Depiction of the “industrial world” in the architecture of interwar Prague Cover Image
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Zobrazení „industriálního sveta“ v architekture meziválecné Prahy
Depiction of the “industrial world” in the architecture of interwar Prague

Author(s): Lenka Popelová
Subject(s): Fine Arts / Performing Arts
Published by: Historický ústav SAV, v. v. i.
Keywords: interwar architecture; Prague; art in architecture; industrial architecture

Summary/Abstract: The prominent German conservationist Axel Föhl, whose work focuses on industrial heritage, organized a section at the XIV Congress TICCIH in Freiberg in 2009 which, for the first time in the history of these congresses, dealt with the issue of how the arts (painting, sculpture, graphics, photography, film, literature) responded to the phenomenon of the industrial revolution and how the arts (particularly architectural sculpture) made a connection with the most highly industrial and technical architecture, as well to other typological categories of buildings. The interdisciplinary meetings were attended by historians of art and architecture, architects, museum workers and conservationists. The results were published in an anthology, later in 2013 in a monothematic number of the magazine Eselsohren (Art and the Industrial Revolution), in 2015 in an enlarged and supplemented Czech publication Industrial Buildings and the Arts (FÖHL, Axel – POPELOVÁ, Lenka (eds.), BOLLEREY, Franziska – SKREBSKÁ, Renata – KARLSTREMA, Inga – VIAENE, Patrick – ABILDGAAR, Hanne – GLAVOCIC, Daina. Industriál a_umení. Praha, CVUT 2015).The relationship between art and industry has been studied so far mainly in a connection with the visual arts. Even in the publication Industrial Buildings and the Arts, half of the contributions dealt with artistic manifestations, while the remainder concerned the interpretation of sculptural expressions on the theme of industry (as well as trade, finance and agriculture) for industrial and technical buildings, but also other typological ones. In this regard, the research target is unique. Although one of the most interesting aspects of industrial heritage, and one pointed out by such authors as Betsy Hunter Bradley (The Works: The Industrial Architecture of the United States, 1998) and Peter Navarson and Merlin Palmer (Industrial Archaeology, 2000), that topic has not been devoted sufficient attention. Only Gillian Darely has dealt completely with the description of the visual codes in industrial architecture in the book Factory, and at the same time he has emphasized their relation to social utopias of the era.Industrial heritage, as defined by the Charter for Industrial Heritage, consists of all the remains of the industrial culture which have a historical, technological, social, scientific or architectural value. Hence, the field of exploration necessarily includes the depiction of industrial processes and technologies, and the question of the aestheticisation of the industrial and technical buildings. By studying of these artistic expressions, information can be gained not only regarding the historical development of architecture and engineering, but also the development of processes and technologies (often already extinct), social and economic phenomena, lifestyle, etc. In addition, perhaps it could even encourage the protection of industrial buildings, as they are commonly perceived as inaesthetic; thus arguments stressing their possible artistic qualities are highly necessary.During the many years of research initiated by Axel Fohl, it was discovered that the Czech Republic, in comparison with other European countries (research has focused on European examples), is very rich in the type of art expressions studied. Based on her earlier research, Renata Skrebská examined the “Czech scene” (mainly focusing on Ostrava), and the author of this text dealt also with this theme earlier and later focused on the interwar Prague architecture. As a result, we will deal with this theme in the closest detail, apart from providing a summary of the research results in general.During the First Republic (1918 – 1938) all over the nation the theme of work, industry, as well trade, finance, agriculture, was chosen for the aesthetic and symbolic embellishing of the facades of major public buildings. The placement of sculptures on the facades was the primary use, for reasons similar to those in the 19th century: investors, the state and various private entities wanted to represent and explain the given institution or manufacturing, to celebrate the importance of industry in modern society, the national awareness transmitted into the shape of the symbolism and celebration of the newly formed state (see below). The communication of the buildings through their artistic manifestations clearly has a share in the actions of statebuilding, and even the utopian idea of building of a new state which will be socially fair is highly visible. The Prague collection is the largest (115 objects recorded while mapping continues) on the nationwide scale and thematically the most comprehensive (based on the industrial production of the Czech Republic). In the examined buildings, we find a balance between free sculptures and reliefs; the figurative representation dominates over the non figurative. In the studied period, there are four main streams of architectural sculptures, linked to similar formal stances in architecture: classicist tendencies or neoclassicism (traditionalist tendencies) were represented the most, civilism less so, and artdeco and modernistabstract forms sporadically. The principles applied for the integration of the sculptures into the compositional system of the facades made reference to classic patterns developed particularly in Baroque palace facades, in which the sculptural accents are integrated into the system of architectural morphology.The iconography of the studied sculptures is very rich. We can see the origin of many topics in the 19th century and earlier. In particular, the iconographic range is enriched with an awareness of social issues and a truer representation of industrial reality, specific professions, technologies, etc. (the appearance of new professions such as mechanic, the presence of the airplane and the telephone as a normal part of life).The use of sculpted decorations re ects the continuing efforts towards a connection of architecture to sculpture in the monitored period, and demonstrates the quality of the cooperation between many talented architects and sculptors of that time (the research summarizes the most important sculptors involved in this effort). Nonetheless, many authors of the studied works are still unknown, and in some cases the specific authorship probably will not even be possible to confirm.Most of the studied examples are from the 1920s. The onset of the financial crisis in the 1930s restricted new construction and architectural competitions, and thus the use of architectural sculpture. Moreover, an equal factor is the rise of Functionalism in the Czech architectural scene, which had no place for sculptures on the facades.The research of the author in this field is still underway.

  • Issue Year: 50/2016
  • Issue No: 1-2
  • Page Range: 76-91
  • Page Count: 16
  • Language: Czech