Old Prague and New
Gothic to Baroque
The Gothic influence from France in the early 13th century introduced taller, wider, and more delicate buildings. Most notable in Prague is the landmark St. Vitus Cathedral, built within the castle walls. Work began on the cathedral in 1344, initially in Gothic revival style. However, taking 1000 years to complete, it provides its own history of the city's architectural styles and influences.
Take, for example, the bell tower, originally designed as Gothic by Parler in 1392. It was completed 160 years later in Renaissance style with rendered brickwork and a copper-covered cupola. When lightning damaged the cupola in 1760, it was replaced by the current three-tiered baroque edifice.
Examples of Renaissance architecture can be seen in the Mala Strana (small quarter of the Old Town), located on the hill between the castle and River Vltava. Narrow streets, Renaissance palaces, and baroque churches give Mala Strana its present charm.
The Parler-designed Charles Bridge, built in 1357, is the most famous tourist attraction in Prague. However, the baroque-style statues that it is famous for were not added until 17th century.
Prague's Old Town has been the working heart of the city ever since the 10th century. Many of the buildings have Gothic insides and Romanesque basements. Most of them received baroque facades during rebuilding in 17th and 18th centuries after a city-wide fire.
A beautiful example is the baroque onion-domed roof of the Sitkovsky water mill, which stands today although the rest of the works were replaced by a functionalist gallery by Czech architect, Otakar Novotny.
Revivalism and Art Nouveau
The National Theater was originally designed by Josef Zitek in the late 19th century. Since then several spaces have been added; the most lavish by Karel Prager in 1980. This consists of a square auditorium clad with glass sound insulation blocks.
In 1905 architect Jan Koula embraced the new era when he designed the Svatopluka Cecha Bridge over the Vltava. Significant for bridging the two riverbanks of unequal height, its light steel structure has a delicate lace-like detail.
The Grand Hotel Europa on Wenceslas Square has one of the best preserved art nouveau facades in Prague. Designed by Bedrich Bendelmayer, Alois Dryak and Bedrich Ohmann it is a cornucopia of extravagant details including mosaics, metalwork, and elaborate light fittings.
Czech Modernism and Functionalism
Jan Kotera planted the seed of Czech modernism in his Urbanek Publishing House design by using planes of bricks to create geometric facades.
In a quiet suburban neighborhood of Prague is Villa Muller, designed by Austrian architect, Adolf Loos along with Karel Lhota in 1928. This almost minimalist design is simple, in contrast with the bourgeois interiors of Prague's past. Considered to be one of Loos's finest works, it illustrates his belief that space was something to be experienced: "A building should be dumb on the outside and reveal its wealth only on the inside."
Revealing a combination of modernist and cubist influences, Joze Plecnik designed the Church of the Sacred Heart in 1922. It is a single-nave church with a massive tower that houses a glass clock, creating a stunning and unusual effect.
Simplicity and purposefulness are key to functionalism, examples of which are abundant in Prague. The L-shaped secondary school on the outskirts of the city by Czech architect, Evzen Linhart is a classic example of an effective use of space applicable to the building's purpose.
Milan Babuska originally designed the ARA department store on Stare Mesto in the New Town for textile merchant, Amschelberg. This sleek, white, steel-structured building was one of the first to suspend the curved corner tower from the top floors.
Around the corner on Wenceslas Square is the avant-garde Bat'a department store, which was designed to sell footwear in the 1930s. Its massive expanse of plate glass allowed the company to advertise its products, thus fulfilling its function.
Communism and Cubism
The beautiful Hotel Praha, in a residential suburb of the city, was built for the leading members of the Czechoslovak Communist Party to entertain and promote Czech industry. No expense was spared in its construction. The building was shaped to the contours of the hillside. It still bears chilling reminders of its past, like the electrified fencing, now switched off!
A prominent feature of the Prague skyline is the Zizkov TV Tower, which is considered a masterpiece of communist design. This three-pillared tower is modeled on a Soyuz space rocket. Very much out of place and not popular with the locals, it was planned under the communists who tore up part of the adjacent Jewish Cemetery to make way for it.