Functionalism in the Czech Republic is found everywhere. Known for its romantic atmosphere; the beautiful historic buildings; the many churches and castles; its natural beauty; its delicious beer and the colorful Christmas markets that can be admired when visiting in the early winter months; the Czech Republic is one of the leading centers for this unique architectural style.
Examples of functionalism in the Czech Republic can be found in several locations, but it’s in Prague and Brno that you can admire the most interesting ones, and if you are taking advantage of the country finally reopening its borders to fully vaccinated travelers, you should not miss the opportunity to visit at least a couple of them.
In this post, I will show you the best examples of functionalism in the Czech Republic, describing the most notable buildings in the two main cities and in a few other olaces. However, let me start by explaining exactly what functionalist architecture is.
What Is Functionalism?
The architectural style known as functionalism emerged from the ashes of modernism in the wake of World War I, and became more and more important in the late 1920s. Back then, architecture was seen as a means to creating a better world for people – which is why functionalism is often linked to socialism when it comes to a political current, and to modern humanism.
The core principle on which functionalism is based is that buildings should be designed by keeping in mind their function and purpose. One of functionalism’s prime representatives believed that:
there should be no features about a building which are not necessary for convenience, construction, or propriety [and] all ornament should consist of enrichment of the essential construction of the building.Augustus Welby Pugin, The true principles of pointed or Christian architecture.
Most functionalist buildings you will see in the Czech Republic appear to be really plain in design, almost austere if compared to the elaborate, intricate buildings typical of the Art Nouveau which was typical of the beginning of the 20th century. Many believe that for the sake of purpose, functionalism set aside aesthetics. But upon a closer look, many functionalist buildings are a true work of art and careful engineering, and actually extremely beautiful in their simplicity.
The most prominent functionalism representative was the Swiss architect Le Corbusier, the mastermind behind the Bat’a project in Zlín – probably the most famous functionalist expression in the country. Other great examples of this architectural trend are found in Brno and Prague. Should you visit these cities, here are the buildings you should not miss.
9 Best Examples Of Functionalism In The Czech Republic
Bat’a project, Zlín
In the 1930s the city of Zlín was completely reconstructed according to the guiding principles of functionalism. The headquarters of the (now) internationally known Bata Shoes company, it was its owner Tomáš Baťa who pushed for the reconstruction of the city according to this architectural trend. His idea was to make sure that the role of the Bata factory in the city and for its society would be highlighted in full.
Most of the city – both public and private buildings – was thus built using materials such as red bricks, glass, reinforced concrete, according to the design of Gahura, one of Le Corbusier’s students. Make sure not to miss the Villa of Tomáš Baťa, Baťa’s Hospital, Tomas Bata Memorial, The Grand Cinema and the Baťa’s Skyscraper.
Villa Tugendhat, Brno
A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001, this is one of the best examples of functionalism in the Czech Republic. The villa is not located in the center of Brno – yet it’s worth the effort of getting all the way there. The construction of the villa was commissioned by the Tugendhats, a Jewish couple who had inherited the land. It was designed by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohes and built in the 1930s.
The villa is characterized by large rooms with massive windows and doors that open onto a beautiful park. It was confiscated by the Gestapo during WWII to be used as an office. Only in 1967 the villa was returned to the family. In 1969 it was added to the list of National Cultural Heritage sites.
Villa Tugendhat was opened to the public in 1994. It can be visited on guided tours that must be booked in advance directly on the villa’s website.
Hotel Avion, Brno
Designed by functionalist architect Bohuslav Fuchs and located on Česká Street in Brno, the Hotel Avion was built after WWII.
It is known to be one of the narrowest hotels in Europe. The shape of the building is due to the narrow plot that Fuchs had to begin with. He wanted to create a continuous space, with rooms set around a central core, where the first and second floor are devoted to a café and the other floors are all for guests rooms. The facade is characterized by large windows with opalized glass.
The building was nationalized in 1948, when it became part of the Československé hotely enterprise. Unfortunately, the almost complete lack of maintenance caused the hotel to fall into despair.
Hotel Avion received guests until the early 1990s. Renovation works started in 2017 with the aim to restore it to its original beauty.
Café Era, Brno
This is one of the most interesting functionalist buildings in Brno. Designed in 1927 and built between 1928 and 1929 by architect Josef Kranz to become a restaurant (on the ground floor), a café (on the first floor) and a residential building (on the second floor) for Josef Špunar, it follows the principles of the Dutch De Stijl movement, according to which buildings are made of a system of planes that intersect at right angles and open onto the exterior.
Connecting the ground floor with the first one there is a beautiful spiral staircase.
The De Stijl style is particularly visible in the facade and also in the choice of colors – light blue and white on the walls and red on the floors.
Like many other buildings in the Czech Republic, Café Era was nationalized in 1959, when it became a pub. In 1970 it became property of the University of Agriculture, and although it became a national monument in 1977, it was hardly taken care of and fell into despair. When the building was returned to the original owners in 1991, renovation works did more damage than good.
The café was finally restored to its former glory thanks to a grant from the European Regional Development Fund with the assistance of the Studio 19 Association, and opened again in 2011. It still works as a café – go in during a cold winter day to sip a cup of their delicious ginger tea.
The Baba Colony, Prague
The 33 villas that make up the Baba Colony of Prague were all built between 1932 and 1940, and are one of the best kept examples of functionalism in the Czech Republic. The entire suburb was designed by architect Pavel Janák, whereas individual villas are the work of various different Czech architects, and one Dutch one – Mart Stam. The colony was the residence of a number of prominent Czech figures – academics, artists, etc.
Since 1993 the Baba Colony is an Urban Heritage Zone, and it has been recently added to the European Heritage List.
Villa Müller, Prague
Located in the Střešovice district, this is without a doubt the most famous functionalist building in the Czech capital. The villa – and even the furniture – was designed by Adolf Loos, one of the most prominent functionalism architects in the country, and built between 1928 and 1930 to become the residence of Mr. František Müller. It was expropriated in 1948, when it started being used by the Státní pedagogické nakladatelství (the State Pedagogical Publisher) and the Institute of Marxism-Leninism. It became property of the City of Prague in the 1990s, and it was then declared a National Monument in 1995.
While the exterior of Villa Müller may seem very plain – it’s completely white; the only touch of color being the yellow window frames or the wisteria growing on one side of the villa, the interior is actually truly beautiful – you can still see the original furnishings.
The building is managed by Prague City Museum and is open to visitors. You can book your visit here.
The residential suburb of Barrandov was first conceived by Václav Maria Havel after a trip to San Francisco. His idea of bringing a bit of America to Prague took form when he started building a number of villas in functionalist style, and other buildings – including the viewpoint restaurant Terasy Barrandov – on a rocky outcrop on the southern edge of the city, right by the Vltava River.
Barrandov became a favorite residential location for Prague’s high society, especially people working in the movie industry. The most notable buildings in the area were the above mentioned Terasy Barrandov restaurant with an adjoint tower overlooking the river; and the 50-meter swimming pool that was built in the former stone quarry.
The Barrandov project was never fully completed and the area started being abandoned in the 1960s. There are a few projects for restoration, but it remains to be seen whether the original character will be preserved.
The building that houses the Mánes Association of Fine Artists dates back to 1930, when it was built on what used to be the site of the former Šítkovské Mills. It was designed by architect Otakar Novotný, who decided to place it right on a reinforced bridge over the Vltava River, so as to connect the Masarykovo nábřeží embankment with the southern part of Slavonic Island. To date, it remains one of the best examples of functionalist architecture in Prague.
Church of the Most Sacred Heart of our Lord, Prague
Located in the Prague neighborhood of Královské Vinohrady, the Church of the Most Sacred Heart of our Lord is the most significant religious building that was built in the capital in the 20th century.
The church was designed by Slovenian architect Josip Plečnik after he won a public competition in 1919. It is characterized by a 42 meters tall tower with a three-meter copper dome; a beautifully decorated facade with three massive portals, and like many other post-modern churches, the lack of a pulpit.
On an interesting note, the square around the church is home to a lovely Christmas market in the weeks leading to Christmas.
Legal Disclaimer: This post was written in partnership with Czech Tourism for the #CzechIn2021 campaign. Needless to say, all the views expressed are mine and the post is strictly based on my experience in the Czech Republic.