In search of Communist and Brutalist Architecture in Prague
Brutalist architecture in Prague is present in unexpected places: the New Stage, Nova Scena, next to the neo-renaissance building of the National Theatre or Kotva Department store with a floor plan of intertwined hexagons. Many of the buildings can only be seen from the outside and most are easy to reach. Communist Brutalist buildings are easy to recognize: uninspiring, concrete blocks that were built between 1960 and 1980. The buildings feature geometrical lines, solid concrete frames, massive walls, modular elements and tinted glass windows. Brutalist refers to the raw concrete of which the buildings are made and is derived from béton brut.
Brutalist Architecture in Prague
As most people focus on Prague’s Baroque, Renaissance and Art Nouveau architecture, they never notice that the city has another side. A metro ride will take them to a different Prague; the sidliste, the housing estates on the outskirt of the city: a jungle of monotonous blocks of high rises. Now revamped in pastel colours, but originally they were drab and uninviting. The tower blocks in the sidliste are known as panelaky and dominate the skyline of Prague’s suburbs. They fit in with the communist ideal of a classless society. Panelaky offered a comfortable way of living in small self-contained cities within a city. Read here about panelaky and urban planning in Communist days.
Béton Brut and Brutalism
The architect who invented Brutalisme was the Frenchman Le Corbusier who coined the phrase and technique of béton brut: raw concrete. The concrete used in the construction of the buildings was raw, not smoothed.
A mixture of cement and water is poured into a mold. When the mold is removed a stone-like material comes out with raw edges. Le Corbusier did not smooth the edges, not from an aesthetic point of view, but because it was impossible to do so. This raw concrete made him famous and the master of Brutalism.
Communist Architecture in Nove Mesto and Josefov
1. Inter-Continental Praha
This hotel opened in 1974. Its raw concrete exterior and rectangular shape are characteristic of Brutalist architecture. After the 2002 floods, the interior was renovated and several original elements were preserved. Richard Nixon and Ray Charles, Michael Jackson and other visiting dignitaries in the communist era stayed here. At the moment the hotel is again being renovated and will reopen in 2023 as the Fairmont Golden Prague.
Address, Inter-Continental Parizska 30, Josefov
2. Hotel President
Hotel President almost next door to Inter-Continental is a prime example of Brutalism architecture. After the 2002 floods the original interior and furniture was damaged and replaced by more modern fittings. The exterior is still in perfect Brutalist style. A huge sculpture stands in front of the hotel: a concrete wing captured in a concrete frame.
Address, Hotel President namesti Curieovych 1, Josefov
3. New Stage
This glass building opened in 1983 and forms a sharp contrast with the Neo-classical National Theater next to it. Inside, the eye catcher is a large glass sculpture and a wide spiral staircase makes the interior and exterior into a unit. The staircase leads to café Nona, the theater’s foyer on the first floor. The café is open also to if you have no theatre ticket.
Address, Narodni 4, Nove Mesto
4. Teplotechny Building
This blue building with striking bay windows and green window frames is now an office building. It opened in 1984 as a hostel. The Italian restaurant Lasagna Mia and Barley café are now on the ground level.
Address, Jecna street 39a, Nove mesto
5. Duplex Building
The eye catcher is the glass cube that crowns the building, now an exclusive dine and dance club but a revolving restaurant when it opened in 1976. It is an office building with an Albert Supermarket and Desirred department store on the ground floor.
Address, Wenceslas Square 21, Nove Mesto
6. Public Transit Company (DPP) building
A dark, forbidding, rectangular building where you will have go to if you are fined when travelling on Prague public transport without a valid ticket.
Address, Na Bojiste 5, Nove Mesto
Maj department store was an example of modern Czech architecture. The glass stairwell facing Spalena Street caused quite a stir because it was on the outside of building, a novelty in the 1970s. When the Quadrio shopping centre was built in 2014, the outside facing stairwell was incorporated into the new shopping centre.
Address, Narodni 26, Nove Mesto
Kotva building is Brutalist architecture at its best. Its exterior again used dark metal sheets, and the building itself it constructed of raw concrete. The interior is made up of interlocking hexagons that resemble umbrellas.
Address, Namesti Republiky 8, Nove mesto
Brutalist Architecture in Vinohrady
1. New Building of the National Museum
Former Stock Exchange, seat of the Czechslovak Federal Assembly, headquarters of radio Free Europe is and now part of the National Museum. This neo-classical building from 1937 was given a make-over of a metal and glass construction built around it.
Address, Vinohradska 1, Vinohrady
2. Folimanka Sports Hall
This sports hall was a communist prestige object built between 1972 and 1976. In front of the hall is a bronze sculpture entitled Concentration. It shows a basketball player concentrating on taking a shot. The hall is currently used by amateur sports clubs for their training.
Address, Na Folimance 2, Vinohrady
3. Hlavni Nadrazi, Main Train Station
Prague’s main train station is an elegant building in Art Nouveau style. In the 1970s, an extension was built in Brutalist style. The new building included the newly-built metro station Hlavni nadrazi and a main road on the roof of the terminal, claiming a large part of the park in front of the station. If this was not enough, the new road cut off the Art Nouveau station hall from the town. Pedestrians had the walk to the centre via a very narrow sidewalk next to a busy road. Finally, in 2018 the sidewalk was widened.
Brutalist Architecture in Mala Strana
1. Hotel Pyramida
Hotel Pyramida is a triangular building with less floor space the higher it rises. It is an eye catcher and in communist days a prestige object meant to impress foreign visitors. Originally it was the Central Recreation House of the Revolutionary Trade Movement. It was built between 1980 and 1987.
Address, Belohorska 24, Mala Strana
2. Strahov Tunnel Control
Next to the Strahov Stadium stands the TSK control building for the Strahov tunnel. It was built in 1980-1981 and it is the ventilation tower for the tunnel that runs under Strahov Stadium.
Address, Vanickova, Mala Strana
Brutalist Architecture in other districts
1. PZO Koospol
This building, now known as the Cube Office Centre, is formed of interlocking geometric shapes. It was built as a replacement for the Trade Fair Palace which was partly destroyed by a fire in 1974. After the Velvet Revolution, the building was home to T-Mobile and Citibank. From 2017, smaller companies use the complex as office space.
Address, Evropska 178, Dejvice
2. Palace of Culture
Next to Nusle Bridge is the Congress Centre Prague originally named the Palace of Culture. It was the venue for large exhibitions and Communist Party gatherings and opened in 1981. The building was equipped with the latest technology and electronic devices like computers, CCTV, air conditioning and simultaneous interpreting equipment. There were 2,300 rooms and a capacity for 5,060 visitors. Today, it is still a meeting place for congresses and events. The number of rooms has been reduced.
Address, 5. Kvetna 65, Nusle
3. Park Hotel Praha
This hotel looks like a glass box on legs. It catered for foreign visitors who came to do business at Veletrzni Palac, the Trade Fair Palace. Today it is Mama Shelter, and is part of a French chain of budget boutique hotels.
Address, Veletrzni 20, Holesovice
4. Olsanske Namesti and Taboritska s Street
Olsanske namesti is bordered on one side by the Olsanke Hotel now renovated and looking less ‘communist’, on the other side is a row of Brutalist apartment buildings with shops on street level. On the northern side an eleven-storey high rise. The Albert Supermarket at its foot is housed in a shoebox-like building.
Take tram 5, 9 or 15 to Olsanske Namesti stop.