House of the Black Madonna in Praha
The House of the Black Madonna is a cubist building in the "Old Town" area of Prague, Czech republic. It was designed by Josef Gočár. It is currently in use as a small museum of Cubism and is open to the public.
The House of the Black Mother (U Černé Matky Boží), sometimes referred to as Black Mother of the Lord, was designed and built between 1911 and 1912 on the corner of Celetná Street and Ovocný trh. Josef Gočár built this house as the first example of cubist architecture in Prague and it remains probably the most celebrated. Even without historical details of the baroque building surrounding it, the House at the Black Madonna maintains the atmosphere of the neighborhood. The house was given its name by the stone sculpture that originally adorned one of the two Baroque buildings on the same lot. After many years altered use in the interwar period and under communist rule, the house was closed in January 2002 and re-opened after extensive restoration in November 2003.
Gočár designed the house in mid-1911 at the age of 31 for the wholesale merchant František Josef Herbst. Mr. Herbst chose Gočár to build his department store in the Old Town along the old coronation route because of the architect’s earlier success with a similar shop in Jaroměř, built in 1909-1911. Because of its prominent location in the heart of the city, Gočár’s building was subject to strict harmonization rules requiring that the department store not conflict with its historical setting. The building thus uses the language of baroque architecture in a Cubist form, thus exemplifying the ‘contextualization’ of Cubist architecture.
Gočár’s first plans were not well received by the historical buildings authority in Bohemia. Subsequent designs incorporated more Cubist features into the building; the Prague City Council eventually approved the plans on August 4, 1911. In fact, his early modernist orientation (as can be seen in the original plans for the building), give way to new Cubist designs in the finished building. The angular bay windows, iconic capitals between windows, and cubist balcony railing took their place in the designs.
Like many of Gočár’s houses, the House at the Black Madonna was built with a reinforced-concrete skeleton inspired by the Chicago School. Cubist interiors have proven a challenge to architects. The use of a reinforced-concrete skeleton allowed for large interior spaces without ceiling support that were better suited to Cubist aesthetics. The Grand Café Orient, which encompassed the entire first floor without supporting pillars, was a revolutionary feat of engineering.
In some literature, Gočáris described as ‘decorativist’ because he was primarily concerned with creating a Cubist façade instead of a Cubist building. It is thus ironic that his design for the Grand Café Orient is the only surviving Cubist interior in the world. As for the façade, multiple changes in design and the requirements of harmonization forced certain compromises in the Cubist elements. The façade breaks with Cubist and modern traditions on the third storey, and incorporates 'foreign' elements in order to reconcile the building with its surroundings. For example, the roof resembles baroque double roofs, and the third storey also features flat windows and pilasters with Classical fluting between them.
As previously noted, the House at the Black Madonna was originally designed to house a department store. Herbst’s store occupied the ground and second floor of the building. Grand Café Orient was established on the first floor. Above that were apartments. Minor changes were made to this arrangement in 1914. In the mid-1920s the café and store on the second floor were converted into bank offices. Further alterations to the architectural integrity were made in 1941, when functionalist architect V. Kubik refashioned the wooden frames on the ground floor windows with steel. During the communist period, the building was subdivided internally into more office space and then designated the state exhibition agency. In 1994, the building was made a center for Czech art and culture. After heavy renovation works between 2002 and 2003, the building was made home to the Museum of Czech Cubism. The fourth and fifth floors are dedicated to a permanent exhibition of Cubist art curated by the Czech Museum of Fine Arts. The exhibition focuses on Czech artists in the period from 1911 to 1919, when Cubism was in its heyday in both the visual arts and in architecture. In March 2005, the Grand Café Orient was re-opened after extensive renovation works. Although only a few original plans had survived, black-and-white photographs documenting the café's interior décor and atmosphere from 1912 were used during renovation. Replicas of café furniture and brass chandeliers were constructed to revive the café and showcase the many forms of Cubism present in the Czech republic.
- Cubist House of the Black Madonna re-opens in Prague - Czech Radio
- House at the Black Madonna - Museum of Czech Cubism
- House at the Black Madonna at www.prague-museums.com