Architect Josef Gočár (1880-1945)

arch. Josef Gočár

Few other artists could personify modern Czech architecture better than Josef Gočár. His name is familiar even to people who are not interested in architecture. In a survey to determine the most important Czech architect of the 20th century, conducted recently by the Chamber of Civil Engineers, Gočár was the clear winner.

Even Gočár's early, modernist works, dating from 1910-1911, are among the masterpieces of Czech architecture. They include the Wenke department store in Jaroměř and the staircase beneath the Marian Church in Hradec Králové, for both of which the architect cultivated an artistically advanced reinforced concrete structure. Broken and crystal forms adorn the reinforced concrete frame of two of Gočár's most important cubist buildings, the House of the Black Madonna on Celetná Street in Prague (1912) and the spa building in Bohdaneč near Pardubice (1912-1913). During this period Gočár was also designing cubist furniture, the best examples of which are the furnishings of the architect's own dining room and bedroom, from 1912-1913, and the chandelier and clock created for the actor Otto Bolešek from 1913.

After the Czechoslovak Republic was established Gočár was involved in the birth of "rondocubism" or the "national" style, the arched ornaments of which were intended to express the distinctiveness of Czech cultural traditions and to represent the new state. This stage of Gočár's artistic development is represented in the Legiobanka (Legiobank) on Na Poříčí in Prague (1921-1923) and the Anglobanka (Anglobank) on Masaryk Square in Hradec Králové (1922-1926). For this town in eastern Bohemia Gočár later designed an excellent zoning plan, where he also built several monumental buildings, which are illustrative of his shift away from the decorativeness of "rondocubism" towards a stricter form of expression, reminiscent of the work of the Dutch architect Dudok. An honourable place among these works is occupied by the school grounds on V lipkách Street (1923-1928) or the building of the district authorities on Čs. Armády Street (1931-1936), the stylistic expression of which reveals Gočár's progression towards monumentalised functionalism, also evident in the Church of St. Wenceslas on Čech Square in Prague (1928-1930).

Gočár never wrote or spoke much about his work. He believed that "whoever says too much feels too little". Clearly, however, he was aware of the fact that his work could be divided into several distinct stylistic phases. This corresponded with the focus that was shared by contemporary art historians, who specialised in the description of stylistic links, studied their evolutional patterns, and, with new work, eagerly followed each change in its development. Among weaker architectural personalities this evoked the illusion that they were only filling in the impersonal patterns of a style's evolution. Gočár, however, would not let himself be seduced by this illusion. His buildings do not lie outside the developments of his time, and his works document his own transformations, as in each of his buildings the architect succeeded in leaving the mark of his unique individuality.

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