Prague Cubism Architecture
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Not Just Cubes
In chronological order, Cubism should directly follow Art Nouveau but in reality they ran side by side for 10 years or so. Prague Cubism was a very short lived era starting in 1911 and finishing in Prague in 1924 but wow it left some really original exteriors and many stunning interiors. Note that I now run a Prague Architecture Tour for people who want to really get into who built this city and why.
Prague Cubism arrived a bit too late to take advantage of all the new building work going on in parts of the city so it exists largely as a collection of separate buildings and mostly outside of the Old Town although there are a couple of exceptions. You’ll find that we have a Czech Cubism Museum in Prague and it’s no accident that it resides in one of the few Cubist buildings in the Old Town. Called the Czech Cubism Museum and also the House at the Black Madonna, this will be most peoples only view of a Cubist building. I’ll come back to this place later.
Again Paris led the way but the Czechs were more influenced by people like Pablo Picasso and George Braque. By 1912 several well known architects and artists broke away (much like the Jungedstil faction 15 years previously) and set about creating their own style. In Czech this became known as “Rondocubism” or the more popular “Cubo-Expressionism”. Prague Cubism was cutting-edge stuff, the first art form to carry a spiritualist element and use hard geometric shapes. Cubism was all about fracturing surfaces (Cubo-Expressionists believed that objects carried an “inner energy” which had to be released by splitting both the horizontal and vertical surfaces) which created the distinctive “Pyramid” and “Crystal” window forms. Personally I think this style is best seen on a sunny day when the natural shadows and shades of the design can be seen more clearly.
Where to See Prague Cubism
There are three places that I personally like. The closest and most popular is the House at the Black Madonna mentioned earlier. From the Old Town Square head in the direction of Celetna and it’s the last building on the right. The staircase in the building is unique in the city and a somewhat unexpected design addition. Not only is the building an impressive example of Prague Cubism, it also houses the museum so you can see lots of different pieces of decorative art and also take advantage of the first floor cafe (Grand Cafe Orient) which you can read about on my favourite cafes page. The second place is next to the Hotel Intercontinental (at the back next to the square and pictured above) and that place is the single biggest Cubism apartment block in the city (built for teachers – it’s on the route of the Old Town and Jewish Quarter Walking Tour). Finally there’s the Adria Palace, at first glance not regular Cubism as it has Italian Renaissance mixed in as well (Adria Palace is on the route of the Prague City Walking Tour). To see all the most interesting places you’ll need to check the link below for stand-alone Cubism buildings.
If you want to explore then take a look at the Map of Cubism Buildings in Prague (external link to a PDF file so let me know if this breaks).
The next era – ART DECO