Baba City Walk: functionalist architecture in Prague
The Baba City Walk is a self-guided walk in the Baba district famous for functionalist architecture. The residential area of Baba is located high on a hill close to Dejvicka metro station, northwest of the centre of Prague. Baba contains 33 villas built between 1928 and 1933 by famous architects like Josef Gocar, Ladislav Zak and Adolf Loos. Modern materials such as steel, glass and reinforced concrete were used in the construction. Characteristics of functionalist architecture are non-load-bearing outer walls, continuous horizontal lines, flat roofs and the lack of decoration.
Baba City Walk Prague, Functionalist Architecture
Baba City Walk Prague covers the streets in the residential area sandwiched between Nad Patankou, Pruhledova, Matejska and Jarni streets. The villas are characterized by minimalism. After the profusion of Baroque and Art Nouveau in the centre of Prague, there is no greater contrast imaginable. Although none of the villas are open to the public, this neighbourhood is a must-see for architecture buffs. If architecture does not interest you, this district is worth a visit because you will see a different aspect of Prague.
Baba: Model Housing Estate
In 1928, the Czech branch of Werkbund decided to build a model housing estate in Prague. Founded in 1907, Werkbund is a German association of artists, architects, designers and industrialists whose aimed at enhancing the quality of national projects. Czech architects worked on the designs of the Baba district. The only foreigner among them was the Dutch architect Mart Stam who designed the Van Nelle factory in Rotterdam.
The Baba project is built on a hill and comprises three streets parallel to each other. Due to the Wall Street crash of 1929, the actual building of the villas did not begin until 1932. The original plan consisted of terraced and detached houses, uniform in design, all intended for working class residents.
When construction started, this plan of identical houses was abandoned and each villa was individually designed with the input of the architect and client. The homeowners were middle-class: writers, artists and civil servants who did not want to live in standard homes.
BABA CITY WALK PRAGUE
START: Hradcanska metro station
END: Hradcanka metro station
1. Take the metro to Hradcanska station, take bus 131 and get off at U Mateje stop.
2. Take Matejska Street, follow the gentle curve and continue straight on
Matejska 23 has white exterior walls and small windows.
Matejska 9 is the home of architect Antonin Cerny. This is the last villa built in Baba. The overhanging roof has rounded corners. The round window that resembles a porthole and the balcony with its iron balustrade are reminiscent of a ship.
Matejska 6 is the ‘compound villa’ and has two mirrored apartments on each floor. Each apartment consists of a living room with a covered corner balcony supported by one pillar, a small kitchen and two bedrooms. The entrance hall is in the middle with a built-in closet and here is also the bathroom. The basement under the entire villa is not underground because the villa is built on a slope.
3. Continue Matejska, the street name changes into Fragnerova. Follow Fragnerova until you get to the edge of the hill. Take the narrow path to the ruins of Baba, (zricenina a Babe in Czech).
The ruins of Baba stand on a rock above the Vltava River. The view in front is of the districts of Troja, Bubenec, Dejvice and in the distance Prague Castle. As early as the Stone Age there was a fortified settlement here and in the fifteenth century it was documented as Baba. In the seventeenth century, there was a vineyard with a wine press and a summer house. In the nineteenth century, the summer house was converted into an imitation castle ruin. Other sources say that the ruin was a chapel and still others that it is a newly-built building, constructed early nineteenth century. The Gothic windows were put in later. No one really knows its origins. At night the ruins are illuminated
4. Walk back and take the Na Ostrohu street on the left
Na Ostrohu 41 is villa Kostai, the walls facing the street are white and there is a small round window, the back has large windows.
Na Ostrohu 49 is villa Sukova, one of the largest villas and built by the industrialist Antoni Suk. It accommodated a family of five with staff. There was also separate quarters for the driver. This is the only villa designed by a woman, Hana Kucerova-Zaveska, who based her design on the vision and principles of Le Corbusier, the founder of functionalism. She also designed the furniture for the villa, all in minimalist style. In Communist days, the villa was divided into three apartments.
Na Ostrohu 53 is villa Zadak, designed for Jan Zadak who played in the national football team from 1910 to 1912. The villa looks like a square box with a round balcony on the top floor. The ground floor is one large room and upstairs are three bedrooms. Originally the windows had wooden blinds, a hallmark of early functionalist style. There are two balconies accessed from a first floor corridor and connected by an external steel staircase.
Na Ostrohu 51 is villa Cenek, designed for the musicologist Bohumil Cenek, is a single-family home with a reinforced-concrete skeleton filled in with bricks and cork as insulation. The staircase is the focal point with two living areas on each side. The two balconies are partially glass-covered which can be seen from the street. The wall facing the street is white and plain without windows apart from the porthole above the garage.
Na Ostrahu 54, villa Zaoralek was designed for Hugo Zaoralek, who worked at the Ministry of Interior. Originally, at the back and facing the garden, there were two balconies one above the other and accessible by an open staircase on the outside. The recent owner has installed windows so that they are now part of the interior. This means that the original design is no longer in balance.
5. Turn left at Nad Lesikem and left again into Na Babe
Na Babe 11, Villa Spisek was built for Ferdinand Spisek, head of the Ministry of Education. After 1948, the Communists confiscated the villa and used it as the Ministry of the Interior. The villa was converted to the taste of the communist regime. The number of windows was reduced and the original entrance with canopy was changed beyond recognition.
Na Babe 12, villa Polacek built for Vaclav Polacek, owner of the Topic Salon (on Narodni street) an institution that until today offers a platform for young artists and organizes discussions, lectures, theater and music productions. After Polek was dismissed by the Nazis in 1942, he founded his own publishing house and until 1948 published mainly historical art books. The villa has only one, south-facing, living space on each floor. Rooms are separated from each other by fitted wardrobes. The living room and kitchen are on the ground floor and there are two bedrooms on the first floor. The interior has not changed since its construction and is often used for film shoots, films set in the 1930s and 1940s.
Na Babe 9, villa Palicka was designed by the Dutch architect Mart Stam who also designed the Van Nelle factory in Rotterdam. This is where Jiri Palicka lived, a textile artist who designed the curtains for the presidential box in the National Theater. Next to the villa is the sputnik sculpture.
Na Babe 3, villa Herain, the Czech art historian Karel Herain lived here. The skeleton of the villa is made of reinforced concrete filled with bricks and cork insulation. Wooden window frames replaced the original steel ones. Next to a curved wall, a staircase leads to the roof terrace with a Vltava view. This curved wall can only be seen in winter when the trees and shrubs have no leaves.
6. Walk to the end of Na Babe, take the street right and right again. You are now in nad Patankou
Nad Patankou 16 is villa Janak where the Czech architect Pavel Janak built his own single-family villa. He didn’t pay much attention to detail: it was not possible to open a window, because the central heating pipes were in the way. The house has been recently renovated. The thermal insulation on the outside of the walls changed the original proportions. The extension of the garage dates from the late 1970s
Nad Patankou 24, villa Belehradek, architect Gocar tried to make the house appear larger optically by repeating the horizontal line using windowsills along the entire length. The terrace is on the north side. It is one of the few houses in Baba that has direct access from the living area to the garden on the same level.
7. Continue nad patankou until you reach a staircase and the bus stop.
END OF THE BABA CITY WALK
Tip 1: Restaurant / patisserie Na Stare Fare is the perfect place for a snack or a meal. Na Stare is Czech for the Old Rectory. The restaurant consists of a number of small rooms that make up the former rectory.
Address: Na Fiserce 17
Open: Tuesday to Sunday 11 am-6pm closed on Mondays
Tip 2: Add an short detour to your Baba walk: Sarka cemetery to Catholic Sv Matej church (H. Matthew Church).
Keep the Albert Supermarket on your left and walk into U Mateje Street. At the chapel of Jan van Nepomuk you turn left until you get to Matej Church and the cemetery. The Baroque altar in the Mateje church is decorated with many cherubs and the pulpit with even more cherubs, apart from this the church is bare and austere. The cemetery is full of atmosphere.
St. Matthew Church, Kostel sv. Matěje, is one of the most visited churches in Prague at Christmas time because it has a nativity scene made entirely of gingerbread. It started in 1972, when artist Helena Horálková (1955) made gingerbread Christmas figures, the Holy Family, the three kings, an angel, a shepherd, the manger and stars, and gave to the pastor as she was grateful for his help in caring for her mother. The nativity scene was a great success, and every year Helena baked gingerbread figures for the church. In the end she baked about 400 gingerbread figures and got help from Daniel Zítka, pastry chef and artist. The gingerbread nativity scene can be admired every Sunday afternoon in December.
Tip 3: Go on a day trip to Brno to see the New House Estate. Brno is located at 185 km (115 miles) ti the south-east of Prague. There are frequent direct train from Prague to Brno, the journey time is two hours and thirty minutes.
The new House estate in Brno is similar to Baba. Building started in 1928. The sixteen single family homes in this residential area are equipped with the latest novelties from those days. They are made of reinforced concrete and have flat roofs. The aim was affordable houses for the middle class.
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