Before World War I Prague was one of the most important centers for Cubism outside Paris. The avant-garde movement was active there from 1912 to 1914.
A novice at identifying architectural styles, this visit helped me better appreciate and understand Prague’s eclectic architecture – Gothic, Medieval Romanesque, Cubist, Art Nouveau, 19th century Neo-Baroque, and 20th century Art Deco. Known as the “Golden City of 100 Spires” Prague is undeniably one of the oldest and most beautiful cities in the world. Each day brings another surprise and a new architectural treasure!
The incredible variety of architecture is one reason Prague was so affected by Cubism. The Czech Cubist movement is visible in the design of “geometrically enhanced” facades, furniture, and decorative objects throughout Prague, where even bridges have a Cubist flair.
“There’s a wonderful visual splendor to Prague. The city is literally a three-dimensional collage of textures, façades, ornamentation, and architectural details. Cubism is one architectural style unique to Prague. It developed in the 20th Century after French artists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque developed Cubism painting, revolutionizing the European art world.”
“In the early 1900s Prague became a Cubist City with Cubist apartment blocks furnished with Cubist furniture. Prague’s inhabitants drank from Cubist cups and ate on Cubist plates. They put flowers in Cubist vases, told time with Cubist clocks, and read books and magazines in Cubist typeface under Cubist lamps and light fixtures! This legacy still survives throughout Prague’s beautiful and varied neighborhoods.”
Hodek Apartment in Vyšehrad is a major Cubist building in Prague. Architect Josef Cholcol designed the stunning building with distinct crystal shapes. Another Cholcol Cubist building is elegant Kovarovic Villa, also in Vyšehrad.
There are Czech Cubist buildings, gateways, fountains, and lampposts throughout Prague. The Cooperative Housing building in Old Town’s Jewish Quarter is a notable Cubist building. Otakar Novotny designed the building after World War I as part of “social planning” throughout Europe. Unlike other Cubist buildings, the Cooperative Housing project has colorful façade detailing – not typical of the monochromatic Czech Cubist style.
The Cooperative Housing building is in an upscale residential block in a posh Old Town neighborhood near Altneu Synagogue. Nearly 800 years apart in age, the geometry of the Gothic synagogue has visual similarities with the Cooperative Housing building. They both have fanciful geometric characteristics.
One of the most striking and beautiful examples of Czech Cubist architecture in Prague is the House of the Black Madonna in Old Town. Its “sharp angle” complements surrounding historical buildings in the area. Kubista Gallery is in the building. When you go inside you suddenly “find yourself in an environment of furniture, books, period postcards, and jewelry from when Cubism was a trend.”
The Veletržní Palace gallery has a great collection of Czech Cubist art, including paintings by Emil Filla and drawings and building models by Josef Gočár. Filla and Gočár believed that “objects carried their own inter energy which could only be released by splitting their horizontal and vertical surfaces. They thought more conservative designs restrained and ignored the needs of the human soul.”