From Technical Beauty to the Medern Aesthetic and Bbck: Unrealised industrial buildings of Josef Marek in the context of modern architectural development 1900 – 1939 Cover Image

Od technickej krásy k estetike moderny a späť: erealizované priemyselné stavby Josefa Mareka v kontexte vývoja modernej architektúry 1900 – 1939
From Technical Beauty to the Medern Aesthetic and Bbck: Unrealised industrial buildings of Josef Marek in the context of modern architectural development 1900 – 1939

Author(s): Katarína Haberlandová
Subject(s): Fine Arts / Performing Arts
Published by: Historický ústav SAV, v. v. i.
Keywords: industrial architecture in the context of inter-war modernism in Czechoslovakia; architect Josef Marek and his sketches of industrial architecture

Summary/Abstract: The present contribution addresses the analysis of the industrial buildings designed by architect Josef Marek during the 1920s against the background of the era’s discourse on the development of modern architecture and its mutual relations with industrial construction as its specific yet at the same time integral component, not only as the bearer of technical mastery but no less of its own aesthetic values.Born in Petrovice in Moravia, Josef Marek arrived in Slovakia as part of the generation of Czech architects to settle there after the founding of the first Czechoslovak Republic in 1918. His previous activities and studies on the Czech side of the state are still shrouded in mystery, and we do not even have any clear idea as to the circumstances of his settling in Trnava. It is, however, known that he studied architecture at the Prague Academy of Fine Arts under Jan Kotěra, graduating in 1914.Knowledge of the architectonic oeuvre of Josef Marek has long been superficial and insufficient.Moreover, very few scholars would classify him as a designer of industrial structures. However, we must recall that a thorough knowledge of an architect’s legacy should include not only realized buildings, but the entire range of study sketches, unrealised projects and competition entries. In this sense, we can find support in a range of instances involving other architects who – despite the creation of a body of work of international fame – are regarded a priori as having nothing to do with industrial realisations, yet are found, in a systematic study of their work, to have been greatly fascinated by the theme of industrial building design, and even to have created highly mature projects in this area at a quite early stage in their careers. One example is no less of a figure than Le Corbusier (1887 – 1965). Marián Polášek (*1932), a Slovak architect involved with industrial architecture not only on the level of realisations but also in terms of its theory, has determined Le Corbusier to have been the author of the never-realised projects of two exceptionally advanced industrial buildings with Functionalist elements – the food-processing works in Challuy and Garchize from 1917 – 1918.A similar opportunity for Slovak architectural history is presented by the chance to find work of this kind within the creative legacy of Josef Marek, which uncovers new correspondences in our view of his oeuvre, but above all documents his changes of viewpoint derived from his study of contemporary art, architectural creation, and the theory of all architectural areas, including industrial structures, even though most likely none of his designs were ever built. The one exception includes certain indications that Marek could have participated in the construction of the Hnilec Dam near the village of Dedinky in the ‘Slovak Paradise’ nature reserve, though his precise involvement is unclear. It is, however, true that among his sketches from 1922 is one of a valley-dam and hydroelectric station. And more importantly, a great many more similar sketches can be found among his papers. It is thus clear how, in interwar Czechoslovakia, industrial themes found resonance even among architects for whom they did not form a primary sphere of interest let alone a livelihood. Industrial building, in a word, was unavoidable within the discourse, as can be seen most evidently from the authentic thoughts voiced in the Czech, and later Czechoslovak, architectural and artistic periods from the period 1900 – 1939.Among the first Czech artistic journals, founded in 1897, was Volné směry. In 1900, this periodical published an article by architect Jan Kotěra (1871 – 1923), which was long regarded as the definitive manifesto of Czech modern architecture. However, in 1998 Otakar Nový cast doubt on this belief through an essay claiming that Kotěra’s piece was only a slightly altered reproduction of several lapidary thoughts of his teacher, Otto Wagner, published in the volume Die modern Architektur in 1895. Kotěra primarily re-stated Wagner’s principles of function-structure-poetry, in which function and structure were elevated above the poetic aspects. Though Nový’s analysis discounts the major contribution that the article made to Czech architecture, the shift in terms of privileging construction above ornament was of vital significance. And in addition, Kotěra called forth for the clear expression of new themes, industry not excepted. At the same time, the era witnessed the founding of other Czech journals. Jan Kotěra was part of the group that in 1907 founded the periodical published by the ‘Mánes Fine Arts Association’ – the monthly review of architecture, crafts and urban design entitled Styl. In 1912, this journal published an article by one of its most active editors, architect Otakar Novotný (1880 – 1959), “The Creation of Form in Architecture” (Tvoření formy v architektuře). In the author’s view, what in the current era prevented a recognition of the aesthetic values of industrial architecture was primarily that modern materials, such as cast iron or reinforced concrete, had not yet been used in monumental structures such as those of ancient Assyria or Egypt. At the same time, there were already international realisations of reinforcedconcrete structures of truly monumental dimensions employed in industrial structures. For Czech architecture, one key moment was the development of ‘mushroom ceilings’ by 1912, when after prolonged difficulties lasting since 1907 the first major reinforced-concrete structure, Prague’s Palace Lucerna, was completed, and even more notably in 1917 – 1918, with the creation of the Praga automotive works in the Prague suburb of Libeň.The year of 1918 and the creation of a Czechoslovak state out of the Hapsburg Empire formed an important historic milestone for architects in both the Czech and Slovak sections, including among other events the arrival of a significant number of Czech architects in Slovakia during the course of 1919. Josef Marek was by this point no longer one of the youngest creators, and among other factors was definitely affected by the intense experience of combat on the southern (Austrian-Serbian) front during World War I. Among his papers are a number of drawings not only from the Yugoslav lands, but also from Slovakia, revealing not only his artistic talents but no less his inquiring nature. In 1922, Marek began work on his first major project – the Lutheran Church in Trnava. And from roughly the same period date his sketches of a quite different typology – technical structures. Most interesting, particularly in terms of our knowledge of the development of Bratislava’s ‘Winter Port’, are his sketches of a dockside warehouse with grain silos. Marek drew these sketches in May of 1921, during the construction of the still-extant Warehouse no. 7 – the only surviving instance, though also the finest example, of interwar multi-storey storage structures in the Bratislava river port. Particularly noteworthy are the formal elements that Marek captured in his sketches and reveal his exceptional awareness of the development of modern architecture (including industrial manifestations) and the leading theoretical debates of the early 20th century. The extant Warehouse no. 7, dating from 1921 – 1922 is, like the Praga works in Prague, the design of Czech engineer Stanislav Bechyně, realized by the firm of Karel Skorkovský. Indeed, it could even be considered a reduction of the forms of ‘Pragovka’, and there is nothing to indicate that any person with strictly architectural training was involved in Bratislava. In structural terms, the two buildings are practically identical: a reinforced-concrete frame structure with mushroom-headed columns, in other words the structural form that Bechyně derived from the Emperger system. In parallel with our increased knowledge of Warehouse no. 7, it is interesting to follow the formal elements of the building’s architecture as depicted in Josef Marek’s sketch, with two vital elements that had acquired a kind of symbolic significance in the era’s architecture: the cylindrical grain silos and the arcades. Cylindrical silos had become regarded as a key symbol of the modern industrial society starting with the yearbook of the Werkbundu in1913, entering into the discourse of the industrial buildings designed by Peter Behrens, Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, or Frank Lloyd Wright. In this respect, Gropius asserted that “the aesthetic beauty of factory buildings acts as an advertisement” and recalled the refinement and power of the AEG buildings by Behrens in Berlin as well as the monumentality of American grain elevators and manufacturing halls.Though Marek’s study of the river-port warehouse clearly contains the greatest amount of material for more extensive analysis, it is far from being the only sketch of this type created by the architect during the 1920s that is worth our attention. Dating from March and April of 1922 are his sketches of a ‘Martin Furnace’, i.e. the Siemens-Martin blast furnace of basin type for transforming molten iron into steel. It is not entirely clear what led Marek to sketch precisely this type of structure. In March, when the architect completed the first sketch, the steelworks has an open horizontal form, in which the ground floor is articulated by a row of rounded windows, the floor above by an arcade, and the upper levels by straight rows of columns. Rising from the roof are five high chimneys. On the sides, in the second field, there are towers with cupolas – though it is hard to say if these are simply a formal counterpoint to the Classicist vocabulary contrasting with the functionalist style of the main furnace building, or in fact a technological component of the steelworks. In any event, the sketches from a month later show the central architectural volume dominated not by classical arched arcades but instead by columns expanding upwards. The basic form of the structure, the popular nautical element of the porthole windows, the Corbusier-like columns of conical shape – all these are elements that reveal Marek’s highly up-to-date approach.At the same time, it is worth recalling the sketch of aircraft hangars from September 1922, clearly a reaction to one of the most vital priorities for industrial buildings in Czechoslovakia, i.e. the construction of airports and establishment of modern air travel. Aviation and the private automobile were in fact one of the most basic phenomena of the modern era, reflected in terms of new living styles, architecture and design. In this area, architects had many possible inspirations. Josef Marek’s attention was evidently captured by the most iconic structure of this type: the hangar (1916) at Orly by the French engineer and specialist in reinforced concrete, Eugene Freyssinet (1879 – 1962). Marek also sketched a cross-sction of Lossier’s hangars in Normandy, as mentioned in the beginning, and on the reverse side of this sketch planned four monumental reinforced-concrete structures for hangars of parabolic shape with signal lights, a group of people standing in front of the hangars, and a flying biplane for a pure demonstration of his enjoyment of the modern era.Before their settlement in Slovakia, the group of young Czech architects had followed modern architectural struggles in their homeland, which had been started by their teachers and which they themselves planned to continue. The creation of the new republic also brought with itself new economic conditions. Weakened by the effects of war, Europe needed modern industry, yet on the other hand the economic conditions frequently hindered its development, as can be seen quite clearly in the dramatic growth and subsequent rapid slump affecting the river port in Bratislava. Hence the opportunities for the design of modern industrial architecture were limited – yet at the same time, its influence within architectonic creation and theory continued and even grew more intensive. Dating from 1922 is an article by Jaromír Krejcar (1895 – 1949), a revealing polemic that accurately captures the doubts regarding the level of the uptake of expressive means of industrial architecture into other spheres, and in particular residential architecture. Krejcar at the outset repeats Novotný’s division of building into science and art, yet regards the separation of these two components as more suited to the intellectual stance of the 19th century: both of these components, he argues, are so firmly affixed to each other that it is hard to speak of them separately but instead as mutual conditions. He thus praises the work of engineers, being continually confronted with new requirements for modern construction and thus naturally forced to a position at the front of the era.Through observation of the mutual connections and links in the various dimensions of architecture, we can see how complex its development was in the first half of the 20th century. Analysis of the sketches of industrial architecture by Josef Marek should remind us how vital it is to look at non-realised works to complete our knowledge of an architect’s approach to creation as well to the entire intellectual framework of an era.A second important motif is the question of the position of industrial architecture in the formulation of architectural Modernism. Here, the author inclines towards the hypothesis that industrial architecture was a precedent for Functionalism, or rather that the entrance of industrial architecture into the development of modern building should be seen as a long-term phenomenon in which the transfer of elements took place as a mutual, sometimes unequal but mutually conditional process. The theme of modern industrial architecture is continually a source of great possibilities for research as well in the sense of its consideration forming a firm component of the cultural heritage of architecture in the 20th century.

  • Issue Year: 48/2014
  • Issue No: 3-4
  • Page Range: 250-269
  • Page Count: 20
  • Language: Slovak