When in 1907 Pablo Picasso painted his famous Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, he didn’t know he was creating a whole new style. Though Cubism emerged in the art world, it soon inspired related movements in architecture, design, and literature. Unlike in art, cubism in architecture didn’t spread around the globe. Actually, it took hold almost exclusively in the Czech Republic.
Cubist architecture flourished all around Prague and other Czech cities in the short period before World War I. After the war, the style evolved in what is known as Rondocubism, again only in the Czech Republic.
Czech Cubism: The Foundation
The history of cubism in architecture starts in 1912 with the famous installation La Maison Cubiste in an annual Paris art exhibition. Though critics and audiences loved the installation, it didn’t set the stage for a new architecture movement in France.
Instead, cubism found fertile ground in Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic) where local architects were desperately seeking new artistic expressions. That same year, Josef Gočár, Pavel Janák, and Josef Chochol started the Prague Artistic Workshop. By doing so, they became the founding fathers of the so-called Czech Cubism.
Cubism in Architecture: Characteristics
Cubist architects were searching for a new concept of functionality. According to them, architecture shouldn’t be only a space to live and work, but also one for the human soul. They believed that traditional architecture was soulless, thus they applied dynamism to all of their creations.
Notice the broken lines and pyramidal shapes visible on cubist façades. Cubist architecture has several characteristics: three-dimensional façade decorations, split horizontal and vertical surfaces, and relatively conservative floor plans.
Cubist Interior Design and Furniture
Other than in architecture, interior design best represents Czech cubism. Cubist architects believed that a house should be a complex work of art, in perfect harmony with its interior design and light.
The best examples of Czech cubist interior and furniture design are the Černa Madona restaurant and the Grand Café Orient in downtown Prague. Both places are inside the House of the Black Madonna. Another interesting example of cubist design is the Lamppost in Jungmannovo Námesti, close to the restaurant U Pinkasů. Due to its somewhat secluded location, tourists mostly miss it.
Rondocubism or Czech Art Deco
When World War I broke, Czech cubism temporarily disappeared. But in the early 20s, Prague woke up again. Since architects this time had an even bigger desire for a national style, they came up with Rondocubism. Round forms and plenty of colors replaced the usual architectural elements of cubism, such as broken lines and triangular surfaces.
Circles and colors were supposed to evoke Slavic traditions and identity. For a long time, Rondocubism was considered a deviation from the more dominant functionalist architecture. However, interest in this style has picked up considerably. What’s more, now it’s even considered as the Czech national style and its version of the international Art Deco.
Staying in a Historic Hotel in Prague
As you know, we love hotels, especially the ones that are pieces of art. The NYX Hotel Prague by Leonardo occupies the former cubist Bank of Brno building, designed by Josef Gočár in 1923. It’s a fantastic hotel, but unfortunately, its interior is not really cubist. Another historic hotel you can stay at is the Art Deco Imperial Hotel in downtown Prague. We are talking about an art deco gem from head to toe!
If you are traveling with friends, we recommend staying at the lovely Prague Holiday Apartments. This Art Nouveau building hosts large private apartments with views over the Vltava River. You see, why we can never have enough of Prague? You can experience architecture from within!
How to Visit Cubist Buildings in Prague
Though cubism and rondocubism lived for such a short time, they both had an impact on Prague’s architecture. Among the several dozen cubist buildings scattered all around the city, a few stand out for their expressive use of shapes and colors. Our comprehensive itinerary includes 15 buildings. Five of them are in the city center, east or west from the Václavské náměstí. Four are in Vyšehrad, north of the fortress. Two are in Holešovice, across from the river Vltava. The other four are scattered all around the city.
You can visit them all in one day with Prague’s efficient public transport. Please take note that you can’t enter any of the buildings, except for the House of the Black Madonna, the Legions Bank building, and the Adria Palace. For more information, visit the Czech Museum of Cubism inside the Black Madonna. If you don’t feel like touring on your own, we recommend this private tour. It covers Prague’s cubist highlights.
House of the Black Madonna (Department Store)
Address Ovocný Trh 19
Architect Josef Gočár 1911-1912
The first cubist building in Prague is also its most famous one. Renowned architect Josef Gočár was commissioned to build the department store House of the Black Madonna in Prague’s old town. Since the building was part of a historical coronation route, he had to design something that wouldn’t stand out. Therefore, Gočár designed a building as tall as the surrounding buildings.
What’s impressive is how he did this. He opened up the floor plan using reinforced concrete, thus creating large spaces without pillars in the middle. He then added cubist elements to the entrance, windows, and other decoration. The building got its name from a statue of a Black Madonna, found in one of the buildings demolished to make room for the store.
Duplex Family House
Address Tychonova 269
Architect Josef Gočár 1911-1913
The Duplex Family House is considered Gočár’s second major work. His original design was a modernist house. However, he later changed his plans to incorporate the emerging cubist style. The two semi-detached units are identical except for their entrances. The house on the right has a fancier one.
A mansard roof covers the two-story villa. Two tall pillars hold the roof on both the southern and northern ends. We find the two entrance doors between the pillars on the ground floor. On the first floor, there is a round protrusion between the pillars. The internal staircase is there.
Diamant Department Store and Apartment Building
Address Lazarská 82
Architect Emil Kraliček 1912-1913
The Diamant Building is properly named following one of cubism’s main decorative motifs: crystal or diamond. The original building was to be Art Nouveau. However, halfway through its construction, they modified its appearance to cubist. Thought the building’s shape is pretty traditional, its details are cubist.
The main entrance from Spálená Street is especially interesting, with two cubist pillars on both sides. The most controversial part is the cubist canopy that surrounds the statue of Saint John of Nepomuk. When in Prague, the famous Russian poet Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky stayed in the building.
Triplex Family House
Address Rašínově nábřeží 6, 8 and 10
Architect Josef Chochol 1912-1913
The area under Vyšehrad Hill houses four interesting cubist buildings. The so-called Triplex Family House was the first one built by architect Chochol. The long symmetrical house has three integral parts. Both the left and right sections are lower and painted in red.
The central part, painted in white and more elaborate, is the tallest. A wide-angled broken arch, with a central balcony, sits on top. Notice the relief to the left and right of the balcony. It’s a scene from Czech mythology: Ctirad (Honor) with the lyre singing to Princess Libuše. Czech actress Marie Rosůlková once lived in the house.
Address Libušina 3
Architect Josef Chochol 1913
Not far from the triple house, we find another interesting building: the elegant Villa Kovařovicova. Without a doubt, the three-story villa is the most famous cubist house in Prague. Its privileged location allows for access from three different streets. Instead of decorations, its architect Chochol played with the surfaces. The result is an elegant building with clear triangular spaces.
The main façade on Libušina Street is quite conservative. On the other hand, the rear façade facing the river has a round shape and five staircases. The garden and the fence surrounding it are also works of Chochol. Unfortunately, there are no cubist details inside.
Apartment Building in Neklanova
Address Neklanova 2
Architect Antonín Belada 1913
From afar, the Apartment Building on Neklanova 2 looks like an ordinary building. The large scale triangular shapes of other cubist buildings are nowhere to be seen. Instead, decorations are where they used to be: under the roof and around the balconies. The frieze under the roof is made of sharp edges that culminate above the windows. From the distance, they almost look like art nouveau flowers.
The only typical cubist elements are the pyramidal shapes under the two balconies. Though the building is attributed to the building contractor Antonín Belada, some art historians believe Josef Chochol designed it.
Hodkův Apartment Building
Address Neklanova 30
Architect Josef Chochol 1914
At the end of Neklanova street, we find another cubist gem, the so-called Hodkův Apartment Building. Its striking appearance makes it one of the most important examples of Czech cubism. The five-story building occupies a trapezoidal plot on a corner of two small streets.
Strong triangular lines can be seen everywhere: under and above windows and balconies, and on the cornice. Balconies revolving around an octagonal column accentuate the sharp edge corner. Many elements of the original interior have been preserved, including doors, handrails, and door handles. Curiously enough, the building was almost demolished in the early 90s. Luckily it didn’t happen!
Office Building of the General Pension Institute
Address Rašínově nábřeží 390
Architect Jan Kotěra and Josef Zasche 1912-1914
Jan Kotěra was a vocal critic of Cubism. He didn’t criticize the style in itself. He had issues with the way architects applied cubist principles. The Office Building of the General Pension Institute is rationalist, as most of his works. Nevertheless, some of its details are purely cubist.
The building stands out for its simple yet effective details. We can see them around the entrance door and the windows. A slanting marble surface surrounds the entrance on three sides. There are cascading elements on side windows, angular windows in the center, and triangular railing on the balconies.
Apartment Block in Prague 4
Address Boleslavova 45
Architect Karel Hannauer Sr. 1913-1914
We believe the massive Apartment Block in Prague 4 is not purely cubist. As Josef Chochol said, many architects used cubist elements to decorate their non-cubist buildings. That’s the case with architect Hannauer, who did a wonderful job on this building. He applied cubist details with utmost consistency.
The building’s form and details are cubist. Note the shape of the star and other slanting elements on the southern façade. These are everywhere. The western façade is especially cubist, with angular balconies and diamond reliefs. However, there are too many decorative elements. It almost looks like an art deco building.
Teachers’ Cooperative Apartment Buildings
Address Elišky Krásnohorské 10, 12 and 14
Architect Otakar Novotný 1917-1919
The last example of Czech Cubism in Prague is also the author’s most notable building. Architect Novotný embraced cubism when World War I was drawing to an end, but his work is essential in Prague’s architectural heritage.
The Three Apartment Buildings in downtown Prague are not as expressive as earlier cubist houses, and both its floor plans and façades seem functionalist. Nevertheless, gables, doorways, and the crystalline decorations between the upper floor windows are clearly cubist. We must not forget the unique coloring of the artificial stone façade, with yellow accentuating some windows.
The Švanda’s Theatre in Smichov
Address Štefánikova 6
Architect Ladislav Machoň 1918-1920
The Švanda’s Theatre in Smichov is the only theater in Prague with a clear cubist mark. It’s a 1918 reconstruction designed by the architect Ladislav Machoň. You’ll easily recognize its clear lines on the dichromatic façade in red and yellow.
The architect used the two colors to accentuate the different surfaces. He used red for the ground floor. For the rest of the façade, he used vertical plastic elements and decorations. Pay attention to the rhombus decoration on the ground floor and the triangular details on the cornice.
F.J. Materna Co. Office Building
Address Dělnická 313
Architect Rudolf Stockar 1920
The F.J. Materna’s Office Building is the best example of surface cubism in industrial architecture. The building used to be between smaller ones. These were later demolished. Today, it is part of a larger building that has nothing to do with the style.
It’s a two-story symmetrical façade painted in grey. Both the entrance door and the cornice have inclined lines forming a triangle. While the entrance lines go up, the ones in the cornice go down. Moldings made of artificial stone are on all the edges, including on doors and windows.
The Czechoslovak Legions Bank
Address Na Poříčí 24
Architect Josef Gočár 1922-1923
The first and probably the most famous rondocubist building gave the style its nickname: Legiobank style. The intricately decorated Legions Bank Building glorifies the heroism of Czech and Slovak legionaries who fought against the Germans. The ground and first floors are a rondocubist interpretation of the Roman victory arch. The rest of the floors lack sculptural decorations.
Circular geometric elements were used instead. They culminate in an elaborate cornice under a mansard roof. Wooden doors, floor mosaics, marble on the walls, and the spectacular domed roof over the bank’s central space, make for an incredibly lavish interior. The façade’s sculptures are by renowned Czech artist Otto Gutfreund.
The Adria Palace
Address Jungmannova 31
Architect Pavel Janák 1922-25
Another famous rondocubist building is the commercial and office building Adria Palace in downtown Prague. Pavel Janák won the architecture competition and designed a very unusual building. The two lower floors, sober in appearance, contrast with the elaborate upper floors.
Above the top floor, a series of tower structures are two additional floors. This pays homage to Italian renaissance architecture. The Italian insurance firm Riunione Adriatica di Sicurta owned the building. But Czech heritage is represented too. The façade sculptures depict the everyday lives of Czechs. The interior is richly decorated, in particular the large hall where the box offices stand.
Teachers’ Cooperative Apartment Building
Address Kamenická 35
Architect Otakar Novotný 1923
The last building on this list is a particularly interesting example of rondocubism. Once again, architect Novotný had to design an Apartment Building for the Teacher’s Cooperative. This time, however, he embraced a different kind of geometry. The symmetrical façade boasts round, spherical, and cylindrical forms inspired by recent works of Gočár and Janák.
Nevertheless, the lack of sculptures and simple geometrical forms result in a more puritan design. Since the author wanted to play with lights and shadows, he painted the façade in bright colors. In fact, this building is so simple that it reminds us of the original cubist style.
Books About Czech Cubism
Though Czech cubism is the country’s national style and defines many areas of Prague, there aren’t many books about it. A fantastic one is CZECH CUBISM 1909-1925 by Tomas Vlcek, Pavel Liska, and Jiri Svestka, a collector’s book. The authors include detailed information on the style with the brilliant input of celebrated experts. It is the book to own if you are into cubism.
The book Czech cubism by A. Ed. Von Vegesack is on cubism in architecture, furniture, and decorative arts. The Architecture and Cubism by Eve Blau is a collection of essays on the subject gathered by the Canadian Center for Architecture. The book explores the unusual connection between cubism in art and 20th Century modern architecture.