Zdeněk Lukeš: What has Czech architecture given the world?

"Two exceptional architectural styles originated in the Czech Lands. In the first quarter of the 18th century, there was Baroque Gothic, the foundations of which were laid by Prague’s Jan Blažej Santini-Aichel (Giovanni Santini, 1677-1723). He perfected this style, which combines the principles of Baroque and medieval architecture, in the design of the Pilgrimage Church of St John of Nepomuk in Zelená Hora, near Žďár nad Sázavou, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, and in the designs of churches in Kladruby and Sedlec, Kutná Hora.

In the 20th century, the Czech Lands made their mark in the history of world architecture thanks to the architect and designer Pavel Janák (1882-1956). In Prague, he came up with a style based on Picasso’s Cubism. He wanted to create architecture full of emotion, dynamism and expression, forming a counterpart to the rational design prevalent at the time. The first Cubist buildings were constructed in 1911-14.  Janák and his followers – Gočár, Chochol, Hofman and Králíček – created several Cubist buildings in Prague and other cities (perhaps the best-known is Gočár’s House of the Black Madonna in Prague). However, this style was not popular with investors, professionals or the general public, and the architects failed in their efforts to spread architectural Cubism around the world. Despite this, Cubist buildings and interior design are now admired as an interesting and inventive style.

The Czech Lands have given the world thousands of other magnificent pieces of architecture, twelve of which are included in the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage List. There are also many unique examples of how different styles can be combined, as older structures have often been rebuilt in later eras so that they take on a different external appearance while retaining their original interior design.

Architectural styles from the Middle Ages to the 20th century benefited from the fact that the Czech Lands lie in the middle of Europe. They were thus able to draw on inspiration from all sides, especially from Italy, Austria, France and Germany. However, the resulting structures respect the genius loci and together form a patchwork of diverse styles that is, at the same time, a harmonious mosaic. This has been preserved in the Czech Republic on an unprecedented scale, with the designs of medieval city planning still apparent. The 20th century contributed a multitude of Art Nouveau buildings and, between the world wars, avant-garde functionalism, in which the Czech Lands stood head and shoulders above virtually the whole of Europe. The world-class standards of Czech architecture were brought to a halt by decades of totalitarianism, but the present day has seen attempts to return to the former zenith."

Zdeněk Lukeš

Zdeněk Lukeš

born on 2 March 1954 in Prague

Czech architect.

From 1980 to 1990, he worked in the architecture archives of the National Technical Museum. Since 1990, he has worked for the Office of the President of the Czech Republic. Between 2000 and 2003 he was the dean of the Faculty of Architecture in Liberec. He has authored and co-authored many publications on architecture.

Last update: 16.8.2011 16:02

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