Architecture rarely evokes as much divisive emotions in society as it does in the case of brutalism. Some consider it an indelible reminder of the past regime, while others see it as a gem of post-war Czechoslovak architecture. The term derives from the French phrase “béton brut,” meaning raw concrete, and it defines the essence of buildings in this style. The emphasis on exposed concrete structures and rough expressive simplicity can also be found in the representatives of this style in Prague, although few of them are labeled as genuine, unadulterated brutalism by theorists. Let’s explore where the truth lies and whether these brutalist structures are truly the concrete monsters that mar the streets of Prague or if they conceal beauty within them, enduring the straightforward glances of passers-by unjustly.
Info about road
Duration: 43 minut
Number of stops: 6 + 6
Lenght: 3,3 km
MHD start: Právnická fakulta
MHD end: I. P. Pavlova
The famous Intercontinental Hotel has been a part of Pařížská Street for fifty years. This nine-story reinforced concrete structure came into being through an unusual collaboration between Czechoslovakia and the American hotel chain IHG, a subsidiary of Pan Am Airlines, which planned to build a luxury hotel specifically for its customers. The design was carried out by the prominent Prague-based studio Epsilon, led by Karel Filsak. The hotel itself is a massive solitary building devoid of excessive ornamentation, with an irregular rhythm of vertical bands on the facade, alternating between concrete “blades,” glass window strips, and colorful tile cladding reminiscent of the roofs of the Old Town. In contrast, the interiors were filled with rare works of art and accessories by top artists such as Stanislav Libenský, René Roubíček, and graphic designer Jiří Rathouský, who created the hotel’s logo. In 2021, the building unsuccessfully applied for cultural monument status and is currently undergoing renovation under the direction of the architectural studio TaK Architects.
Department store Kotva
The Kotva department store was planned as the first modern department store in Prague at the time. Together with the later Máj department store on Národní třída, it responded to a changing market demand and the inadequate commercial network in the capital city. The architectural competition selected the couple Machonin from the Alfa studio, who came up with a design that integrated well into the diverse historical structure of the city and offered significant retail space. The architects achieved this through a sophisticated system of 28 reinforced concrete columns with inclined braces, supporting a set of hexagonal slabs across the floors. The open floor plan, resembling a honeycomb, had an area of 22,160 square meters at the time of its opening and was designed to serve 75,000 customers daily. Although the Machonins were instrumental in one of the most elaborate projects of the 1970s, they were eventually deemed undesirable by the regime, and their authorship rights to the Kotva department store were taken away. They were not invited to the opening of the building and were not recognized as the architects anywhere. After the revolution, they even had to prove their association with the design of Kotva.
Department store Družba
This massive corner building was constructed as an administrative and commercial house to complement the commercial network in the capital city. However, unlike Kotva or Máj, it was aimed at the wealthiest clientele. The design by architects Vlastibor Klimeš, Milan Vašek, and Vratislav Růžička won an international competition. Their plans included office spaces on the upper floors and luxury retail areas on the ground floor. The building features a protruding facade composed of a lightweight glass envelope with aluminum windows and substantial display cases, contrasting with the heavy limestone cladding. One reminder of the past is the yellow emblem of the Union of Czech and Moravian Production Cooperatives located on the corner facing Jindřišská Street. The building was constructed in parallel with the development of the Prague metro, so its first underground floor has an entrance from the metro vestibule. The building also includes a cylindrical extension housing the Duplex club.
The six-story building with a blue enamel sheet metal facade and green windows in the style of moderate brutalism filled a gap in the historic urban fabric in the 1980s. Despite its vibrant colors, the Teplotechna building harmoniously blends with its historical surroundings. Sculptor Miloslav Chlupáč contributed to the artistic treatment of the exterior of the building, and his influence can also be observed in the New Building of the National Museum and the Prager’s Cubes. The quartet of exposed concrete braces supporting two large bay windows is adorned with Chlupáč’s initially subtle reliefs called “Plastic Patterns.” The structure was originally intended primarily as a dormitory but ended up being occupied by the corporate administration of Teplotechna. Today, the building continues to serve administrative purposes, supplemented by hotel apartments on the top floor and a small bistro on the ground floor.
The Central Dispatch Center of the Public Transit Company
The Central Dispatch Center of the Public Transit Company was built simultaneously with the launch of the Metro Line C. The construction required the demolition of six residential buildings, which were replaced by a trio of interconnected blocks. While the architecturally well-conceived facade made of brutishly shaped black metal elements couldn’t fully compensate for the enormous size of the entire structure, it received criticism even at its grand opening. Although the building doesn’t appear overly massive when viewed from the street, it is hard to overlook from a distance. The most striking feature is the enormous black tower housing the control centers of Prague’s transportation system. Various floors house dispatching hubs not only for the metro, trams, and buses but also for the traffic police headquarters and tunnel traffic management.
The Urology Clinic of the General University Hospital
The building of the Urology Clinic at the General University Hospital (VFN) complements the existing healthcare facilities, and the design by the architect couple Růžička aimed to harmonize with the Prague skyline and the surrounding historic buildings. For these reasons, the facade features concrete “blades” combined with tile cladding that responds to the decorative masonry of the neighboring Neo-Gothic Provincial Maternity Hospital with its colorful appearance. The Urology Clinic building is divided into two parts – a massive multi-story base and a sitting block with regular horizontal bands on top. The varied concrete surfaces and material combinations enhance its dramatic character. Just beyond the entrance doors, there is a sculpture inside depicting a family, created by the artistic duo Jaroslava Brychtová and Stanislav Libenský.
Stops out of the road
The current Ministry of the Interior building was previously the headquarters of the foreign trade company Centrotex, which was responsible for the export and import of Czechoslovak textiles. Originally located in the Veletržní Palace, it moved to this brutalist new building after a fire in the 1970s. The grand administrative structure consists of two parts, referred to as the “cow” and the “calf” due to their different sizes. The concrete crowns on the tops of the buildings, resembling horns, may also allude to these nicknames. The facade, made of anodized aluminum with an intricate grid, serves as a sunshade. The building has a recessed first floor, and a notable feature is the adjacent concrete ventilation shaft from the metro. A sculptural granite relief at the exit of the Pražského povstání metro station references the historic event of the same name from 1945 and is the work of sculptor Stanislav Hanzík.
The department store specializing in furniture sales, designed by a prominent Czech architect, is almost the only realized part of the originally grand project for the then Budějovické náměstí. Similar to the older Kotva department store, also designed by the same architect, this modern shopping center stands out for its sophisticated operational design and the use of weathering steel, known as corten. The black horizontally divided facade of the department store has become a typical example of this material’s usage, which, together with red accents, creates a perfect combination representing the rising living standards of Czechoslovak society at that time. Not only the window frames but also the interior were designed in red, such as the concrete relief by Slavoj Nejdl or the massive wooden artistic ceiling panels. After the revolution, the building was occupied by the newly arrived IKEA in Czechoslovakia. Following their relocation to a new headquarters in Zličín in 2006, the original department store was adapted to current needs and trends, resulting in significant irreversible damage to a substantial part of the interior. It was during this time that the building lost its genius loci.
The former Koospol foreign trade company complex is characterized by unconventional shapes and exposed concrete. The cubic administrative building, almost levitating above the horizontal base, is complemented by a system of ramps, staircases, terraces, and parking lots, along with an entrance bridge that warmly welcomes visitors from Evropská Street. The entire composition creates a unique space meticulously designed down to the smallest detail. The complex was established as the headquarters of Koospol after losing its previous location in the Veletržní Palace fire, similar to other foreign trade companies. The building near the Džbán reservoir served as its home until the fall of the regime when it ceased to exist. The building underwent significant renovations at the turn of the millennium, including the removal of the garden in the inner atrium, which was replaced by a covered reception area with a pyramid-shaped glass structure that enclosed the previously open skylight. Various companies of different sizes then relocated to the building. To continue serving its purpose, the building underwent further reconstruction, including modifications to the front area and the adjacent architecturally modified garden.
Folimanka sports hall
The black sports hall for basketball, shaped like an inverted pyramid, was built as part of the construction of the Nusle Bridge, as a part of the overall concept and improvement of the surrounding area. The steel structure narrows towards the top and stands out with the use of dark materials such as aluminum, anthracite glazing, and slate strips on the ground floor of the building. The entrance is complemented by an orange owl logo designed by Karel Pekárek, who also created the navigation system. Preserved elements from that time include staircases, seating, lighting fixtures, and ceiling panels. Thanks to a large budget and a law requiring a percentage of the investment in the construction to be allocated to art, there are several valuable sculptures in the vicinity. Worth mentioning is the sculpture “Basketball Player” by Zdeněk Němeček, located near the sports hall, as well as the sculptures “Gymnast” and “Undressing.” Nearby, you will also come across a monument titled “Memento Mori” by contemporary artist Krištof Kintera, which is a lamp shining upwards towards the sky.
Main Station Hall
The spacious and generous concourse, which also houses the entrance to the metro, seamlessly connects to the historic railway station building designed by Josef Fanta. Despite a 70-year gap between the construction of the old and new buildings, they complement each other in architectural details. Two glass cylindrical staircases with domes in front of the entrance resemble the towers of the original Art Nouveau structure. The interior design focused on easy maintenance, resulting in minimal sharp corners throughout the hall, even the staircase is rounded. This element can be attributed to Alena Šrámková, as well as the alternating bands of light and dark flooring, which create a sense of faster movement within the hall. The most iconic detail is the red coffered ceiling with exposed air conditioning ducts and lighting fixtures consisting of fluorescent tube pipes set in circular openings. Between 2006 and 2010, the concourse underwent reconstruction according to Patrik Kotase’s design, which significantly changed the concept and layout of the space while preserving valuable high-tech details from the 1970s.
Central telecommunications building
The tower of the central telecommunications building has become one of the landmarks of the Prague skyline, earning it the nickname “Mordor” due to its unconventional shape. It is part of a complex that, at the time of its opening, became not only the largest building in Czechoslovakia in terms of enclosed space but also the largest telecommunications building in Europe. It had 18 floors and 72,000 square meters of usable area. The building was unique not only in its facade design and artistic decoration but also in the cutting-edge technologies used inside. The complex consists of two buildings – the tower emerges from the first building, housing extensive technological halls inside and offices around the perimeter, while the second building contains administrative facilities and a dining area. Since the 1990s, “Mordor” has served as the headquarters for SPT Telecom and later for O2 Telefónica. Currently, the entire complex is undergoing demolition, with plans by the developer Central Group to transform it into a new residential and commercial area of the city.