I bicycled through Pelhrimov in the Czech Republic more than ten years ago, and when I lunched there last Sunday I remembered how amused I’d been a decade earlier by Pavel Janak’s architectural joke in the corner of the magnificent central square.
It’s a witty case of Czech Cubism, as far as I can see – an architectural movement that’s usually a bastion of high seriousness. I see it as witty, but it’s quite possible that I am at odds with its author. I know too little about Pavel Janak and Czech Cubism to know what his intentions were.
The main square in Pelhrimov, though less consistently of one period than the wonderful square in Telc, and much smaller, is a catalogue of the many architectural styles that have flowed through the Czech Republic or originated there, from the Renaissance, through Baroque, Art Deco, and Cubism to the modernism of the First Republic that followed the First World War.
Architecture isn’t an obvious medium for humour but this Cubist reworking/renovation of a typical high-gabled Baroque façade must surely be intentionally witty, especially the inversion of the gable’s highest point. It’s a raised eyebrow, or a wink.
I don’t know what choices Janak had, but demolition and rebuild must have been one of them. After all, across the square there’s a modernist building, built, perhaps, only fifteen years later, that owes nothing to the prevailing style of the square. Janak chose to preserve both gable and arcade, adding his own particular Cubist signature.
Czech Cubism flourished in the last years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and perhaps the perspective then was more nostalgic than forward looking. In the newly created Czechoslovakia of the First Republic it was not only more permissible but perhaps even more fashionable to demolish and start again.
And there’s an Art Deco hotel that must have preceded Janak’s renovations by less than a decade. This must also have been preceded by demolition.
For lovers of Czech Cubism, which was a short-lived architectural movement, best represented in Prague, it must be consoling to see the same ideas living on in the design of stealth aircraft. (Actually, this is a little more than just a joke, since in both cases the idea is to break up corners and add contouring to flat planes. In the one case, of course, to avoid detection, and in the other, for very serious reasons that I lack the expertise to explain.)
Czech Cubist Stealth Fighter