and playfulness, and it postulates progress and inventiveness.  Architecture as craft, born of real need born of real need — not accidental, capricious, or seasonal — was born in America.  There the manufacture of chairs, tables, and other utilitarian objects has done without aesthetic speculation, and rightly so.  In America, where he lived for three years, Loos probably learned the ABC’s of his architectural convictions; whereas in the German and Austrian milieu in which he worked he was constantly confronted by resistance, lack of recognition, and misunderstanding.  Loos pointed out the sophistication of Japanese interiors, from which, he believed, modern architecture can learn everything.  The Japanese dwelling without furniture is a free and empty, undecorated space.  It represented Loos’ ideal at a time when the Secession was trying to get rid of the Makartian stye but without making substantial changes in the dark and  [133-135] stuffy rooms, those storage spaces of dust and cobwebs, filled with germs and stale air; they wanted only to redecorate them as exhibits of decorative curiosities and monstrosities.

Loos expressed his opinions in the many lectures and magazine articles that he published in Die Rote Fahne, Neue Freie Presse, Die Zeit, Die Waage, Die Fackel, Der Sturm, L’esprit nouveau, L’architecture vivante, and so on.  In these periodicals, this opponent of “architecture as art” succeeded in promulgating many purely artistic values.  This supporter of journalism, this friend of Karl Kraus, fought for the recognition of the art of Ofskar] Kokoschka, A[rnold] Schoenberg, and Peter Altenberg, with whom he briefly edited the revue Mortatsschrift fur die Kunst und alles andere. It was there that he published a number of essays on architecture, interiors, fashion, crafts, customs, and so on.  He later gathered these essays into a book for which, in a Germany plagued by decorative and formalistic architecture, he could not find a publisher.  And so the collection of essays from the years 1897-1900 (the later ones have still not been published as a book) appeared in German with the French publishing house of Georges Crès in 1921, under the almost accusatory title Ins Leere gesprochen.1 Ins Leere gesprochen: were these truly words spoken into the void? Decidedly.  Between 1897 and 1900 only a few in Europe would listen, and this was particularly true of the community of architects in Central Europe.  The “new Greeks” were already active in the West.  The famous works of English and French iron architecture were being built.  That means that there already existed technological, industrial, and economic conditions for an entirely new architecture that was free from the ballast of historicism and art.  Loos, however, was then the only architect who could understand and master these new realities, who best knew how to draw consequences from them and how to express the program of new architecture.  He became the embodiment of this new, living principle.  For this he was suppressed and silenced for many decades by the academic establishment, that obsolete, feudal body in a century of machine civilization.

In a number of quotations we have demonstrated the revolutionary impact of Loos’ architectural views.  We have also pointed out that constructivism today accepts the many articles supporting his credo unconditionally.  If we frequently refer to the words of Loos’ book, it is not because we consider its authority absolute.

• • •

Indeed, the truth according to Loos has certain limitations.  Hence, it is necessary to formulate some objections.

The strength of Loos’ book lies in its negation.  Almost all of Loos’ nays are still valid today.  On the other hand, some assertions in Loos’ prognosis have not come true, and others have been superseded by present developments.  Loos never fully resolved his attitudes toward machine production and the process of industrialization in building: he was not aware of their full gamut of possibilities.  Loos did not think “like an artist” but like an artisan and so [136] he did not touch the problems of standardization and mass production; he insisted on the market price of craft and manufacture; he generally preferred natural, carefully crafted materials over artificial materials.  His cult of “beautiful matter’’ or “precious material’’ is also in the end an expression of obsolete aestheticism. Loos’ buildings are not conspicuous for their boldness and inventiveness of construction.  Loos probably understood marble better than he did ferroconcrete.  His furnishings, whether chosen or designed by him, were supposed to fit “the human measure” perfectly, to be the epitome of practicality and comfort; and yet his interiors are still “depots of dust.”  Or another example: it is rare to find in Loos’ villas a great number of windows and doors of uniform size; there is no norm or standard.  Furthermore, Loos stubbornly used vertical windows whereas today the advantage of horizontal windows, which Loos rejected, has been demonstrated.

Naturally, Loos the advocate of precious materials saw in luxury something useful and even necessary for architecture.  His economy pertained above all to the durability of material.  It is hard to imagine, however, that with the rapid changes we are experiencing today houses and flats will be adequate in a hundred years’ time.  Why waste time on durability when the most important thing is that materials be capable of industrial mass production and assembly? Loos insisted on the unchanging value of certain forms that have since changed (and not merely out of formalistic and decorative caprice).  Think of the Chippendale chair, the chairs designed by Loos and [Josef] Veillich, and the metal furniture of Mart Stam, Marcel Breuer, and [Ludwig] Mies van der Rohe!

The modern architectural program is a program of the “minimum,” running counter to the program of luxury.  S[igfried] Giedion correctly stated the important phenomenon that is manifest today: “For the first time in history, architecture finds its direction in the social class, not with the maximum but with the minimum requirements: no luxurious house built with unlimited means can have any significance for the evolution of modern architecture today.”

Loos, who for the longest time was forced to battle rejection in his Viennese and German milieu, was eventually driven to an almost incomprehensible Anglomania by his distaste for German, and his admiration for Anglo-American, civilization.

He laughed at Viennese decorativism but admired English conservatism.  But is not the English court and parliamentary ritual the most fantastic decoration? Could a man with “modern nerves” sit in a carriage that the English royal family uses to open Parliament? Loos did not read enough Bernard Shaw!

Loos wrote: “Today the English aristocracy still uses postilions while its servants use the railway.  Perhaps, one day, we will be so advanced.” Fortunately, we have never gotten that far, and international express trains and buses now crisscross Europe.

Equally difficult to understand today is Loos’ unconditional admiration for American civilization.  The United States, after all, is the country of the [137-138] wildest decorative hysteria in art.  Indeed, as was mentioned in L’esprit nouveau, “Let’s take the advice of American engineers but watch out for American architects.”

In defense of luxury and the luxury craft, Loos argued that “it is from the upper ten thousand that a great, socially ennobling work arises.”  Every event in our present society negates this assertion almost brutally.

Despite these reservations, one cannot but see in Loos one of the strongest and most significant precursors of modern architectural thought.  Consider his antiaesthetic, vivid, and civilized views on architecture.  According to Loos, architecture is not a prerogative for the specialist but for every citizen, because in life everyone enters into contact with architecture and is a consumer of architectural production.  Consider his architectural realizations (buildings outstanding more for their plans than for their construction) or his consistent use of flat roofs.  These represent such strong positive factors in Loos’ mission that his specific errors recede into the background.

Loos’ most significant practical contribution was his reform of the dwelling. In this area, his merit was overshadowed — unjustly we believe — by the fame of F.  L. Wright.  Wright’s reform of the plan, his loosening of the Renaissance palazzo scheme, cannot really claim universal validity.  The free horizontal development of the plan of Wright’s bungalows and villas is hampered by the expensive price of real estate.  The required economy of space demands not a horizontal but a vertical disposition, that is, not in the floor plan but in space.  Loos, who like Wright considered the Japanese dwelling an ideal prototype for modern dwellings, created instead, unlike the more artistic Wright, a new spatial layout for rooms, “not in the floor plan but along the floors.”  Loos pointed out that this “resolution of the floor plan in space is truly revolutionary. Before Immanuel Kant, people did not know how to think spatially and architects built toilets as tall as ceremonial halls, only occasionally dividing the space with a false ceiling.  One day we’ll be able to play chess on a three-dimensional board; only then will other architects try to resolve the floor plan in three dimensions.” The first effort at this spatial layout is, I suppose, the house for Tristan Tzara in Montmartre; here Loos skillfully used the incline of the site to create terraces overlooking Paris, which were accessible from individual rooms.  The individual rooms are also arranged at different levels (I emphasize levels not floors!), and thus an economy of space and plan is achieved within a small space of relatively large rooms.  Loos wanted to build a house of this type at the exhibition Die Wohnung in Stuttgart in 1927, but he was prevented by the German Werkbund! “I would have really had something to show,” Loos complained, “and I could have saved a lot of time and trouble in the evolution of building.”

Loos confidently proclaimed that “the entire development of modern craft, if influenced by technological inventions, resides within two eyes.  And those arc my eyes.  Does that mean that nobody knows about it? I don’t want 10 wait for my own eulogies, and so I am going to declare it myself.”  Neither do we wish to wait for his eulogies (nor even the celebratory articles on the [139] occasion of Loos’ sixtieth birthday this year), and so we affirm outright that Loos’ self-confidence expresses historical truth quite precisely.

Adolf Loos did not waste thirty years speaking his architectural truths into a void.  If his German contemporaries were deaf to his challenges and to his work, Le Corbusier in France followed his example.  Loos turned away from his own milieu and spoke to new Czech and French architects.  And the new Czech architecture, which in the past decade opposed decorative tendencies, proclaimed Loos its precursor.  Czech architects embraced Loos for removing architecture from the family of fine arts and even from the conception of art, for proclaiming all decorative and artistic conceptions of architecture to be “das Andere” [the other].  Also for refusing to admit that the evolution of architectonic forms and the forms of all useful objects in our civilization could be directed by artistic and individualistic fantasy rather than by life’s simple needs.  Such needs are defined by man, his physiology, his nervous system.  When the form of art object results from its function, it is fully satisfactory; to change it according to fashion is capricious.  Where all production — and not merely the artistic industry — is governed by individualistic intentions, there is a blind alley; economy alone leads to universal welfare.  Architecture, crafts, and industry share the same platform and have nothing to do with art.  The architect is not the author of new forms of beauty but a social engineer, a social benefactor and organizer, not a subjective poet but a scientist and an inventor.  Loos’ greatest contribution is to have negated the artistic conception of architecture.  Thirty years ago he already pronounced his disagreement with aestheticism in construction, as well as with decorativism; he proclaimed the end of the artistic model in architecture and he challenged the ornamental mania.  In America he learned to value technology and machine production, which are not concerned with “art.”  He also insisted on the market price of production.  Vienna, which denied the existence of machines as if “they couldn’t flourish in the secret climatic conditions there,” became the chief enemy.  Loos himself came to terms with machine production only in part and largely theoretically.

He acknowledged the importance of standardization, but he still thought like an artisan and mass production.  But his antiaesthetic, practical, civic views of architecture on a human scale — views that constructivist theory confirms in general, developing them and deriving further consequences from them, while revising some of their details and conclusions — found sympathetic support among young Czech architects who recognized in Loos a precursor.  Loos acknowledged these new Czech architects as his comrades-in-arms and manifested his sympathies for their movement.  Loos’ consistent negation of architecture as art can be used again today against the fashionable aesthetic superstitions of the Golden Section, geometric proportionality, machine romanticism, and formalist pseudoconstructivism.  It stands against all who do not understand the clear thesis of constructivism, who falsify it and deprave it, thus letting “art” sneak back into architecture.


All of Loos’ architectural program could be summarized in the following sentences: “Architects are destined to understand the depth of life, to rationalize needs in their broadest consequences, to aid those socially weaker, to furnish the maximum number of homes with perfect utilitarian objects, but they are never intended to invent new forms.” With precursors like Kotěra and Loos, the new generation of architects in Czechoslovakia can look forward with confidence toward future tasks as they join the working platform of international architectural design.


1 In 1919 Loos published in Vienna a program for the politics of art in the Republic of Austria, a book entitled Kichtlinien fiir ein Kunstamt [Guidelines for a Department of Art], To date, no substantial monograph exists about Loos’ work.  A small book by Karl Marilaun entitled Adolf Loos was published in 1922 by the Wiener Literarische Anstalt and translated into Czech by J[aroslava] Václavková (published in Brno by Index in 1929).



A certain countercurrent emerged around 1910 as an obvious reaction to the work of Kotěra and Loos and the views on which their work had been based.  In Prague this reaction manifested itself in an independent and interesting, but basically erroneous, school of cubist architecture. In opposition both to the decorative and folkloristic qualities of the Secession and to the utilitarian and constructivist tendencies of the work of Loos and Kotěra, cubism represented pure and total formalism.  Czech cubist architecture was primarily concerned with plasticity and movement of mass.  In this, it was distinct from the material bathos of contemporary German schools and the light, decorative, eclectic elegance of Vienna.  In contrast to Semper’s and Wagner’s determination of the work of art by its purpose, material, and techniques, the cubists emphasized the futility and incapacity of the utilitarian stance, as well as the necessity for abstractly spiritual, dramatically dynamic forms in architecture.  Against the rational functionality in construction, forms and the dynamic composition of masses were infused with regulatory, primary ideas.  In contrast to the rationalism and pure tectonics of Wagner’s or Berlage’s school, which had been ostensibly inspired by antiquity and the Renaissance, the cubists heralded a return to baroque thinking and possibly even (because of its dramatic qualities) to baroque form.  Old Prague — not the Prague of the Renaissance and of classicism — but baroque Prague, and also the Gothic one, once again attracted the architects’ attention.  The old legend of the baroque genius loci of Prague, promulgated by the Club for Old Prague, regained credibility for them.  In baroque Prague, cubist architects found strong spatial and dynamic phenomena; they began to object to Wagner and, more generally, to modern constructivist architecture as overly sober and thus unsuitable.  Cubist architects recognized their indebtedness to the baroque and took exception to Wagnerian architecture for the same reasons used fifteen to twenty years earlier by F[rantišek] X[aver] Harlas.  This highly conservative critic had challenged the then-new architecture under the popular guise of defending “Old Prague”; he was unable to find any place in Prague appropriate for modern buildings.  To hear similar objections several years later from those who consider themselves modern architects constitutes a peculiar irony of fate.

The foremost representatives of cubism in Czech architecture were Pavel Janák, Josef Gočár, Vlastislav Hofman, Josef Chochol, and Jiří Kroha. These architects transposed the principles of cubism from painting into architecture.  [142] Czech cubist architecture as a whole, as we see today, arose out of a basic, almost absurd misunderstanding of the fundamental and specific postulates of architecture.  As a constructional creation determined by function, it cannot tolerate any kind of formalism but must be directed by rational functionalism.  The aesthetic misunderstanding of this type of architecture — that is, its inability to comprehend the fundamentals of cubism — consists above all in adopting as its point of departure a formula that is only superficially cubist (the diagonal rhythm of secondary late cubist and even futurist, kinetic, and nonfigurative paintings).  Czech cubist architecture failed to assimilate the most fertile lesson of cubism: the adherence to geometry, to [Paul] Cézanne’s truth of geometric archetypes.  Czech cubists might have been able to derive the principles of regularity and perpendicularity required by the new architecture from these sources.

New Dutch architecture, younger than the Czech school and of postwar vintage, is also sometimes described as “cubist.”  J.J.P. Oud himself spoke of it as cubist, even though his own works and those of [Gerrit] Rietveld, [Jan] Wils, [Cornells van] Eesteren, [Leendert Cornelis] van der Vlugt, and [Theo] van Doesburg can be more precisely described as architectural plasticism or as a certain architectural variation on the aesthetics of [Piet] Mondrian.1

Nevertheless, Dutch “cubism” is so called for its clear, legible, and “cubic” composition of masses and volumes, for its orthogonality and cubic shape.  These conform better to the demands of modern functionalist architecture than do the acute angles and deformed planes of the speculative and functionally unjustifiable forms of Czech cubism.  Dutch cubism (more precisely, neoplasticism) follows logically from the work of Berlage, that is, the very architectural tendencies to which Czech cubism is opposed.  Dutch architecture manifests similar reactions against rationalism and functionalism that were simultaneous with Czech cubism.  The group of architects gathered around the periodical Wendingen, a group known as the Amsterdam school, was much closer to the Czech cubists than the latter postwar group of “cubists” associated with the journal De Stijl. Just as Czech cubist architects opposed the rationalism of Wagner, Loos, and Kotěra, so the Amsterdam school opposed the asceticism of Berlage and proclaimed an extreme subjectivism, freedom of architectural inspiration, and the cultivation of a romantic imagination.  This group sought forms for its buildings that were sometimes closer to historical styles or to the elegant Jugendstil of van de Velde; it did so not with regard to their function and the specific practical requirements of the period but out of aesthetic speculation.  This is an architecture of formal play in which the most significant concern is the surface, the facade.  This school epitomized the very negation of architectural truth; it was an architecture of lawlessness that boldly and irrationally fantasized volumes and forms, giving them an original rhythm that suppressed their architectural logic and structure.  Czech cubist architecture represents a similar diversion from the evolution of modern functional architecture; much like the Amsterdam school it is a cul-de-sac dominated by the priests of the romantic imagination.


The aesthetic of cubist architecture is derived from cubist painting.  The treatment of space and matter that we can read in cubist paintings is here applied to building.  Unlike the contemporary architecture of Wagner and others, which cogitated and created within the system of Euclidean space (conceived as a given “practical space”), cubist architecture appealed to other, non-Euclidean spaces.  If the cubists referred to the fourth dimension, if they referred to the work of [Henri] Poincaré, they kept forgetting that these non-Euclidean spaces are not — or at least, not yet — architecturally comprehensible.  Through its material substance architecture is bound exclusively to the Euclidean system.  To speculate about the architectures of other spatial systems is unrealistic.  If cubist architecture created its “spiritual spaces” by the diagonal inclination of the axis toward the third (in architecture, always vertical) gravitational axis, and thus obtained oblique, spheroidal, and deformed planes — in short, if it sought a new form of architectural sculpture in the dissecting of planes — it was merely formal play and caprice.  Cubist architecture sought plastic forms that grew inorganically, a kind of crystalline sculpture often explained in shaky, mystical terms and one contrary to the classical materialistic views of antiquity, the pure Renaissance, or modern architecture.  Its spiritual, romantic view appears to be related to the baroque and the Gothic but is in any case fundamentally consonant with Secessionist views.  The Secession also created forms without regard to their material and functional purpose and worked in the technique of free sculpture.  Even the dynamic element of cubist architecture is related not just to the baroque (its powerful mobile lines and grand modeling of masses) but also to the customs of the Secession and Jugendstil.  Czech cubist architecture was influenced by the romanticism of the Secession and van de Velde, for most of modern architecture such romanticism proved disorienting, even a retarding, force.  Such machine romanticism drove van de Velde to attempt the expression of movement, the dynamic moment in architecture.  The problem of dynamic architecture must be stated differently that it was stated by van de Velde, Italian futurists, and Czech cubists.  Expressing movement by the play of plastic forms (be they the elastic curves of van de Velde or those of [Erich] Mendelsohn’s Einstein Tower in Potsdam), or by the diagonal section or the penetration of pyramids (as with Hofman, Gočár, and Janák) is always a decorative formula quite as subjective and superficial as the fashion “to express construction.”  Dynamic architecture sought as a solution, not as an expression or interpretation, is the sole architecture that truly moves; it exists as a result of mobile tensions and forms.  The curves and tear-shaped profiles of the airplane calculated in aerodynamic laboratories do not express movement: they create it.  Interpreting and expressing the movement of architectural compositions, the fluctuations of plastic forms, is the fallacy of a perverse romantic aesthetic and Einfühlungstheorie.  This Einfühlungstheorie reings in the aesthetics of van de Velde, as well as in the aesthetics of Czech cubist architecture.  This romantic delusion culminated in the fantastic formal anarchy of German expressionist architecture, in the utopian stalagmite and cavelike architecture [146] of [Hermann] Finsterlin, in the “Alpine-Architektur” and the Magdeburg surfaces of Bruno Taut and others.  Czech cubist architecture, especially as expressed in the works of Vlastislav Hofman and Jiří Kroha, was after all nothing but a romantic architectural utopia.

With cubism, Czech architecture stood in the vanguard of European developments in the last years before the world war.  Throughout Europe restlessness, crisis, and stagnation prevailed.  The movement of new functional architecture, adumbrated at the turn of the century by Serfage, the Perret brothers, and Wagner, had now been weakened and shunted aside by romantic and individualistic architectural fashions, themselves but late echoes of the Secession and Jugendstil, fruits of the decorative tendencies of van de Velde.  When these fashions grew obsolete, the architecture of Central Europe sank helplessly into into the depths of eclecticism and academic traditionalism.  At the time Prague was the instigator and promoter of new architectural forms.  With well-nigh naïve faith, theorists expected that architectural cubism would actually lead to a new style.  In a time of stagnation, there was little justification for this belief; still, its uniqueness and originality attracted foreign interest.

In his book Der Expreitionismus, Paul Fechter made appreciative comments about the new cubist architecture in Prague.  The revue Montjoie!, edited by the late poet [Ricciotto] Canudo, declared that the evolution of architecture, stagnating elsewhere, continued freely in Prague.  Later in time than the experiments of Czech architects but parallel in substance was the Salon d’Automne in Paris of 1913.  Here the sculptor [Raymond] Duchamp-Villon exhibited a design for a three-dimensional façade.  His architecture was more “cubistifying” than cubist.  It was, if you will, baroque architecture clad in cubist forms.  It represented a much less consistent program than the projects elaborated earlier by Czech architects.  Duchamp-Villon lacked an overarching cubist conception.  His cubism limited itself to the creation of architectural detail in a traditional overall disposition of mass; by contrast, the Czech designers reached deeper into this mass and modeled the entire building as a compact abstract sculpture — without regard for the building’s practical function or for planned architectural purpose, objectivity, and logic.  In 1925 the Parisian Pierre Chareau and several designers close to him created cubist decorative architecture, especially furniture surprisingly similar in character to the prewar Czech cubist architecture.  But not even priority in time and the undeniable and remarkable originality of Czech cubist architecture could conceal from critics the futility, illogicality, and speciousness of these attempts.  As is evident from Vlastislav Hofman’s designs and theoretical essays, Czech cubist architecture subscribed to the spirit of German romanticism and was in substance and character more expressionist than cubist.  It embodied the struggle between spirit and matter that [Hans] Poelzig had described.  It perpetuated the decadent Gothic soul — not the soul of the Gothic master builders expressed by the soaring vaults of cathedrals but the Gothic soul as disseminated by romantic literature and false aestheticism.  It was more mythology [147-148] than architecture, like all the utopian architecture of expressionism.  Cubist architecture along with cubist painting and sculpture wanted to free itself from naturalism; it considered all architecture naturalistic that, like realist painting, corresponded to some purpose in life.  In this way, both correspondence and conformity of purpose in architecture came to be considered naturalistic.  Clearly, two dissimilar, and incompatible, phenomena were here being equated.  One could possibly understand architecture aesthetically as absolute, abstract sculpture; however; comprehensibility of this sculpture, its logical truth, would still have to be determined by its contact with life and by its purpose, both articulated in the plan.  Cubist architecture was deprived of precisely this contact with life.

Cubist architecture aimed for dynamism but remained (much like the futurist architectural projects of Virgilio Marchi) at the level of an utterly subjective rhythm of forms.  Czech cubist architecture in its entirety was an original but delusive aesthetic formula.  The perpetual use of oblique deformed planes, the violation of the material, and the disregard for construction and function were but the expressions of a false baroque spiritualism resurrected by the Secession.

Vlastislav Hofman, who went farther than any of his colleagues, stood in the vanguard of Czech cubist architecture.  The most rigorous and radical of the cubists, he disregarded any functional or rational preconditions in architecture.  He consistently avoided utilitarian tasks to focus on the freest, most cubist of forms, as documented by his designs for tombs, monuments, and churches.  In his concern with painterly and sculptural expression, he completely transgressed the limits of architecture.  He recorded his plastic fantasies not in architectural plans but in free sketches, woodcuts, engravings.  He drove the utopian aspects of architecture to absurd limits: his projects, embodied in sketches rather than plans, were totally unrealizable.  As a result, Hofman had to content himself with expressing his plastic dreams not through building but through decorative objects and theater sets.  Hofman’s works in the applied arts evince a certain banality of design.  In his theatrical work Hofman completely suppressed himself as an architect only to stand revealed as an expressionist painter of the second or third rank.  According to the old axiom, applied arts or stage design necessarily spell the death of architecture.  Hofman’s case is typical, as well as emblematic of the entire phenomenon of cubist architecture.  It demonstrates that cubist architecture was not architecture but a second-rate, derivative form of applied art good only for sketching utopian monuments, which always remained on paper because of their technical impossibility.

With his design of the Hlávka Bridge in Prague (1909-12) Pavel Janák incorporated the first traces of cubist form into a coherent overall expression that testified to the strong influence of the Viennese architect Josef Hoffmann.  Later, in the pages of Umélecký měsíčnik [Art Monthly], Janák proclaimed his theory of cubist architecture, again emphasizing the notion that the genius loci of Prague was baroque — even if an unprejudiced tour of the city would [149] hardly confirm this established view.  This distortion, not for the first or the last time, had a pernicious effect on contemporary architecture.  Much as the Secession and the Kotěra style were supposed to pay homage to the Prague baroque style, so cubist architecture in the works of Janák and Gočár adapted itself to the baroque character, Janák’s projects and buildings do genuinely express the baroque spirit through cubist forms.  Janák succeeded in integrating his work into the historical framework of the neighboring architecture with a virtuosity that pleased historians and conservators alike; at the same time, however, he reinfected architecture with historicism, the very style that turn-of-the-century architecture was struggling to overcome.

Josef Gočár probably also conceived his design for the department store At the Black Madonna [U Černé Matky Boží], in Prague’s first district, within a historical framework; however, when he came to realize this remarkably courageous, expressive, and historically significant work (1911-12) he was less influenced by the historical environment.  Gočár’s spa in Bohdaneč (1911- 12), now marred by an unsightly addition, in its time set an example of an unassuming, classicizing architecture, decorated sparingly with cubist elements.  On the whole, however, it was most impressive for its simplicity and serene horizontally.  Other significant works of cubist architecture are the creations of Josef Chochol: the villas and the apartment house near Vyšehrad, in Prague.  These designs, in contrast to Hofman’s fantasies, do not drown in utopia; compared to the designs of Gočár and Janák, they are free from historicism and stylistic reminiscences.  In the postwar period, and following the departure of its main representatives, Jiří Kroha occasionally joined the ranks of cubist architecture.  His designs were as radical, utopian, and anticonstructionist as Hofman’s, Kroha’s architecture was similar to the postwar utopian architecture of Germany.

The hollow aestheticism and formalism of this unfortunate Czech cubism steered architects to applied design, with which they could realize their fantastic caprices more easily and at lesser cost.  What could not — thank God! — become a house or a temple because of unfavorable circumstances could, at reduced cost, become a table, a sofa, a vase, or a lamp.  Thus, the dynamic architecture of Czech cubism dwindled to nothing but a chaotic play of forms affixed to some lamp, impractical sideboard, or useless desk — an armchair in which we couldn’t sit without keeling over, a vase or goblet that toppled when touched.  At exhibitions of the Czechoslovak Werkbund [Svaz Čs. Díla] we were often obliged to recall ruefully the heavenly comfort of American office furniture, Pullman cars, English armchairs, and the Prague Thonet chairs praised by Adolf Loos.

Cubism disregarded physical laws as well as practical purpose when it forced its products into absurd shapes.  Contrary to the simple, practical, functional form epitomized by the architecture of antiquity based on tectonics and the orthogonal system, cubism sought out a non-utilitarian course.  In its search for a rhythm of masses, cubism was left with only a few functional possibilities in which the chaos of forms completely obscured the basic [150-152] structure.  The involvement of cubist architects in industrial art resulted directly from their view of architecture as a free, abstract art unconstrained by life postulates.  Here, cubist architects glimpsed a possibility of approaching their formalistic ideals: to overcome both material and function by spiritual expression and to use construction formally only toward the higher end of subjugating an object to an artistic idea.  Cubist furniture became virtually self-contained sculpture; it insistently disregarded the existence of people, the very people inhabiting die cubist environment.  Hofman, Gočár and Janák sought structural limits in their cubist furniture designs; they shifted the focus and the equilibrium dangerously by forcing planes into sharp angles.  Perhaps in this way they did approximate the spirit of the Gothic, baroque, and romanticism of the second rococo period; however their designs were useless in practice.  Their massive furniture, dynamically multidirectional, is full of heavy-handed, pathetic, and oppressive materiality.  Their pieces resemble barrows more than sideboards or armoires.  The cubist emphasis on the artistic aspects of furniture and objects of everyday use led, as in the Secession, to a critical disequilibrium of the appropriate ratio between functionality and the aesthetic value of each individual object.  In this anarchy, we may observe that the connection between art and artisanal or industrial work — the same connection from which Ruskin and van de Velde expected a moral sanctification, democratization, and socialization of art — achieved the completely opposite result: that of making art aristocratic.  Unable to make art accessible to people, it made even its own tools and objects of comfort inaccessible.  The art industry itself became more l’art pour l’art than when everything had been art.  Artists were prouder of their own individual sentiments than of the simple functional value of their products.  They stood up against standardization and mass production all the while continuing to manufacture monstrous objects.  In their work, objects of daily use grew infinitely removed from their original purpose as utilitarian objects.  Converted into a self-serving artistic reality, they traduced the practical tasks of everyday life.  Sadly, even apartments designed by cubist architects became impossible for their fellow men to live in.

The whole fantastic delusion of the industrial, decorative, and applied arts — the delusion of the false aesthetic of Ruskin, Morris, and van de Velde, explicitly exposed by Loos as criminal — was conspicuous in the Czech cubist movement.  The nineteenth and twentieth centuries sharply distinguished uniform industrialization from the liberal art of poetry out of historical, social, and manufacturing necessity.  The attempt to eliminate this necessary and basic distinction is doomed to failure, particularly in the medieval arts and crafts in which the categorical demands of machine civilization and industry cannot be understood.  It should be clear that the modern individual who wears his simple and relatively uniform clothes will also seek modern, that is, adequate, lodging and furnishings, in which every object is unambiguously defined by its value, function, and purpose.  Seeking new andfantastic forms that do not derive directly from the purpose of the object but [153] that are born of the caprice of artistic intuition is as damaging and inadmissible as using historically decorated forms and ornaments in the manufacturing of modern objects.  Architects in favor of industrial art, and in particular Czech cubists, could perhaps decorate courts and castles, but they are unable to furnish an average dwelling.  It is truly surprising that in our times one can still find the weird followers of Ruskin who live with eyes closed, who deny themselves the daily requirements of life so they can satisfy the secret needs of their decorative souls.  In all their efforts they care little if their products are useless in real life, as exemplified by the impossible furnishings, crazy ornaments and boxes, and little doodads that we used to see exhibited by the Czechoslovak Werkbund, One cannot help asking what the purpose is of this decorative work that diverts so much production material away from simple concrete purpose.  What is the sense of production that in reality does not produce new positive values or products destined for life? Decorative art destroys a work, and industrial art destroys manpower.  The result is the same as dumping eggs in Lake Michigan.

During the world war, waves of nationalism — politically prompted by bourgeois revolutionary forces — also swept into art, literature, music, and architecture, wreaking disaster.  Cubist architecture suddenly became not sufficiently “Czech” or “Slavic”; it was abruptly dropped.  Only V.  Hofman, limited by his theoretical work and his undisciplined temperament, subject to the worst and most confused German expressionism, remained faithful.  The architects Janák and Gočár, in collaboration with the artist F.  Kysela and supported by the art historian V[áclav] V[ilém] Štech (one of the most fervent promulgators of the new artistic trend), attempted to resurrect the national style.  Their efforts to create a new national architectural style were based on old delusions; later these led to new delusions.  Elements of nationalist, ornamental, and decorative style were artificially revived.  Although this new style was not mimetic in the same way as the earlier folkloristic fashions but instead attempted new forms based on popular ornaments, it nevertheless achieved monstrously decorative, national forms.  Gočár’s pseudo-Slovak wooden buildings at the airport in Kbely had precious little to do with the surrounding concrete hangars and metal planes; instead, they resembled the fake, and justly criticized, architecture of Jurkovič.  This architectural imitation in [Jóža] Ůprka’s style, with its old-new ornamentation, corrupted the forms of cubism and popular art alike.  The plastic architecture so characteristic of the original cubism was still evident in Gočár’s Bank of Legions [Legiobanka] on Na Poříčí Street in Prague’s second district (1921-22).  Although it did not display any programmatic national features, by its overcrowded, colorful, and formal massing it created an unpleasantly baroque impression.  This plasticity came to be supplanted by flat façades.  The architectural-sculptural moment receded before the painterly-decorative moment; color appeared once again in the facades.  This colorful architecture was conceived neither as a rational display of hues nor as a realization in color of spatial ratios, evident from the work of Theo van Doesburg: rather, it was pure ornamentality and decoration.  The [154] architect Janák and the painter Kysela began applying the colors and forms of national ornaments, folk paintings, and embroideries on a colossal scale to furnishings and buildings.  At the same time, cubism disappeared from the furniture industry.  Modern architects began designing Slovak sideboards or, baroque chests.  To be sure, they were unable to revive the desiccated source of popular art with the help of this “cubistifying” Secession.  The earlier “revolutionary” cubist forms so evident in the applied arts vanished and, following a transitional period of ornamental surface compositions, migrated to Biedermeier style.  “The wartime patriotism awakened in Czechoslovakia, as elsewhere, brought perverse and damaging results with its romanticized nationalism.  Artists sought the traditions of a national art quite factitiously in literature, music, and painting.  The antiquarian traditionalism of this nationalistic delusion threatened to impede cultural evolution.

In the first years after the world war, the Czechoslovak Werkbund, together with all the decorative art schools, organized a broad and “original” movement that sought support in the most meaningless and reactionary cultural slogans; this colorful originality soon ended — in architecture, as in other disciplines — in utter fiasco.  Quite naturally, normal conditions began to prevail after the war; it was nor possible during a period of active international contacts to maintain a distinctive and “unique” national style.  The links to Czech, Slovak, and Moravian folk art — by nature plainer and decorated in a naturalist manner — led to contourless and planimetric architectural form.  Architecture succumbed to a “unique” period tastelessness.  Having designed the Bank of Legions in 1924, on Jindříšská Street, in Prague’s second district, Gočár went on to build the Brno Bank [Brněnská banka] — much more planar, with a facade of the Renaissance type articulated by frames and ledges.  Architectural blunders were confined to those of painterly, decorative solutions applied to the facade and perhaps the interior.  The building exemplified decorative street fronts awash with loud colors.  This Kysela-like ornamental aesthetic reduced the art of building to “façadism”; the unfortunate legend of the baroque genius loci completed the damage.  With great regret we realize that this decorative, ostensibly modern architecture, this “unique,” arched, doughy, pastrylike, “pasted on” architecture (as it was called by its promulgator, Dr. F[rantišek] Žakavec) — this architecture, which was always passive and which adapted itself to the sentimental historicism and preservationist cowardice of the Club for Old Prague, cast architectural progress back more than half a century.

The greatest responsibility for this unfortunate architectural delusion belonged to František Kyseia.  There is no fundamental difference between Janák’s Riumone Adnatica Building on National Avenue [Národní třída] in Prague’s second district 0923-24) and Ullmann’s Girls’ Academy on Vodičkova Street, also in the second district, except for the obvious deterioration of taste and quality.  Janák’s building is laden with decorations and on the whole lacks any trace of an original national spirit.  By its nature it is a historical “Renaissance” building; a sort of despicable and monstrous Miramare [155] furnished with bizarre battlements, giving from afar the impression of a bon-bonnière [box of candy] or an inlaid box.  Notwithstanding aspects of distinctive decoration, this is precisely the architecture of historicism that reigned in the impotent last century and that we hoped had been altogether overcome when Wagner, Berlage, and Kotěra appeared on the scene.  The façade of the Riunione Adriatica is distinguished by its willed splendor of material, which reminds us of all the horrors of the perverted Renaissance.  If a mere façade costs enough to build four decent apartment houses, it is a sin against economy and against society.  For such economic and social transgressions there can be no forgiveness.

This pseudomodern decorative architecture, governed by caprice and artificial fashions, puts its own era and culture to shame, even if it did assume a representative, official place within it.  In the way it conjures the old specter of historicism from its grave, there lurks a betrayal of international modern civilization, modern culture, and contemporary life.  Such a betrayal must inevitably fail.  Despite its many followers, the entire cubist movement found itself completely bankrupt in the space of a few years.  It became bankrupt even though its numerous disciples had succeeded in polluting many cities with their buildings.  Entire districts originating from this period were built according to the unfortunate taste of this fashion.  This architecture caused great economic and cultural damage, but modern life through its very tempo and rhythm proved it untenable.  The new orientation of modern architecture became clearer.  Constructivism, which took root in our country at a time when the nationalistic wave of architecture had not even reached its apogee, soon conquered it and pushed it into oblivion.  With the ebb of the nationalist wave, the representatives of cubist architecture searched for a new orientation; some, above all Josef Gočár, joined the modern functionalist movement as it gained ground.  Others, mainly epigones, dropped even further back into a stubborn historical eclecticism and found themselves and their work approximating that of such academics and eclectics as [Josef] Sakař or [Karel] Kepka, from whom a number of relatively modern architects, and Kotěra’s contemporaries (Engel, Hübschmann), could not be differentiated.

These architectural reactionaries with their historicist views reinforced the exaggerated demands of the preservationists; together both were strongly supported by the municipal administration.  This is the end of that nationalist decorative school described by its spokesman V.V. Štech as “the norm not the exception”; a group that was to “typify Czech art with all its old-fashioned and provincial characteristics” and “to surrender progress and universality, to step down from universal to national art.” This limited provincial self-sufficiency turned out to be short on vitality; it had to retreat before the healthy and energetic onslaught of the new generation of architects.  In the face of the firm and clear position of constructivism, it shrank back into the farthest regions of the reactionary right and the academic bureaucracy.  In the end, this delusionary program was an utter fiasco.

Josef Chochol, one of those who left cubist architecture behind, did not [156-take a backward step.  Aware of the failing of architectural cubism, of which he was once a leading and courageous representative, he succeeded in going forward to follow the path of modern scientific architecture of functionalism.  Abandoning the pointless formal games of cubism, he devoted himself to utilitarian architecture and its real purpose.  After his involvement with cubism Chochol simplified his façades; his designs from his postcubist period speak through the purity of a naked surface.  Rejecting complexity, Chochol worked with a large scale: modern, monumental, and ascetic form.  His designs and projects from 1914 are especially significant for the evolution of modern architecture.  In these works, Chochol anticipated every problem that would preoccupy de Stijl and modern architects from the Netherlands a number of years later.  These designs, analogous to van Doesburg’s experiments, prefigured the problems of neoplasticism in architecture.  Yet for Chochol these designs represented a transitional stage.  Here he worked out for himself, and for the sake of a new Czech architecture, the framework of a new building aesthetic and a new architectural form.  Here he examined the proportions of rectangular massing in concrete apartment houses, massing articulated only by bays and without architraves.  He studied the laws of a new asymmetrical equilibrium, the rhythm of surfaces and openings, and so forth.

Important experiments in aesthetics brought us closer to understanding the beauty of the new architectural forms.  These experiments gave Chochol the confidence to elaborate a program, which he briefly articulated in 1920:

What matters is that the form be an empowered expression of the purpose that it represents.  The form must remain true to the exact function and purpose and remain tree of everything unnecessary, so that its refined, classical simplicity will not be marred by artistic lines and wild paintings, like the face of an Iroquois chief.

This credo was already far removed from the delusions of cubism and nationalist decorativism.  It represented a return to the functionalist movement in architecture; it elaborated the teachings of Wagner and Kotěra.  It coincided with the views of the new generation of architects proclaiming constructivism.  The new work of Josef Chochol — his plain building of the Society of Engineers [Inženýrská komora] in Prague’s second district, his logical and purely modern design for Prague’s electricity board, his steel-and-glass constructions, his design for the Liberated Theater [Osvobozené divadlo], his schools and villas, his designs for the bridges over the Vltava River, and his factories — all of these projects put the onetime cubist squarely in the new company of functionalist architects.



1 In the short time that has elapsed since the world war, a certain clarification of views as well as of creative directions has taken place in Dutch architecture.  Oud, van der Vlugt, [Johannes] Brinkman, and Mart Stam abandoned earlier architectural cubism and neoplasticism and founded their work on the scientific basis of constructivism.  Even among the neoplasticists an evolutionary rift has taken place: van Doesburg, C. van Eesteren, and G. Rietveld now proclaim “elementarism,” whereas the architect JanWils, the interior design [Vilmos] Huseár, and the painter Mondrian have remained faithful to neoplasticism.  It is worth noting that even the current work of van Doesburg is by its a priori formalism and aestheticism still close in its substance to Mondrian and thus very foreign to the tendencies of the constructivists.



The new architectural viewpoint that crystallized in war-torn Europe sounded a clarion call in Czechoslovakia.  Around 1921-22, some years after the bloodshed, a vehement and healthy opposition to nationalist decorativism in architecture reached its apogee and clearly demonstrated the latter’s erroneous and indefensible nature.  This antidecorative opposition coincided with a return to the teachings of Kotěra, who was deemed both a precursor and a representative of the ideas of functionalist architecture.  Simultaneously, the theoretical and practical activities of Adolf Loos provided a fertile example of an effort to rid architecture of all formalism and aestheticism.

An important consolidation of views took place in Europe between 1920 and 1924.  The problems of modern architecture were clarified, giving rise to a new architectural theory destined to alter future practice.  A devastated Europe needed reconstruction.  This reconstruction of Europe and its war-ravaged regions — cities suffering from severe overpopulation, shortages of housing, communications problems — required more than just formal and decorative playfulness.  Architectural first aid was required at once.  The situation demanded radical, large-scale solutions, determined by real needs, purposes, and tasks, as well as by precisely coordinated, and economical, mass production.

The need to reconstruct Europe placed new tasks and new demands before architecture.  To meet them, architecture first had to be set on a new basis.  The old formalist architecture-as-art stood helpless before these new tasks.  The nationalist decorativism of the early postwar years, concurrent with utopian and expressionist architecture in Germany (the last remnant of Jugendstil) personified the agony of architecture as a decorative (i.e., formalist) art.

At this time, Le Corbusier in France, Oud in Holland, and Gropius and Mies van der Rohe in Germany formulated new architectural programs, based on an extensive revision of historical values; they represented a fundamentally different conception of architecture.  Under the pressure of economic and social forces, architecture was compelled to relinquish artistic and individualistic caprice and to adjust to the conditions of machine production and the imperatives of functionalism.

A new architectural program, represented by the theory of a constructivist and functionalist architecture, reached Czechoslovakia at this time: the examples of Le Corbusier and of Gropius provided a new orientation to [160-162] younger architects.  Simultaneously, a new movement reached the West from the Soviet Union: constructivism was quickly acclaimed by the architectural avant-garde of Western Europe.

Constructivism received many different interpretations, sometimes rather removed from its original meaning.  It seems to be a sign of vitality and strength in a movement when it quickly branches out and when new, logical, and more or less analogous tendencies sprout from it — tendencies that share a common point of departure, from which even varying (and sometimes, erroneous) conclusions are then drawn.

Constructivism originated as a slogan and artistic trend, as an “ism” following the October Revolution in the USSR.  It stemmed primarily from abstract painting and at first had purely aesthetic aims.  Yet it quickly outgrew the original artistic ism and adjusted its tempo to that of the new Soviet society and the directives of international modernism to become both a worldview and method of functionalist thought and design.  Its powerful influence extended from Moscow and Leningrad into every intellectual center of Europe.  The slogan of constructivism was used at the International Congress of Artists in Düsseldorf in 1922 to designate the program of an opposition group represented by the Dutchman [Theo] van Doesburg, the Russian El Lissitzky, and the German H[ans] Richter.  Czech Modernism gave this “ism” an extensive theoretical content and interpretation that differed from the original formal understanding of constructivism.

Constructivism was initially understood as a romantic machine worship and “mechanomania.”  It seemed a legacy of the futurist “civilism” proclaiming an idolatry of the machine.  The essentially romantic preoccupation of the futurists with civilization was not shared by the worker, the creator, or the engineer.  Many constructivists made the machine an inspirational component of their creation and retained the futuristic “élan.” This, however, was not constructivism; rather, it was an extension of the Jugendstil of van de Velde, For the constructivists, the machine is not a picturesque subject but an object and an extension of organized energies.  It is not a theme for art.  The intervention of the machine begun by the French and the English Industrial Revolution caused an essential metamorphosis of the social structure, culture, and civilization and gave the impetus for the liquidation of “art.”  Machine production broke the confines of the natural economy, swept away the remnants of the feudal system, and introduced a new order of civilization that was in fundamental conflict with the civilization of arts and crafts.  The machine industry sealed the fate of crafts, created new production and social relations, changed the environment, and became an intrusive element in modern conceptions of design.  Machine production curtailed traditional crafts that produced unique objects and led instead to mass production.  In so doing, it obviated medieval art forms based on handmade crafts.  The new order of the machine crushed Ruskinian superstitions.

Above all, constructivism meant the suppression of traditional types and disciplines in art.  Its intention was not merely “to view the world through the [163] prism of technology” but to place all creative disciplines on an elementary basis and organize universal creative activity by means of the plan, exact purpose, and strict economy.

Constructivist architecture is a science, not an art, of building. Constructivism, if you will, is that “impersonal art of tomorrow” that Flaubert intuited.  The program of constructivist architecture envisages a building form that suits all the economic, social, technological, industrial, and cultural needs of the era.  It excludes all architectural tradition with regard to its layout and construction as well as to its external appearance.  Building means to organize space and fixing its disposition so as to best contribute to the evolution of life.  New technologies and materials, however important, are only means to an end.  The goal is humanity, a constant that changes little: an architecture on a human scale, a norm, and a type.  Constructivism is therefore concerned not only with the reform of architecture but with the correct — more humane, more rational — organization of social life.

These opinions and this program were first articulated in Czechoslovakia with great enthusiasm in the “Collection of New Beauty,” Život [Life] (1922).  Jaromír Krejcar, the editor of this manifesto, together with the author of the present book, proclaimed the extinction of decorative art forms at a time when the official decorative architecture had not yet reached its (problematic) apogee.  We highlighted the example of the machine, the airplane, the automobile, and their influence on the methods of industrial production and engineering architecture.  We introduced the ideas of Le Corbusier, the aesthetics of purism, and the principles of Soviet constructivism.  Against the reigning architectural formalism and ornamentalism we evoked the names of Kotěra and Perret as the precursors of modernism.  The new conception of architecture formulated in Europe by J.J.P. Oud, A. Behne, Gropius, Le Corbusier, and others was presented in O[ldřich] Starý’s informative article “Názory na moderní architekturu” [Views on Modern Architecture; Stavba 1 (1922): 125-30, 161-65, 193-206].  The essay was published the same year in the architectural monthly Stavba [Construction], a periodical that, from its second volume on, promulgated the principles of functional, constructivist, antidecorative, and antiformalist architecture.  A number of lectures, articles, and issues of avant-garde periodicals (Disk, Pásmo, ReD, MSA, as well as Stavitel, Výtvarné snahy, Index) further promoted constructivism and functionalism.

A foremost representative and initiator of the new movement in Czechoslovak architecture was Jaromír Krejcar, who combined in his own work the teachings of the Kotěra school with a mastery of the recent achievements in architectural development.  In 1921, when Czech architecture still wandered helplessly in the shadow of a national ornamentalist style, Krejcar conceived a project for the central marketplace: an imposing hall with two skyscraper towers free of all decoration, the entire architecture of which retained a bare, ascetic, constructional form.  A number of later works by Krejcar, consisting of projects, feasibility studies, as well as several realized buildings, testify to the gradual maturation of his architectural conception.  These include the [164-177] Olympic Building in Prague’s second district, a villa in the Strašnice district, a large hotel in the Bubeneč district, an apartment building in the eighth district of Prague (in collaboration with K[amil] Roškot), a project of a villa for V[ladislav] V[ančura], the building of the Association of Private Clerical Employees [Jednota soukromých úřednikú] in the twelfth district of Prague (currently under construction), and a stadium project for the Second Spartakiade in Prague (which could not be realized because of the police injunction on the workers’ sports event), among others.  Among Krejcar’s more recent works, the competition project for Letná Plain (district of ministries and office buildings connected with the parliament), which was awarded second prize and belongs to the most significant works of urbanism in the new architectural movement, should be noted, together with the sanatorium in Trenčanské Teplice.

Bedřich Feuerstein (in collaboration with engineer-architect B[ohumil] Sláma) was the first to have an opportunity to realize architecture in this new spirit: a crematorium in Nymburk.  The crematorium is defined by a number of features characteristic of a transitional architectural stage; even though it is not free of formalist elements, a relatively modern conception clearly prevails.  This work by Feuerstein, in fact, mediated the transition from Chochol’s spare building aesthetic to the constructivism of the new generation.  Feuerstein’s personality, it seems, was emblematic of the transition.  Before the war Feuerstein made his architectural debut with several cubist projects.  The crematorium in Nymburk and the Army Topographical Institute [Vojenský zemépisný ústav] in Prague are Feuerstein’s only works to be realized in Czechoslovakia.  Both buildings represented a transitional stage: not entirely free of formalism, yet very dignified and cultivated.  Feuerstein later left Prague to work in the office of Auguste Perret in Paris; from there he left for Tokyo where he worked in the studio of Ant[onín] Raymond, a Czech architect naturalized in Japan and a onetime pupil of F.L. Wright.

Jaroslav Fragner, Evžen Linhart, Karel Honzík, and Vit Obrtel were among the first in Czechoslovakia whose projects aspired to an architecture in the new spirit.  Their earliest projects are remarkable for their elegance of functional form free of any decoration, for their equilibrium of proportions, and for the bold consistency of their overall conception.  Even if these architects have as yet had little opportunity to realize their projects, their works, though confined to paper, are important to the general creation of an international architectural modernism today.  To name but a few works — Jaroslav Fragner designed the children’s sanatorium in Mukačevo, and several different types of houses for the garden dry of Barrandov near Prague; in addition, he participated in a number of architectural competitions for Prague bridges and public buildings (for example, the building for the ČTK press agency [Československá tisková kancelář] in collaboration with J[osef] Havlíček, K. Honzík, Linhart, and P[avel] Smetana) and a number of family houses.

Evžen Linhart has had to date relatively better opportunities to build.  He designed an entire block of apartment buildings in Hostivař near Prague and [178-179] a similar, larger block in the thirteenth district of Prague.  Both are collective buildings of “minimum dwellings,” highly economical and rationally laid out, and represent the most logical solution to date to the problem of the modern collective apartment building with minimum dwellings.  In addition, Linhart designed projects of several residential and public buildings.  Karel Honzík carried out an exemplary adaptation of the old family house of Dr. S. in the Břevnov district of Prague.  He succeeded through a major renovation in transforming the house into a modern villa.  Honzík devoted himself in particular to the problems of modern housing and designed a number of residential buildings, both of a collective and a family type.  He won second place in the 1928 competition of the Czechoslovak Werkbund for the furnishing of a minimum dwelling.1

The designs of Oldřich Tyl are among the most consistent works of rationalist architecture.  Tyi’s realistic, truly engineering mentality and his mastery of the scientific and technological basis of architecture allowed him to create such complex works as the building for the PVV [Pražské vzorkové veletrhy (Prague model trade fair)] (realized in collaboration with J[osef] Fuchs in the seventh district of Prague).  This is a remarkable work of modern architecture, a skeletal building that organically integrates light, functional spaces, and great halls; its form is derived from the essence of its purpose, not from artistic speculation.  Among Tyl’s other projects we must mention an apartment building in the thirteenth district of Prague and the YWCA Building in the second district.  In the logic of its plan and the boldness and sophistication of its construction, the latter is a classical example of modern Czech architecture.

The new architectural movement in Czechoslovakia is outstanding in particular for its broad and energetic sweep.  It is today a highly collective movement.  The movement is concentrated in several groups, the most radical, inventive, and left-wing of which is the Union of Modern Culture Devětsil [Svaz moderní kultury Devětsil]: Krejcar, Havlíček and Honzik, Fragner, Chochol, [Zdeněk] Rossmann, Jos[ef] Špalek, Linhart, F[rantišek] M[aria] Černý, Jos[ef] Hausenblas, P.  Smetana, Feuerstein, and others.  This group, particularly in its origins, represents the most radically programmatic group of the extreme left wing.  In 1927 the group suffered a heavy loss on the death of architect Karel Seifert (19 June 1899-14 July 1927).  As each individual talent developed in the existing architectural and cultural conditions, a differentiation has naturally occurred in this initially homogeneous group.

A less homogeneous body is the Club of Czechoslovak Architects [Klub československych architektů], which publishes the prominent architectural monthly Stavba. Among its members we must mention the club’s original spokesman, Oldřich Starý, the architect of a “model residence” at the Brno exhibition and of residential buildings in Prague and Kladno, The membership also includes Jan Vtlek. the designer of the Museum of Agriculture [Zemědělské museum] in Prague, Ludvík Kysela (the Lindt and Bat’a Buildings on Wenceslas Square in Prague), František and Vojtěch Kerhart (architects of [180-238] several residential and public buildings in Poděbrady and Pardubice), J[aroslav] Grunt, J[an] E. Koula, O[ldřich] Tyl, and others.

Another, more recent, organization is the Association of Academic Architects [Asociace akademických architektů], a union of architects of mostly modern orientation.  The AAA counts among its members J[an] Gillar, Kamil Roškot, Bohuslav Fuchs, Adolf Benś (the architect of the building of the Prague Electricity Board [Prazske elektricke podniky]), Jos[ef] Špalek, Pavel Smetana, Jos[ef] Grus, Miroslav Lorenc, and others.

One of the most important events for modern architecture in Czechoslovakia was the Exhibition of Contemporary Culture [Výstava soudobé kultury] in Brno in 1928.  Here modern architects had an opportunity to realize a number of significant projects: the main exhibition hall, a large concrete and glass hangar designed by J[aroslav] Valenta, the pavilion of the Brno Fairs adorned with a glass lookout by the architect [Bohumir] Čermák, and other buildings designed by B[ohuslav] Fuchs, J.E. Koula, O[ldřich] Starý, and Josef Havlíček.  Curiously enough, this same exhibition that so favored the new architecture treated modern painting, sculpture, and the book arts in a relatively cursory way.

Despite unfavorable economic and social conditions and the resistance of bureaucrats in Czechoslovakia, constructivist architecture made a strong and victorious impact, not just in Prague, Brno, and Bratislava but in other cities and towns.  In a few years, the new architectural perspective swept to victory and completely dominated the field.

To date, of all Czechoslovak cities, Brno has meant the most in this new architectural movement.  Not only the Brno Exhibition of Contemporary Culture (1928) but also the very brisk building activity of a quickly growing city — have created more favorable conditions here than in Prague.  An important industrial and cultural center, Brno has been less burdened with historic styles, because it has lacked the monuments and the dubious tradition of the past.

Another advantage is that new construction in Brno has not been forced to comply with outdated and impossible building regulations and codes; there has been greater inventiveness here than in Prague.  Brno was the first city to design a community of sixteen model residential and family houses at the private initiative of the developers F[rantišek] Uherka and Č[eněk] Ruller.  Its model was the famous Weissenhof housing complex in Stuttgart.  Among the architects of these houses were B. Fuchs, J. Grunt, J. Kroha, Hugo Foltýn, Miroslav Putna, J. Višek, J[aroslav] Syřiště, Arnošt Wiesner (mostly Brno architects), and J[osef ] Štěpánek from Prague.

In the vanguard of Brno design activities stands B. Fuchs, whose more recent works, in particular, belong among the most significant examples of modern architecture in Czechoslovakia.  Few other architects have had as much opportunity to realize their designs.  Very few have been able to realize their projects as consistently and without dangerous compromises resulting from regulations and the obstacles of city officials.  Fuchs’s university dormitories, [239-261] home economics school, bank building, the Hotel Avion, public spas, schools numerous villas, and residential houses are of a high European standard, In addition to Fuchs, other practitioners of the new architecture in Brno include J. Grunt, M. Putna, J[osef] Poldsek, O[skar] Poříska, Z. Rossmann, J. Visek, A. Wiesner, and Jan Vanék, the owner of the SBS [Standard bytová společnost (Standard Apartment Company)] furniture factory, among others.

A major reason for the success of the new architectural views was the fact that Josef Gočár (born 13 March 1880) gradually abandoned national decorativism and joined the new architectural movement.  Gočár was a member of the post-Kotěra generation of architects and Kotěra’s star pupil and collaborator, as well as his successor at the School of Architecture of the Prague Academy of Arts [Akademie umění] after Kotěra’s death in 1924.  Of course, the evolution away from cubist and decorativist formalism and toward functionalism and constructivism did not occur abruptly and inorganically in Gočár’s work.  The process of transition — the growing emphasis on constructional and functional conceptions over decorative form — assumed several different modes in his work.  First of all, Gočár returned to his beginnings, which he had abandoned ten to twelve years earlier, in the precubist period: that is, to such projects as the design for a sanatorium in Prague-Podoli with its flat roofs (1910), the Wenke Department Store in Jaromef, and the project of the renovation for the Old Town Hall in the first district of Prague.  With these works Gočár might have anticipated subsequent architectural developments in many respects with greater precision than Kotěra.  This return was at the same time, to a certain extent, a return to the teachings of Kotěra, to the spirit of Kotěra’s work rather than to its form.  Buildings executed by Gočár in Hradec Králové, a city strongly marked by the Kotěra tradition, testify to Gočár’s return to rationalism and also bear witness to the lesson Gočár derived from his study of the new Dutch architecture.  The school buildings in Hradec (the glass institute, the tanning school, the classical gymnasium, the Union of Czechoslovak Churches [Šbor čsl. církve], the kindergarten, and the railway headquarters) marked the beginning of a new era in Gočár’s work.

The large building of the School of Agriculture [Škola zemědělské osvěty] in the twelfth district of Prague belongs in the same category; its architecture alludes to a Behrens-like monumentality.  Gočár’s realizations between 1924 and 1927, with their emphasis on the use of brick, already reveal the obvious influence of contemporary architects in Holland: of J.J.P. Oud, on the one hand, and Dudok, on the other.  In these works Gočár radically distanced himself from his earlier decorativism, but his formalist conception of architecture, only gradually overcome, still remained evident.  Even here, in sophisticated works of great formal perfection, we can detect traces of classicism in the strict orthogonality and in the configuration of masses.  From the most recent works (and the most advanced ones to date), we must mention the urban plan of Hradec Králové, the large Sochor Villa in Dvůr Králové (1928), and in particular, the project of the State Gallery [Státní galerie] in Prague, an outstanding solution to a very difficult and complex program.  The architecture [262] of the gallery excels through its superb plan — a consistent, purely factual and functional solution to the modern conception of a museum building.  The gallery could become the most authentically modern museum building in the world.  Such new projects, much like Gočár’s early works, belong among the truly significant examples of modern architecture.

A similar departure from decorativism also occurred later in the work of Pavel Janák and O. Novotný. After briefly sinking back into historical eclecticism, these architects joined with the new architectural directions.  Janák’s urban studies, his house at the Brno exhibition, and Novotný’s villa in — Černošice, as well as the Mánes pavilion in Prague, are testimonials to these new directions.

A certain change can also be traced in the work of Jiří Kroha. After his earlier, cubist denial of the functional aspect of buildings, Kroha proceeded to design projects that are typical examples of a misunderstood (that is, romantically conceived) constructivism.  These works were again dominated by a personal arbitrariness of form, ostensibly conceived in the modern spirit, yet entirely alien to rational architectural conception.  Kroha’s new buildings, akin in their monumentalism to the works of Erich Mendelsohn, suffer as much from various imperfections and poor clarity of plan as from their lack of harmony, their heavy-handedness, and their enforced form.

Victory — the broad sweep of modern rationalist architectural views and the success of constructivism — is fraught with numerous dangers.  One of these is the delusion of a functionalism romantically and formalistically conceived.  The wide-ranging interpretation of constructivism often leads certain architects into a mere antidecorative formula: facades free of ornament, flat roofs, corner windows, an unusual configuration of masses.  In short, a few elements adopted from the works of constructivism are pasted together to create a pseudoconstructivist architecture: fine on the surface but false beneath.  Another danger that of necessity accompanies the success of modern movements, including that of constructivism, is the great swarm of epigones, that is, followers, imitators, and fellow travelers.  This is perhaps the greatest danger threatening constructivism.  Epigones have an incomplete and therefore false understanding.  Their counterfeit constructivism lacks revolutionary perspectives as well as other impulses; devoid of elasticity, it can become a form of bureaucracy, a question of craftsmanship, which can be only partially effective.  The principle that architecture is not art has been accepted by many less-talented architects because it allows them to design projects more or less functionally “adequate,” and whose unaesthetic and sometimes revolting architectural forms can be forgiven.  These architects limited themselves to a conventional accommodation of conventional needs; they forgot that integral functionality inherently includes not just the requirements of construction and production but also human requirements, the demands of society.  If constructivist architecture is not art, it is a science: however, the epigones and fellow travelers have degraded it into mere building craft.  If architecture is indeed science, the same kind of significance should not be [263] assigned to individual originality that it had in the domain of “liberal arts.”  Every scientist has a duty to seize upon all previous inventions in order to master them and use them.  Certain solutions invented by leading figures have become common property that every worker has a right to adopt.  We must, however, differentiate critically between the initiators and the followers, between real scientists and mere hacks, between invention and plagiarism.  The initiators represent enlightenment, a belief that one can see into the future and that there is a higher value to the history of culture and society than mere artisanal product — mediocre, noncreative, repetitive work, whether or not it is well executed.  We cannot ignore a qualitative difference in spiritual values nor allow constructivism to be trivialized into a spiritless building matrix, the results of which are already embarrassing.  Constructivism that limits itself to an understanding of architecture as mere technology and that ignores its psychological and social aspects discredits the deep meaning and universal impact of constructivism and of architectural reform; it reduces discovery and high-quality design to banality.  Robbed of its universality, limited to the structural aspects of building, without a revolutionary perspective and a social plan, constructivism is a fragmentary, invalid, and half-hearted movement.  J.J.P. Oud correctly stated that if anything holds danger for the future of this new architecture, it is this very halfheartedness; it is worse than open historical plagiarism, which is merely unprincipled.

Modern architecture in Prague and other cities has been thwarted by vast urban planning problems — not to mention the stubborn objections of those sentimental antiquarian officials who oversee the preservation of monuments, together with the members of the Club for Old Prague.  To surmount these difficulties, a Club for New Prague [Klub za novou Prahu] was established in 1924 at the initiative of Jaromir Krejcar and the author of this book — seeking to promulgate the principles of modern urbanism, modern architecture, and modern interiors in the city’s construction.

The metropolis is a social and economic event of the new era.  It is a natural consequence of the evolutionary stage in which the bourgeoisie eliminates fragmentation in the means of production, of properties and population, and gathers the population into metropolitan areas, thereby improving transportation, concentrating property, and centralizing the means of production.  The metropolis is a new type of city with its own socioeconomic and psychological conditions and development.  The concentrated product of business capitalism, accelerating the pace of life and weakening local character, the metropolis is a kind of immense stock exchange of universal commerce.

Today the metropolis is in crisis.  In all metropolitan areas the statistical curve of population and transport has grown at a staggering rate in recent years.  Everywhere similar demands arise: the rationalization of the city center and the facilitation of communication.  The city centers are usually the oldest medieval districts built on a Gothic plan, with a zigzagging network of narrow streets.  Another demand is to reorganize the periphery and remove it [264] from the city, to intersperse it with green areas, and to raise the social level of its inhabitants.

Everywhere important urban problems have become acute.  Most contemporary cities are useless for modern life.  These cities resemble broken tools; they handicap production; they waste energy; they fail economically, hygienically, and, in the end, aesthetically.  Certainly a city that cannot adapt itself to the demands of modern life will of necessity be abandoned by modern life.  Industry will relocate from unsuitable centers in order to seek or create more advantageous sites.

Modern urbanism is not ready, theoretically or practically, to solve the most demanding and difficult problems.  Admittedly, a modern metropolis requires a rational combination of the “American” principle of centralization (which leads to the building of skyscrapers) with the European principle of garden cities (residential districts on the periphery).  To clear out everything that does not belong in the center is necessary: we must decentralize.  To concentrate in the center everything that requires being situated in the heart of the city is equally necessary: we must centralize.  We need to plant extensive zones of gardens on the periphery to secure enough oxygen for the city and to introduce green spaces along the great communication lines leading into the very center.  A metropolis, a state capital, a regional intellectual center is a workshop of today’s culture and civilization.  It has a centripetal effect.  It is like a gigantic factory.  That is why it is essential that it be rationally and economically planned and proportioned, well organized with a view to flawless operation and functionality.  Contemporary urban planners and architects will have the duty to transform such obsolete cities into true homes for work, into cities that are truly ours spiritually.  Of course, all of this must follow the economic and social reorganization of the world.

European cities face a critical situation when they seek solutions in the spirit of modern urban principles within the narrow limitations of postwar economic possibilities.  Suburbs are redesigned, the periphery is reorganized; in only a few places, however, have adaptation and reorganization of the center been attempted.  Executed without a master plan, avoiding the center, these partial attempts do not have the overall result in mind.  They do not follow either a practical or a logical approach.  Moreover, urban design, particularly in Prague, too often suffers from the thoughtless oversight of the planning commission officials, from the excessive actions of the office for the protection of monuments, from petrified regulations in the building code (antithetical to new architecture), and, last but not least, from the countless mistakes of pseudomodern architects.

• • •

From the point of view of urbanism, and in all that concerns the problems of transportation, sanitation, and interior design, Prague has to this day been one of the most neglected cities of Europe.  In more than one respect, the prevailing conditions are what you might call “Balkanized.” Even though many [265-270] official institutions, dominated by the most reactionary circles, constantly emphasized the grandiose past and the historical tame of the dry of Prague, the postwar period has still been utterly unable to realize a single grand-scale act of urban planning that could bear comparison won that celebrated past.

When Prague was the capital of the Holy Roman Empire and the geographical, political, and cultural center of Europe, Charles IV succeeded in performing a veritable miracle of medieval urban design.  He surrounded the old Gothic town with a new town (the uniform plan of which already testifies to a Renaissance spirit) of rather broad streets and squares.  During a time of growing industrialization in Bohemia, the suburb of Karlín was built on a classical orthogonal plan.  After the world war, when Prague became the capital of the new Czechoslovak Republic, a new State Planning Commission [Státní reguiační komise] was established, which, in more than ten years of work, has been unable to intervene successfully to address the inexorable growth of the city.  The commission has introduced partial regulations that were not the result of a uniform idea.  These regulations spawned the unsystematic, unplanned creation of villa districts on the periphery, without any suitable connection to transportation.  In addition, the patron saint of the official (and reactionary) urbanism of our planning and building commissions is still, clearly, Camillo Sitte.  In urban plans and building regulations, historicizing aesthetic precepts have been applied (including baroque prospects, silhouettes, and dominant elements, as well as a timorous reverence for the “genius loci”) in the spirit of the most antiquated preservationist theories.

The urban situation of Prague cannot be addressed in the way attempted by our official institutions.  It is simply not possible to accommodate an exaggerated sentimentality for the preservation of monuments if we wish a rational solution to the transportation problem in Prague: this network is entirely inadequate and badly articulated, twisting through narrow streets with sharp inclines and turns.  A rational urban plan cannot be harmonized with the demands of the preservationists.  In the prewar period transportation in Prague had a logical orientation: centripetally toward the natural center, the Old Town Square.  Because the preservationists consider the center to be the “historical” and “memorable” heart of the town, requiring entire streets and squares to be preserved unchanged, the State Planning Commission has attempted to introduce into Prague a peripheral system of transportation.  This is to no one’s advantage, however, and is moreover illogical and dysfunctional.  The sharp differences in elevation in Prague’s hilly terrain (Letná, Perřín) form almost insurmountable obstacles for peripheral traffic lines.  The plan proposed by the State Planning Commission in 1928 suffers from these preservationist concessions (in addition, it suffers from another serious obstacle, the unresolved problem of railway stations and networks in Prague).  In this matter, apparently, rational urban demands will clash with contradictory but “more important” strategic and military interests.

Greater Prague forms a circle with a diameter of 10 to 15 kilometers and a surface area of 173 square kilometers.  The plan of the State Commission [271] anticipates a population increase of as many as two million.  The urban modification of individual sectors has been a subject of public competitions, with the most positive results yielded by the competition for the urban design of the Letná Plain (projects by J. Štěpánek, J. Krejcar, and F. Fencl); another competition involved the design of a bridge over the Nusle Valley (projects by J. Havlíček and [Jaroslav] Polívka, F. and V. Kerhart, and Josef Chochol).

The crisis of Greater Prague is not merely a transportation crisis but more seriously a residential and sanitation crisis.  Entire city districts (as pointed out in the first chapter) require urgent renewal, but here too, setting aside economic obstacles, the effort clashes with the opposition of preservationists.  Sanitary conditions and population density in the old districts of the city center are well-nigh scandalous, but the health and social situation in peripheral communities is even more desperate.  The most eloquent illustration of these social-hygienic conditions in districts populated by the proletariat and the poor is afforded by the number of cases of tuberculosis.  Out of 9,071 deaths, 1,307 were caused by TB.  According to the 1928 statistics, 1.72 of every 1,000 inhabitants of Prague die of tuberculosis.  Out of every 1,000 children in Prague, 92.1 die every year of the same disease.  Are tuberculosis and social diseases tantamount to the genius loci?

Residential problems have to date been approached in the same unplanned, inconsistent, and unsystematic way as the transportation issue.  The law for the protection of tenants, which was intended to shield the less fortunate, has been gradually eroded without simultaneously allowing for the building of decent and healthy apartments for the lower classes.  State support of building activities, also organized without a focused plan, has brought little success except to home owners and wealthier individuals who have used their advantages to build costly villas.  Building villa districts of luxurious dwellings cannot, of course, correct housing shortages; hence the four billion crowns contributed by the state to support building activity constitute a socially useless expense.  The housing shortage forced the urban poor to develop self-help networks; however, housing cooperatives for the poor could not provide adequate assistance.  The state of today’s proletarian dwelling is one example of an impoverishment of the working classes previously unknown: the dirty underside of the dazzling wealth of capitalist cities.  Although all the larger cities of Europe (and even lesser cities in Germany) have tried, with at least partial success, to overcome housing shortages (such as Rotterdam, Vienna, Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Dessau, Celle, and the Loucheur Law in France, among others), Czechoslovakia and its capital have attempted no serious solution to date.  Already, at the International Congress for Housing and Urban Planning in Paris in 1928, it was stated that much more had been done in other countries to improve housing conditions for the proletariat than in Czechoslovakia, where one notes a considerable improvement only in the housing situation of the wealthy and the nouveaux riches.

To date the housing situation in Czechoslovakia has focused on the construction of luxury villas for the upper ten thousand.  All around Prague [272-275] new garden cities have been built to demonstrate the status of the Czech bourgeoisie.  Middle-class communities have also been built (under rather scandalous conditions) along with numerous apartment buildings (charging impossible or unattainable rents) that have been built for the sole purpose of rent speculation.  By contrast, not only has the problem of the inexpensive minimum dwelling not been solved, but all serious attempts to solve it remain only on paper.  In 1930 the municipality of Prague promised to initiate a major housing project and build ten thousand inexpensive apartments within a few years.  The experience until now suggests that we should not be too optimistic about the actual results of such a plan.  For modern architecture in Czechoslovakia, such a project at least provided an impetus and an opportunity to attempt some radical solution of the heretofore neglected problem of the minimal dwelling.  The problem of low-cost housing, as attested by CIAM [Congrès international d’architecture moderne] (in Frankfurt am Main in 1929 and in Brussels in 1930) is the central problem of architecture.

Around the same time, following an example of the exhibition developments of the German, Swiss, and Austrian Werkbund (in Stuttgart in 1927, in Wroclaw and Karlsruhe in 1929, and in Vienna and Zurich in 1930), the Czechoslovak Werkbund undertook to organize an exhibition of exemplary modern dwellings and to erect a villa colony on the outskirts of Prague (in the Baba district).  To this end, it organized a competition in 1929 for the minimum family house, which yielded a remarkable project by Antonín Urban.  Even though we expect that the Baba exhibition colony will represent significant architectural and technological progress, we cannot ignore the fact that the social problem of housing is misinterpreted here and that the building of villas and family houses (even “minimum houses”) cannot eliminate housing shortages.

A rational solution to the problems of housing means the following: (1) to understand the living needs and lifestyle of the proletariat, which have nothing in common with the lifestyle and home life of the bourgeoisie; (2) to eliminate all housekeeping functions and centralize them, because the proletarian woman who has to earn her living cannot simultaneously keep house.  Therefore, a rational solution to the housing problem demands a collective dwelling in the form of a “hotel” or “boardinghouse” system, not the single-family house.

The results arrived at by a rational analysis of the housing problem are above all significant as postulates of modern architecture.  Land and real-estate speculation together with existing social and property conditions, not to mention with the price structure of capitalism, do not permit for these requirements to be practically applied on a larger scale.

• • •

We cannot speak of applied industrial arts when we speak of a new constructivist generation of Czech architects.  Constructivism, which grasped the machine postulates of industrial civilization, dispelled the Ruskin-Morris [276-277] delusions.  Within a few years the modern rationalist and utilitarian view of architecture gained ground even in the onetime domain of the applied industrial arts.  Furniture making and interior furnishings have ceased to belong to decorative art and ceased to remain products of craft; they have become an industry.  Until recently, furniture manufacturing and interior decoration, both burdened by the traditions of craft and obsolete petit-bourgeois opinions about “cozy living” and “the sweet comfort of the family hearth,” lagged far behind architecture; it was customary for modern houses to be furnished with a bazaar of assorted furniture.  Gradually, perhaps owing to the pressure of economic necessities, sentimentality has disappeared from our attitude to the dwelling, and we have forsaken slogans such as “my house, my castle” or “home, sweet home.”  Modern people require a dwelling that functions exactly as a “machine for living,” that is, one clear and objective like an office, a compartment in a ship, or a Ringhoffer railway car, but one that feels comfortable at the same time.  People need dwelling on a human scale and with maximum comfort, corresponding not only to the material but also to the psychological requirements of its civilized occupants.  The discrepancy between the external architecture of the house and its interior furnishings has been gradually overcome.  If modern architects, just a few years ago, had at their disposal only a few industrially produced, well-designed (or at least acceptable) furnishings — such as Thonet chairs and bentwood furniture, American office furniture, metal beds, or Compacton and Innovation sideboards — today a number of furniture manufacturers collaborate with architects specializing in interior furnishings to supply an ample selection of adequate furniture types.  We should mention here, for example, the sideboards designed by the architect [Pavel] Havlík as well as SBS furniture.  That company, led by the architect Vanek, built a number of mass-produced houses in Brno.  Among modern furniture specialists, we should mention the names of Ant[onín] Heythum, [Hana] Kučerová-Žáveská, L[adislav] Žák, and others.

The constructivist movement has asserted itself strongly within Czech architectural production.  This has happened over a relatively short period since 1922, and so we cannot yet draw final conclusions, make definitive judgments, or attempt a comprehensive assessment of the work of its foremost representatives.  All we can do here is to note several achievements and draw attention to some of today’s errors and delusions.  The most important and obvious achievement of constructivism in Czech architecture is the fact that it has decisively routed the shadows of historicism and folkloristic nationalism, that it has undermined false confidence in the historical genius loci, and that it has rejected the excesses of the preservationists who obstruct architectural progress.  Simultaneously, the main focus has shifted from decorative formalism to the objective functional substance of architecture.

New architecture in Czechoslovakia — enriched by the initiative and the revolutionary creation of the new generation of constructivists, this rational architecture, at once scientific and materialist — is naturally grounded in an international context.  Its task, like the task of contemporary architecture in [278] all countries, is to build a new world.  In collective international cooperation, the Czech architectural avant-garde represents one of the most important and advanced efforts of contemporary building, as the considerable interest, and numerous awards, accorded from abroad, bear witness.


1.  Note added in proofs: It is necessary to complete this paragraph by adding several significant new projects by the architects above.  Jaroslav Fragner won a competition for the building of the National Archive [Zemský archiv] in Prague (first prize); in the Hanspaulka District in Prague Evžen Linhart built his own villa with a studio, a work indicative of a certain influence by Le Corbusier.  The partnership of Josef Havliček and Karel Honzík has in recent years had the opportunity to realize several family residences and to design a remarkable grand-scale proposal for the Grand Hotel in the spa of Karlovy Vary, a skyscraper (office building) for the General Pension Institute in Prague (a winning proposal from a limited competition), and an excellent solution for housing complexes with minimum dwellings of a boardinghouse type.  Josef Havliček designed the headquarters of the Czechoslovak Werkbund, built in Brno on the occasion of the Exhibition of Contemporary Culture [Výstava soudobé kultury] (1928) and the Habich commercial and office building in the second district of Prague on Štěpánská Street.  In collaboration with the engineer J[aroslav] Polívka, Havliček also designed the Chicago Department Store on National Avenue in Prague and elaborated on a proposal for a bridge to span the Nusle Valley.



Constructivism, a movement both international and universal, is no fleeting artistic fad but a momentous contemporary stage in human work and thought.  It characterizes the present moment in the history of creativity.  It is not another of those many isms that have flitted one after the other across the artistic scene of past decades, all of them ephemeral substitutes for style in the century of capitalism — a century marked by a civilization developing so rapidly that in a few years it has accomplished through the work of its engines, turbines, and dynamos what had previously required whole centuries.

Constructivism negates traditional aesthetics and conceptions of art.  Our civilization is no longer one of arts and crafts but a civilization of the machine.  The historical and social assumptions that introduced so-called art into life have lost their validity.  The dichotomy between the old modes of production of a premechanical era and the present modes of creative production and social organization is absolute.  Constructivism, backed as it is by a dialectical-materialist view of history, understands that what lies hidden within the term art has undergone a profound change in mission over the centuries, in parallel with changes in production and in social systems.  This change is evident in its mission, its materials, its techniques, and its forms.  Certain craft forms, born out of the economic pressures of an era, lose their validity or find themselves fundamentally transformed as soon as historical development registers change in the means of production and social organization.  Such special forms of craft — called art — represent a specific evolutionary stage, one that is gradually superseded by the machine civilization of today’s society.  The fate of visual forms may be inferred not only from human psychology or social ideology but first and foremost from objective facts, including production relationships, tangible goals, particular materials and tools,, the state of transportation, as well as scientific and technical inventions.  Painting originated as a representational art, but in an era of cameras and film, it becomes obsolete, even atavistic.  Poetry, that rhymed chronicle, the forms of which arose as mnemonic aids accompanied by music, modifies its prosody under the impact of printing.  In an era of specialization and the division of labor, it eventually ceases to be what once it was: an epic, historiography, pedagogy, becoming instead “pure” poetry.  In the same way, the former place of representational painting is now occupied by a “pure” color creation, a poem in hues.  What we call art, whether painting or poetry, evolved over the centuries such that [288] the creative act gradually freed itself from the utilitarian considerations that originally begot it.  The history of the human soul, rendered transparent by psychoanalysis, has demonstrated how man’s affective needs were initially bound up with his gross material needs.  Satisfying one helped assuage the other.  Aesthetic activity tends at first toward utilitarian functions that serve practical life and economic necessity; only later does it liberate itself.  Medieval art, as distinct from prehistorical cave paintings and tools, enacts a compromise between aesthetic and utilitarian functions; prehistoric art by contrast reveals a primarily, indeed exclusively, utilitarian function.  (Even the symbolic functions of art might be derived from utilitarian and physiological motifs.)  Such a compromise between utilitarian and aesthetic elements strikes a temporary balance on the basis of craft: modern civilization and contemporary industrialization have upset this equilibrium.  The unity of historic styles — in its essence a medieval trinity of the arts — achieved such a compromise, with architecture as the dominant art, followed by painting and sculpture.  A similar compromise was then effectuated within the individual arts.  Architectural styles were but a variation on the compromise between the practical and aesthetic function, between construction and decoration.  Painting betokened the compromise between representation and autonomous color composition; wherever the harmony of colors took precedence over the representational goals, painting simultaneously became a decoration of architecture.

The economic victory of industrial over craft methods has occasioned the extinction of forms bound to craft.  With increasing specialization the utilitarian functions of would-be art seem isolated from its aesthetic functions.  Machines, cameras, rotary presses, and science and technology themselves have arrogated the utilitarian functions of medieval art.  The temporary trinity of “plastic art” was split asunder.  Painting, now stripped of its iconic and documentary functions, has, with cubism, set off on the road to an autonomous poetry of color.  In our era, architecture stands equipped with completely new technology, new materials, and new methods of construction.  The same era accorded architecture new tasks vastly different from those it shouldered in the religious and feudal Middle Ages.  Such changes have helped to sunder architecture from the union of visual arts: no longer is it pure or decorative art but rather science, technology, industry.  Such changes signify a total transformation of quantity into quality, a historical revolution.

Constructivism, above all, epitomizes the understanding that the methods of traditional, classical aesthetics and art history are insufficient to penetrate the essence of those phenomena designated as “art.”  The norms of the latter, together with the axioms of their terminology, no longer apply since they no longer correspond to given and accepted realities; its classification systems are obsolete and provisional.  The constructivist aesthetic has repudiated these outmoded terms and norms.  It has abandoned a superstitious faith in the seven arts, the nine Muses, and the trinity of plastic arts.  Each phenomenon is to be examined in terms of its essential components, without regard to the external label under which it has been known.  With each form the question [289] posed addresses: What was it before it became what it now is? What were the circumstances of its origin? What possibilities does it hold for future development? Constructivism regards human productivity, in all its dynamism, together with the internal historic context as a continuous phenomenon.  Constructivism views art as one particular stage, one specific form of a given historic period.

Constructivist theory, having abandoned the prevalent superstitions regarding plastic arts, envisions architecture as a creative act, the individual forms of which are given by its own working methods and by contemporary technology, and the alterations of which are introduced and determined by changes both in production and in the socioeconomic structure of the world.  Constructivist theory derives architectural form out of utilitarian needs, purposes, and materials and not out of decorative fantasies.

Art and architectural theories to date have articulated the evolution of building forms based on changes in decorative forms; they delineated styles based on individual decorative fashions.  As Le Corbusier pointed out, however, these styles, understood as decorative systems, have nothing to do with the essence of architecture.  Constructivist theory can articulate an entire historical evolution according to dominant constructive systems: the era of “post-and-lintel” architecture (Greece), that of the vault (Roman, medieval, Renaissance, baroque, and Empire), and the era of iron and concrete.  These divisions touch upon the fundamental structural changes of buildings; they are therefore more essential than changes in decorative or facade themes.  Of course, within each era there were transitions — as between the Roman and Romanesque arch, leading to the pointed arch of the Gothic.  At the same time, however, replacement of massive load-bearing walls by a system of supporting columns was of greater import than the concurrent change in decorative motifs.

The idealist aesthetic perceives architecture as a decorative art and its individual decorative periods and styles as symbolic, determined by the ideological or religious character of each era.  The constructivist aesthetic, having shed the superstition of an “art” existing a priori, does not explicate architecture as a symbol but as a craft activity serving concrete tasks, an activity moreover that is experiencing a revolution in our era and becoming science, technology, industry.  The Gothic cathedral is more of a construction record for us than an expression of religious fervor.

The transition of architecture from craft to science brought about by the conditions of machine civilization and the contemporary organization of production is the most striking metamorphosis of architecture known to history.  In historic architecture, stylistic changes are in fact changes of individual components: windows, walls, roof — all are determinants of its appearance.  A house may be defined as a box with four walls and a roof, with windows and doors opening into it.  Such determinants assume an altogether different form in a reinforced-concrete construction than in a system with vault and load-bearing wall.  A window was a problematic opening in a load-bearing wall.  [290] since the vault allowed increasing its size only in a vertical, not horizontal, direction.  The system of constructional frames leads to horizontal windows that are not forced apertures in the building mass but rather natural spaces between pillars.  The wall used to serve both as a fortified defense and a load-bearing element.  Today’s reinforced-concrete construction makes these functions unnecessary: in place of a heavy mass of wall we find light, insulated partitions.  The slanted roof used to be the only means of eliminating rain and snow.  Now wood cement permits the creation of a perfect horizontal terrace roof, in which the roof and the ceiling are as one.  As mentioned earlier, the architecture of the past in its historical manifestations was characterized by walls, windows, and roofs, whose forms were dictated by the material and technological possibilities of the time.  These walls, windows, and roofs, having assumed completely different forms and functions, no longer exist in the new architecture.  An architecture without walls, windows, and roofs (in their historical semblances) — such modern architecture is a new phenomenon, not to be compared with what was formerly known as the art of building.  This new architecture rebels against scrutiny through the magical spectacles of classical aesthetics and against inclusion in the category of “plastic arts” and against designation by some stylistic formula.

In our industrial age, architecture has achieved another inner revolution: it is not just that there is no roof, wall, or window of the kind that dominated the appearance of historic architectural styles; it is not just that these elements play a completely different role in modern building than in medieval building, determined as they are by human scale, being functional forms, not decorative or stylistic formulas.  (Often the ventilation and the lighting functions of the window are separated now, as the constructive is separated from the insulating and articulating function of the walls.  In place of a sloped roof we have flat roofs serving both as a ceiling for the top floor and the floor of the “roof” terrace — a “fifth elevation”; instead of bay windows we have cantilevered facades.)  Much more than this, we have witnessed some tendencies away from artisanal methods and toward an increased use of industrialized building.  If everything concerning building methods to date is to a large degree obsolete (and the building process in 1927 resembles to a great extent that of centuries past), it is because the lopsided evolution of industry and capitalism has failed to engage with technical progress, which achieved vertiginous growth within the war industry and in transportation.  The building industry has not been interested in applying technical progress in construction, which has until now avoided industrialization.  However, the growth of cities, the concentration of production, the housing crisis — all these factors have directed the interest of the financial and industrial speculation to building enterprises.  Only then does the construction industry start to become more rationalized and industrialized.  For the building industry to become profitable while still fulfilling its mission, it must be industrialized.  Under the economic pressures of today obvious progress has occurred in the development of building technologies.

Clearly, that old architecture, architecture as art, ends where the old [291] artisanal building methods end.  Industrialized architecture that assembles its structures out of mass-produced, stocked components; architecture in which buildings are constructed in the same way as railway cars, transatlantic ships, automobiles, and machines, architecture for which the building is a “machine for living” can hardly be considered architecture in the historic, “art” sense.

Contemporary industrial and technological civilization has liberated modern architecture from the limitations attendant upon artisanal construction methods.  Ferroconcrete structures can span enormous spaces by trusses and thus alter the character of the building.  They make it possible to make windows and door openings in all different sizes.  Last but not least, they contribute to the establishment of one standard, typical dimension, derived from human scale.  Constructivism declares man to be the stylistic principle of architecture.  Modern structure on a human scale: anatomical architectures out of iron and concrete that have escaped the formula of medieval architecture, embodied in the fortified stronghold — without load-bearing walls, with an internal skeleton and a thin internal skin.  Constructivist architecture should avail itself of the opportunities brought about by the technological and industrial progress of our era, not to rationalize the building industry in order to increase its financial profitability but to achieve specific improvements, to solve, with industrial means, the basic problems of the factory.  Its goal is also to communicate more easily, efficiently, and expertly and with greater speed than would have been possible under the old artisanal methods.

New technologies and materials are an important precondition, but constructivist architecture uses them merely as a means to an end.  New architecture must begin anew on  a new societal basis.  This is not just a matter of inventing free forms and subjective compositions, this is not a matter of fashion: a right angle, antidecorativism, flat roof — all those are attractive, desirable, almost given features.  They are not sufficient, however, nor are they decisive as inventions.  Man should be the decisive factor here; man, who is the measure for all tailors and all things, a new, open, loyal, cheerful, convivial man.  We are talking about buildings that are made to the measure of man, about humanizing architecture — not about some new “constructivist art.”  Constructivist “art” is in fact a contradictio in adiecto: constructivism is but a manifestation of an essential change in that form of human work and expression that is called “art.”  Constructivism is therefore not an artistic or architectural ism but rather a guideline of universal creativity, a methodology for human work in all disciplines, a means to functionalist, dialectical, materialist — in a word, socialist — thinking.

Constructivism does not acknowledge architecture as a plastic art for the simple reason that it does not recognize plastic an itself.  Plastic art is a category that the old aesthetics, based on the principle of form, understood within a formalist system.  The constructivist aesthetic recognizes no a priori principle of form, form emerges out of purpose, material, and structure; it is a result of a function fulfilled.


In the place of traditional ideals of artistic beauty, the constructivist aesthetic lodges a demand for maximum functionality, that is, a principle of practical perfection. It regards no form as beautiful in itself but rather considers forms in relation to a specific function.  In contrast to traditional aesthetics, constructivism does not differentiate between an artistic and a technological form (between a spiritual and mechanical beauty), and it does not consider “beauty” an inherent quality of artistic form.  It asserts that as soon as any form, or any activity intended to accomplish its given tasks, achieves practical perfection and thus becomes a product that fulfills maximal requirements — a model of its kind — it simultaneously achieves aesthetic effect.  Constructivism therefore does not admit an exclusive, classical artistic beauty, but it does recognize that a perfectly constructed and optimally functioning form is beautiful. Through constructivism one of the maxims of antiquity — that the useful (= perfect) is beautiful — gains new currency.

The constructivist aesthetic does not acknowledge the a priori concept of beauty as an eternal ideal.  Such a notion of beauty is as obsolete and empty as the notion of art and those other categories implicit in an idealist, speculative, and derivative aesthetics.  Constructivism understands beauty as an epiphenomenon of that material and functional perfection that awakens feelings of harmony.  Such beauty is proper to each perfect and correct form, technological as well as “artistic,” since there is no substantive difference between the two.

The old aesthetic judged the beauty of artistic form to be eternal and that of technological form to be ephemeral.  And yet every form is ephemeral, every “beauty” is mutable, because it is always but a moment in a process, an evolutionary form, a pause, but not a conclusion.  Only an extinct form is eternal and immutable.

The constructivist aesthetic derives form not through a priori speculation but from the realization of a task carried out through a specific method appropriate to the times.  This “pure work,” undertaken with a view to purpose and function and free from all extraneous intentions and elements, this “machine aesthetic” states that whenever and wherever the most complete solution to a concrete task is achieved, it does so without extraneous formalistic attempts to create “beauty.” It cannot be said that this “beauty,” that is, harmonious aesthetic effectiveness, begins where the perfectly fulfilled functional demands end.  Rather, it is impossible to differentiate between the aesthetic and functional qualities of form.  Beauty is like a chemical product: it emerges through the fusion of task and form.  As we achieve maximum functional perfection, we simultaneously realize an aesthetic effect.  The point at which this aesthetic quality starts cannot be fixed, determined as a juncture of technology and art, truth and poetry.  It is impossible to discern the point at which the curve changes direction; it is impossible to determine the instant in which an object, consummate in its function, elicits our “aesthetic feeling.”  In itself form is indifferent; it is neither beautiful nor ugly.  Form stirs our sensibilities and engages our vital responses only when coupled with a specific function.


The recurrent discussions that posited architecture as an art against science were based on a fallacious premise; often they were nothing but verbal skirmishes.  Were we to discuss whether an airplane or a telescope is a work of science (technology) or of art, we would not alter the fact that their functional perfection awakens the same feeling in us as does the “beauty” of works of art, that is, the feeling that these works of art are beautiful.  And if we understand the essence and the mission of architectural creation correctly, we will admit that its very methods of production and conception, its very ways of thinking, are comparable to the methods and conceptions of engineers who create airplanes and astronomical instruments.  “Beauty” is not the exclusive prerogative of art.  Production methods and new conceptions in architecture, analogous to those used to build transatlantic liners, are today almost antithetical to the methods that once served to build Gothic or Renaissance or baroque structures.  To say that architecture begins where the machine ends — a machine for living — is a rash aphorism.  It is unrealistic to postulate that an architect also creates ancillary aesthetic and “artistic” values in addition to utilitarian ones.  Beauty is not something added or applied subsequently or in passing; beauty is not a by-product, a mere aroma extracted from the production of tar.  The constructivist aesthetic emphasizes an internal relationship and a congruence between both material and aesthetic perfection; it calls for the integration of functionality and “beauty.” The mathematical spirit of constructivism is aware that the formula of antiquity — namely, the useful (= the beautiful) — can be overturned, like any other formula.  To be sure, some machines or buildings can be, while perfectly functional, hideous, and it is useless to object to this observation.  Their ugliness may be a clear sign of the doubtful and specious, even make-believe, quality of their functional perfection.  An unsightly machine probably demands improvement; its aesthetic inferiority is symptomatic of its lack of perfection.  Between two forms of ostensibly equal functionality, we must consider the more beautiful form to be the more functional.  If an apartment or a whole apartment building, without any visible material impediments, turns out to be uninhabitable — insufficiently “cozy,” psychologically unsatisfying, that is, “not beautiful” — it is not because it lacks “beauty” or “art,” but because it lacks habitability: the problem has not been fully solved.  The psychological postulates of dwelling have not been satisfied; instead of being “accommodated,” a man has been merely placed within a prison of four walls.  To intuit the psychosocial components of the housing problem does not imply satisfying sentimental notions of “hearth” and “sweet home” [in English in the original], or pandering to petit bourgeois habits and taste but rather intuiting the lifestyle of modern man and of a new social class.  Not humanity on its way to extinction but a future humanity, not a disintegrating society but a new society being born, should be the guiding “human measure” of the new architecture.  Doubtless, only someone capable of grasping the profound shifts that have occurred in human sensibility and lifestyle as a result of the social transformations of the present can bring forth conceptions on this new scale.  Architects who have no loftier [294] goals and higher perspectives than commonplace craft driven by the commissions of as average chest, architects who only fit their work to existing demands, without challenging their validity, good sense, or societal value, do not create modern architecture.

Machines as well as architecture owe their origin to a mathematical calculation; such calculation always proffers a number of possibilities and opens up different approaches.  In each series there remains a place for the unpredictable.  To ascertain she optimal result (implicitly the most beautiful), to anticipate it, is the task not of mechanical logic, but of mathematical intuition. When we speak of mathematical intuition, when we interpret the aesthetic effectiveness of practical realizations — that is, the irrational value of a rational product — we come to realize that behind the rational evaluation the existence and effectiveness of the irrational still endures.  Mathematics — and more specifically, geometry — has been defined as the art of exact consideration of inexact facts.  Mathematical thinking, like fiction, operates with deliberately imprecise conclusions that are accepted as correct.  An irrational number can be calculated to many decimal points but always only insufficiently.  Every machine calculation, every ball bearing, every engine contains an irrational element.

Scientific intuition: without it science is not science but merely trade, bureaucracy, pedantry.  Without it there is no productivity.  Without invention there is no creation, only imitation.  Architecture in which creative intuition has not divined the unknowns and imponderables — those factors that cannot be addressed by mechanical, rational thinking — is neither architecture nor science but craftsmanship, building without spirit.

If constructivism defines architecture as science, nevertheless it emphasizes both creative intuition and invention as conditions sine qua non of architectural work.  Such architecture, which refutes artistic and artisanal dilettantism, demands specialists and inventors.  A perfect specialist realizes perfect products and responds to existing needs.  An inventor knows how to awaken new needs; he is part of the revolutionary force that foments evolution.

The principle of integral functionality does not inevitably imply narrow-minded utilitarianism.  An exact functional solution does not at all mean satisfying existing demands, however atavistic they might be; it is not a compromise with respect to existing circumstances, a substitute.  In itself “purpose” is nothing immobile or petrified.  Before attempting to solve any problem, we must consider whether such a problem has been correctly stated, whether it may not be false or illusory.  Purpose is nothing given; it is a perspective that one can deepen, render more precise, refine.  Certain tasks, including building programs, die as a result of social changes while others come to life. The new architecture does not know cathedrals.  It attempts to solve the problem of a socialist dwelling, a workers’ club, and so forth.  The architect has the duty not only to fulfill this purpose but also to formulate it afresh and with greater precision, that is, to go as far as to create it.  To the extent that purpose defines architectural creation, architecture creates new purposes.  Once having [295] examined the substance of individual tasks, architecture often concludes that many do not correspond to the current social evolution and eliminates them as a result.  By eliminating “incorrect” tasks and falsely formulated problems (that is, tasks and problems both obsolete and atavistic) architecture simultaneously purifies its own essential existence from everything not fundamentally related to it.  Architecture thus becomes a critique of life, time, and society.

Any analysis of individual architectural tasks demonstrates that architectural creation is affected by changes in the social order and that its own achievements are closely connected with the life of society.  Such analysis further indicates that architecture’s own social function is to social evolution what the regulated river bed is to the flow of the river.

Constructivism does not recognize the conventional distinction between architecture as a “plastic,” “building” art and the discipline of engineering and technological creation, and yet it must also be emphasized that constructivism does not limit architectural issues to narrow concerns of technique and practice.  Constructivist architecture is in fact a “pure” science; building technology is an applied science.  Rather than adjust a new idea to an old machine, constructivist architecture invents a new machine for it.  As a “pure” science it emphasizes the importance of theory as well as the inevitability of criticism.  Constructivism does not propose merely to submit to the given situation and its demands; rather, it wants to create reality, to organize the world and human relations, and to sort out the most essential living conditions.  Constructivism upholds the conviction that a properly construed work can originate and exist only in a properly organized society: it requires a unitary plan, a rational system, a balanced organization.  Constructivism asserts that the order of our civilization is a coat of paint that conceals the flagrant reality of the individualist anarchy of production.  Conflicts between the forces and relations (proportions of ownership) of production, the imbalance between production and consumption, reactions to the crisis of capitalism — all these factors paralyze technological progress and the welfare of humanity.  The curve of technological progress is declining, and the percentage of inventions actually employed in production continues to diminish.  In the adversarial conditions of capitalism the asymmetry of technological progress endures.  Military technology and the luxury industries experience an upsurge just at the time when the process of perfecting products for basic human needs slows down.  The expansionary interests of industrial capital made possible a creation of new architectural forms, as well as the great progress architecture underwent in the realm of industrial and utilitarian structures, such as factories, bridges, hangars, silos, and train stations.  But corresponding architectural reform and progress in the area of housing are only now beginning to emerge, at the very time the housing crisis and the expansion of the capitalist metropolis create need and demand.  Such demand guarantees a considerable supply to a well-directed, technologically advanced building enterprise and enables investment capital to exploit its rentier tendencies by offering support to the nascent building industry.


The societal dynamics inherent in a century of capitalism created production forces more powerful than those of all past societies combined.  Prevailing social forces gave so-called art and architecture a place in the social and cultural structure different from the one they had occupied in the preindustrial and feudal periods.  The glory and renown of industrial capitalism reached its apogee; now it suffers a deep and persistent crisis, eventually to be dissipated through wars or the equally destructive catastrophes of overproduction and stock market collapse.  Capitalist production is not rationally — that is, objectively and justly — governed; it does not correspond to how many people need something but to how many people can afford it.  Production is not governed by the needs of society as a whole but by the commercial and speculative prospects of financial gain and prosperity.  The great wealth of the means of production is being destroyed by competition at a time when the majority of population suffers from the lack of goods.  Anarchy reigns in capitalist production, anarchy fostered by the chase after increased gain, without any corresponding increase of real productivity values.  If, as Marx says, the capitalist system gave birth to its own undertakers, then we must realize that modern technology, which has led capitalist society to the height of its civilization, must of necessity overthrow capitalist methods as soon as it has the courage to address problems to their full extent and to articulate its objective judgment of them, just as modern legal scholarship condemns the capitalist principle of ownership.

Marx’s analysis of hidden, incurable ills within the capitalist system shows that it cannot generate an overall, consistent scheme.  With constant changes in production, incessant tremors in social conditions, eternal uncertainty and unrest, historical upheavals of modern forces of production against modern conditions of production, with commercial crisis and the epidemics of overproduction — all such factors simply exceed the society’s capabilities and threaten the very existence of property.  In a time when the capitalist system becomes too glutted to contain all the riches produced, when an enforced destruction of production forces begins, in this paradoxical and irrational state there is no chance to develop an integrated system that we might call “a modern style” — there is simply not sufficient grounds for constructivism.

Constructivism is a work view and a way of functional thinking that spans broader and clearer horizons than the chaotic capitalist present and that is supported by a theory of scientific socialism.  Constructivism does not merely propose new art but offers plans for a new world, a new social cosmos, with projects of a new organization of life.  It understands that the architect’s creation is not merely a narrow, specialized, and isolated task but an assessment of social and economic relations; that it is an act of creation connected with many other disciplines and a whole complex of interests.  Modem architects are witnesses to the way in which their conceptions and their solutions to practical problems strain against the difficulties of capitalist society.  They observe the criminal nature of today’s mode of production, which, despite all the sophistication of production technology and an eight-hour workday, offers [297] the working class only a very low and culturally deprived standard of living.  Any attempt to provide a systematic solution to urban problems is thwarted both by the legal system and by property relations, and often by the interests of land speculators as well.

The problems of both residential and industrial architecture are to a large degree not just those of technology but are also social and class problems.  The question of the housing crisis and the social difficulties connected with it is political in nature.  A solution of each architectural problem is the fulcrum upon which the interests of the building and technology enterprise come into conflict with commercial, financial, and social politics.

The great ideas of a universal planned economy and a master production plan illuminate the horizon of constructivism; these are the same ideas on which the socialist, Marxist plan of social production and organization is based and that in the USSR is embodied in Gosplan, an all-union production and economic plan.  Constructivism strives to refine and rationalize modern technology, to raise it to a higher level and, with its help, to organize the whole world efficiently.  It yearns for an elementary transformation of life in the direction of clarity, order, and economy.  If the new society locates production within the context of planning, we will find ourselves in a world of new order and character.  A more rational, economical organization of work, of which American Taylorism is but a capitalist caricature, will liberate all spiritual activity and occasion a surplus of time and energy; the mechanization of material work will free energies for intellectual creation.  Looking at the projects and realizations of contemporary architecture, the architecture we call modern, we can see that individual building and urban programs, and especially the issue of housing, have to date been broached mostly in ways corresponding to the production and ideology of the bourgeoisie.  Of course, this class dependency is historically inevitable.  Current building activity can operate only in the conditions and within the limitations of the present socioeconomic situation.  We are aware, however, that the mission of the architect is not only to work on commission but to seek and prepare future possibilities. The architect cannot merely fulfill existing needs and functions on demand but must articulate new forms, define and sharpen new functions.  In short, we see in the architect not a craftsman working on commission from his clientele but a scientist who analyzes the essential problems in their purity, without regard to existing class postulates; a scientist who is aware of the relationship between his work and the other areas of human productivity; who understands life’s order (a requirement of a mental discipline as a sine qua non of modernity).  What we seek are radical and basic solutions that correspond to the modern spirit, the spirit of socialist man and his living environment.

Modern creators — that is, those who can be truly considered modern: namely, the constructivists, who support their views and theories with Marxist sociology and a socialist worldview — naturally feel oppressed by the present social and historical situation.  Their task is not improvement, but [298] renewal: a revolution.  The class struggle forces them to adopt a clear stance.

They cannot sacrifice their own creation to the interests and needs of a moribund world order.  Those who fight to create a new architecture, the liberated architecture of free men, expect as a precondition of creation a new organization of society — a society that does not acknowledge private property, family, or nation.  And yet, expectation alone is not a revolutionary strategy.  Society has to be readied.  It is therefore necessary to revolutionize architecture and architectural work, even if only on a theoretical and hypothetical basis; it is necessary to collaborate on a new organization of the world.  Architecture is above all an organizational process.

Constructivists cannot be satisfied with commissions limited by existing transient circumstances.  They do not want to wait and to guess but to outline and to prepare a new order of life and work.  They do not want to wait to present a higher, more evolved style of work or life.  If they emphasize integral usefulness as a principle of all creativity, they have no intention of submitting to deteriorating conventions.  Most often these are only petrified nonsense, exemplified in today’s housing and the patterns of family life.  We must remove old, useless conventions, abolish obsolete building codes, preserved habits, and official decrees.  What is needed is some respect for logical needs rather than for old fictions and superstitions.

Constructivism does not wish to serve the extant social and cultural state, a state corroded by decadence and anarchy.  Through planning and tenacity of purpose constructivism wants to change the status quo.  To revolutionize it, not to accept it in resignation.

In one of his programmatic articles, J.  J.  P.  Oud distinguishes “modern architecture” from “new architecture.” Modern architecture, according to Oud, is that which gradually elaborated the present architectural conception and which slowly freed itself from historicism, formalism, and decorativism; in other words, the architecture of the era inaugurated by Berlage and Wagner and chronologically concluded by the world war.  By contrast, new architecture is architecture founded on the achievements of the earlier era.  It is the international rationalist architecture represented by Le Corbusier, Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, and Oud himself.  If we are to follow the sociological aspects of contemporary architecture, it seems appropriate to employ this distinction between “modern architecture” and “new architecture” but in a different way.  If we designate the architecture of industrial capitalism from Eiffel or Wagner to Le Corbusier as “modern” then we shall use the term “new” for that architecture that incorporates a socialist viewpoint and that is engaged in eradicating the old society and in launching the new.

Today’s conttructivist architects face the pivotal problem of developing a plan, a model, a hypothesis of new, socialist architecture, of a socialist city and dwellings based on practical experience and the possibilities of new technology.  Socialist architecture, socialist culture, are indivisible parts of the constructivist perspective.  Today, you might say, this is an ideal, a utopia.  Can rationalist architecture have its utopian side, its ideal? The ideal, they say, is [299] for now an unreachable utopia.  But to make a plan, a model, a standard, for the architecture of a new society does not fall within the purview of romantic utopias.  A romantic utopianism of never realized projects is more of a hindrance than a stimulus.  These are not utopian but merely hypothetical ideas, a “working hypothesis” of modern architecture, whose reform and transformation are inconceivable without transformations in production and the social system, without, that is, a social revolution.

Constructivist thinking involves a future plan, a hypothesis, a utopia, if you will, to be realized.  Without the future perspective, without exact theory, no practical realization is possible.  Neither inventors nor revolutionaries can dispense with them.  F.X. Šalda once remarked that a program that had been thought out two hundred years in advance would be more likely to be fulfilled in two years than one conceived for only two years.  And it was Lenin who wisely told Soviet economists and engineers: “Do not fear a long-term plan; without it the economy cannot be renewed.”  The crisis in contemporary cities and the social crisis in general are but results of the individual capitalist approach, an approach not governed by a master plan and one that is the byproduct of a deep, lasting, and perhaps terminal crisis for the capitalist system.

The constructivist theory of architecture, a hypothesis of a new socialist housing and city — these are “the struggles for tomorrow” of a new architecture.  And this is the most pertinent task for all who wish to prepare the next stage of development: to elaborate a new architectural theory, to resolve the theoretical problems of the new architecture.  These are laboratory problems, calling for a clear theoretical plan that articulates the basic principles of creation and directives for the solution of individual problems.  “Pure” science and “pure” research will guide the new technologies as well as the new practice.  Experimental, hypothetical studies of new urban systems and living forms will serve as a prognosis, based on detailed analysis: a precise diagnosis of the present state of affairs, tested by historical probability.




This work was not intended to provide a definitive picture of modern architecture in Czechoslovakia.  Nor was it meant to be a pragmatic historiography.  My intention was to trace the origins and the development of the movement that today embodies the living presence of architecture as a creative act.  To explicate this movement based on its original assumptions, its historical precedents, to outline it and attempt a hypothetical extension into the future — these too were my intentions.  My concern here is with the present: it points toward the future, and it is more significant than the past, out of which (and often in defiance of which) the present has grown.  Our task is to foretell, on the basis of our knowledge of the present state, what things might be like in the future but also how the present derived from the past.  I wanted to express the current program of constructivism and to show the process through which the Czechoslovak avant-garde came to constructivism.  I believe that this sometimes convoluted process is in the end the only one feasible for future creative work.  I have tried to outline the theory and, where future perspectives seemed possible, even the direction of modem architecture, to analyze its technical, social, and historical conditions rather than chronicling the facts or attempting a relative assessment of individual designers.  My interpretation of the new architectural movement — constructivism, which I supported and toiled for from the beginning — is naturally subjective and hardly free of personal sympathies or of obstinate opposition.  Against the canvas of modern architecture in Czechoslovakia I have erected the constructivist theses.

The work of Adolf Loos has been included in this book because of his significant place in the history of modern Czech architecture.  Loos can be considered our greatest architect, not by using his Czechoslovak nationality as a pretext — what with his cosmopolitan spirit and the bulk of his work being done in Vienna and now even Paris, rather than Prague or Brno — but because Loos himself asserts his claim as a Czech architect.  When I asked him if I might include the essay concerning his work, with appropriate illustrations, in this book, he answered me with emphatic simplicity: “You must!”

The pictorial part of this book is limited to the minimum in its retrospective section in order to devote more space to new work.  The choice of projects and architects was not governed by any allegiance to this or that architectural group, in the sense of some relative representation.  I did not propose to [302] account for all current building production in Czechoslovakia but rather to highlight genuine as well as characteristic works, while avoiding the halfheartedness of imitators, fellow travelers, garden-variety hustlers who reap success in commissions and competitions but whose contribution to genuine development is insignificant.

It should be said that the selection and number of illustrations, though never intended to be exhaustive, were further limited for technical reasons.  Some works are missing altogether; several architects are not adequately represented.  These are deficiencies that even a standard monograph cannot avoid, much less one on a topic as open-ended as the present state of Czechoslovak architecture.  Perhaps the fact that the book represents the first attempt at an overview of contemporary architectural activity in this country may explain, and excuse, the incomplete state of certain parts of the text and illustrations.

What is offered here is not an exhaustive inventory of projects, but an impression of the evolution of our modern architecture and its avant-garde.  I have provided no tally of competitions nor an overview of building activities in regional towns and in the countryside.  Instead, I have attempted to sketch a theory of constructivism.  All realization assumes conception; without theory there is no sensible and purposeful practice.  Finally, architecture is, as Le Corbusier remarked, “a mirror of an idea,” an entire system of ideas.  Its errors as well as the halfheartedness of its practice invariably stem from insufficiencies in its theory.  Architecture as science, above all as “pure” laboratory science, which precedes particular applications and technologies, the science of society and its organization, the science of the comprehensive plan — has as its auxiliary sciences not just statics, technology, statistics, and hygiene but also sociology, philosophy, national economy, physiology, psychology, and aesthetics.  The theory as a plan, as a guide, is doubly important at a time of historical upheavals: all revolutionaries have understood this.  Theory revolutionizes, it awakens new technology.  Practice unguided by a clear vision and a clear schedule easily fossilizes — unfinished, exhausted, self-sabotaging.



This book was written mainly in 1927.  In spring 1928 it was revised and augmented, in fall 1929 given to the publisher and printed.  Certain chapters have appeared in part in magazines; for example, part of the chapter on Adolf Loos was published in Stavba and Tvorba, and part of the final chapter appeared in Stavba and elsewhere.  While reading proofs in the early months of 1930, the author made a few small changes and additions in an effort to bring the book as close as possible to the actual state of Czechoslovak architectural production, particularly in the illustrated portion.

Naturally, these small corrections, undertaken during the editorial and printing process, cannot make the book, itself based on a manuscript written in 1927-1928, a complete representation of the current state of Czechoslovak architecture.  This, in any case, was not the purpose.  The author wished above all to emphasize evolutionary line and its dialectics and to explicate the theory of constructivism — rather than to chronicle building activities in Czechoslovakia.  Without doubt it could be important to complete the passages and chapters concerning the sociology of architecture, some of which I would formulate differently today than I did three years ago.  However, my new book published this year, K sociologii architektury (On the Sociology of Architecture), together with the book on the problems of the modern dwelling that I am currently writing, will elucidate what was missing earlier.

Since the entire book paid particular attention to issues of housing, I am delighted to include among the illustrations several projects of apartment buildings with minimum dwellings, projects that derived from the competition sponsored by the City of Prague in May 1930.  Among the outstanding projects of this competition I wish to mention those submitted by the team of [Kamil] Ossendorf, [Richard] Podzemný, and [Antonín] Tenzer (first prize), Adolf Benš, Ant[onín] Černý, Linhart, [Jan] Rosůlek, and others.  On the whole, the projects are conceived as buildings with minimum dwellings and with balconies.  In addition to these almost “traditional” conceptions of “minimum dwelling,” other highly significant projects were also included in the competition.  These latter projects aim at the “conversion of quantity into quality,” a radical transformation of the living space.  Such proposals strive to abolish the traditional household and home economics; their solution to the problem of “minimum dwelling” is a large beehive of individual units, each for a single adult, featuring centralized, common rooms (kitchen, dining [304] room, laundry, and drying room), as well as common spaces for intellectual and physical development, day nurseries, and kindergartens.  This new configuration for living, which not only supersedes the existing system of rental and family homes but represents the first step toward a socialist solution to housing, has been demonstrated by two projects in particular.  Both the Havliček and Honzík scheme and the Gillar and Špalek scheme are reproduced in this book.  In like manner we can also supplement the discussion printed on pages 108-9 of the present work that touches upon the different solutions to the problems of housing currently utilized in the Czechoslovak Republic.

In conclusion, two other major competitions are likely to prove of special significance: the master plan for Greater Prague and the competition for apartment buildings with minimal dwellings, sponsored by the Central Social Insurance Company [Ǔstřední sociální pojišt’ovna].  Neither has yet been concluded.

Prague, July 1930

[Originally published as Moderní architektura v Československu, Prague, 1929]


~ by Ross Wolfe on October 26, 2010.

6 Responses to “Karel Teige’s Modern Architecture in Czechoslovakia (1929)”

  1. […] private property or by the social and economic unit of the bourgeois family.”  Teige, Karel.  Modern Architecture in Czechoslovakia.  Translated by Irena Murray and David Britt.  Modern Architecture in Czechoslovakia and other […]

  2. […] private property or by the social and economic unit of the bourgeois family.”  Teige, Karel.  Modern Architecture in Czechoslovakia.  Translated by Irena Murray and David Britt.  Modern Architecture in Czechoslovakia and other […]

  3. […] These architects transposed the principles of cubism from painting into architecture.”  Teige, Modern Architecture in Czechoslovakia.  Pg. 140.  Teige further explained: “The aesthetic of cubist architecture is derived from […]

  4. […] These architects transposed the principles of cubism from painting into architecture.” Teige, Modern Architecture in Czechoslovakia. Pg. 140. Teige further explained: “The aesthetic of cubist architecture is derived from cubist […]

  5. […] technology: it presupposes mass production and an industrialization of building.”  Teige, Modern Architecture in Czechoslovakia.  Pg. […]

  6. […] private property or by the social and economic unit of the bourgeois family.”  Teige, Karel.  Modern Architecture in Czechoslovakia.  Translated by Irena Murray and David Britt.  Modern Architecture in Czechoslovakia and other […]

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