The House of the Suicide

The House of the Suicide

Before you read this post you’ll need to read Jan Palach, Icon. There are three parts to the project by American Architect and Sculptor John Hejduk, two houses and a poem. It’s full title is often reported as “The House of the Suicide and the House of the Mother of the Suicide”. It’s a strange title which you will question after you have read Jan Palach, Icon. Read on to find the current name.

two metal structures both 2.8 metres square and both with spikes on the top. one on the left is made from stainless steel and the one on the right from weathering steel
House of the Son and House of the Mother

What Am I looking At?

This picture shows the houses with the Rudolfinum in the background. You see two structures. They are both 9 feet square (2.8m x 2.8m). The silver coloured one represents Jan Palach and is completely sealed. The rusty coloured one represents his mother (there is a door at the back of this one and if open you can go inside and use the steps to get to the window that looks onto the other house). Between them on the ground is David Shapiro’s poem.

The Inspirations

Following the death of Jan Palach on January 19th 1969 a poem was written by an American called David Shapiro entitled “The Funeral of Jan Palach”. I’ll come back to this further down the page and the poem’s influence on Hejduk but interestingly the main inspiration appears to be a painting by Paul Cezanne and it’s name is “The House of the Hanged Man”. It’s an empty abandoned house with the branches of a tree rising upwards above it.

The Original Concept

hand-drawn sketches showing a small building with spiky roof

The first sketches by John Hejduk were made between 1980 and 1982 and it’s clear that the design was to be only for one house to be called the House of Suicide. Note the text saying “metal shards of memory” and the original idea for the “tin house”. It’s not clear that he ever had the intention of anything physical being built. In 1985 he met and became friends with David Shapiro. As a result of this friendship Hejduk revised his original plans to include the second House of the Mother. In 1986 a group of students under an architecture professor by the name of James Williamson at the Georgia Institute of Technology were inspired to build both structures basically made of wood and covered with sheet metal. This took 4 years.

The Poem

a poem called the funeral of jan palach
David Shapiro poem – The Funeral of Jan Palach

Following the death of Jan Palach, David Shapiro wrote his poem called “The Funeral of Jan Palach”. He was 22 years old when he wrote it.

The Prague Connection

In 1991, Vaclav Havel had been president for just short of 2 years when John Hejduk was invited to Prague Castle for an exhibition of his work. He brought with him a copy of the Georgia Tech structures which were dedicated to Vaclav Havel and were installed in the Imperial Gardens at Prague Castle. These original houses had fallen into disrepair by the year 2000 and were removed to storage.

The Current Version

John Hejduk died in the year 2000 but it was his wish that the sculptures find a permanent home in the city. In 2014 it was agreed that the city of Prague would have free copyright license to build the structures on one condition, that James Williamson oversaw the project. The contract was given to the Kruntorád metalworks. This time it was to be all metal, Jan Palach in Stainless Steel shot blasted with glass, the Mother made of Corten Steel (also called Weathering Steel).

The inauguration was January 16th 2016. The original plan was to position them directly in front of the Rudolfinum but the statue of Antonin Dvorak would have been moved. Instead they picked a spot 100 metres away fittingly adjacent to the Faculty of Arts and Design (Umprum in the map above). It has a new name, “The House of the Son and the House of the Mother” in recognition of Jan Palach’s own words.

Further Reading

It’s in Czech so you’ll need to use Google Translator but it’s a reference for the entire project from the sketches, through the original wooden structures up to the present day. Read the House of Suicide – Gallery Hlavni Mesto Praha.

The House of the Suicide

time to read: 3 min