EXPO 58: Czechoslovak Pavilion on Letna Hill

The EXPO 58 pavilion, Czechoslovakia’s entry, was the eye-catcher at the 1958 World Fair in Brussels. Constructed of steel and glass, the Czechoslovak contribution was an architectural wonder and considered a work of art. The pavilion was extremely popular and with 6 million visitors it was the best visited pavilion of this World Fair. After the exhibition, the building was taken apart and moved to Prague where it still stands.

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Pavilion EXPO 58

The Expo 1958 was the first World Fair to be held after the Second World War. The focus was on space technologies and nuclear power and showed the rivalry between the West and the communist East. No efforts were spared and, the Czechoslovak pavilion showcased the latest technology and newest gadgets. It was also a prestige object for the Communist party as it showed that its modern vision of life was a match to the West. The Czechoslovak contribution to the Brussels Expo was highly acclaimed and received the highest award: the Golden Star.

The pavilion itself was the paragon of modern design. It was constructed of prefabricated concrete slabs and had large windows and a raised rotunda. The building was L-shaped; three cubes with sloping and flat roofs, connected by two lower wings of glass. It could easily be disassembled as it consisted of an iron framework, glass walls and plastic elements. The structure is clearly influenced by the spirit of functionalism.

The restaurant of the exhibition pavilion was moved to Prague after the World Fair and stands on the foundations of a seventeenth-century wine-press. Located on the slopes of Letna hill, the restaurant offered a commanding view over the Vltava River. In Communist days it was a popular place for a meal.

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Laterna Magika

Not only did the building attract thousands of visitors a day, also the exhibition: ‘A day in the life in Czechoslovakia’ was extremely popular. Every exhibition day, a large crowd lined up to watch the spectacle of the Laterna Magika, a combination of moving images, dance, mime and music by the Czech composer Antonín Dvorák. The spectators did not get a realistic picture of life in Czechoslovakia because the performance emphasized the ideals of communism and socialism in an artistic way. You can still go to a Laterna Magika performance in Prague and the show is still as impressive as the one at the World Fair.

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Restaurace EXPO 58

When the World Fair came to an end, the pavilion was disassembled and moved to Prague. After 1989 the pavilion was privately owned. It was abandoned and fell into disrepair. Vandalism and the ravages of time did the pavilion no good. In 1991, the pavilion burnt down, and in 2001 the building was completely renovated, rebuilt might be a better term, by the present owners, Havas Worldwide advertising agency.

Getting there
The former EXPO restaurant is located on the east side of the Letna park. Tram 6, 8, 17, 26 to Nabrezi Kapitana Jarose. follow the path up to Letna Hill.

Address: Letenske Sady 80, Prague

Photos Marianne Crone

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