Databáze uměleckých výstav v českých zemích 1820 – 1950

Exhibition of Architectural Designs from the 3rd Competition for the Reconstruction of the Old Town Hall in Prague

Date:18. July 1909 – 2. August 1909

Place: Prague, St. Gall public school

Organizer:City of Prague - Prague City Council


Architectural design exhibitions were a special type of architecture or art show. In Italy, such exhibitions were held from the Renaissance onward and other countries soon followed suit. Over the course of the 19th century, competition design exhibitions became mandatory, a result of pressure from architecture associations to ensure fair competition. These exhibitions allowed experts to judge whether the jury evaluated the competition designs correctly, while the lay public had an opportunity to gain information on the current trends in architecture and the future of prominent parts of their city [Švácha 2013].

The competitions for the completion of Prague’s Old Town Hall and the corresponding design exhibitions were among the attractive events of Czech cultural life. There were eight of them over the course of the long period between 1899 and 1988, but none ever lead to actual construction. In the history of these exhibition, the third, 1909 show has always been the centre of attention. This was the first time that modernist architects such as Josef Gočár, Pavel Janák, Bohumil Hypšman (Hübschmann), Antonín Engel and Theodor Petřík presented their ideas for the city hall’s reconstruction. Moreover, Gočár’s design presented one of the most radical solutions, which, in Gočár’s own words, “changes the image of the Old Town in its silhouette” [Gočár 1910], while some features in Janák’s design anticipated architectural Cubism. This is why both of these designs are often discussed.

Quite surprisingly, this design exhibition was barely reviewed in both architecture magazines and the daily press, even though organizers made sure to publicize the competition designs in the summer of 1909. The modernist-leaning Volné směry entirely ignored the show. The modernist architectural magazine Styl offered a “short note” [Kronika, October 1909], although it did publish an extensive overview of the designs by architects from its circle in its second yearly volume. None of the large dailies featuring exhibition supplements – Národní listy, Lidové noviny, Venkov, Čas – took note of the exhibition and neither did the illustrated magazine Zlatá Praha, even though its reviewers usually followed the events in the world of architecture. The only periodical to publish a detailed review was Architektonický obzor, a platform for architects of the older generation. The reviewer, Prague technical university professor Jan Koula (writing under the mark K), commented on the exhibited designs with undisguised sarcasm. In his view, the young architects’ attempt to solve the city hall problem was an “ultimate fail.”

Why were modernist periodicals and large dailies silent about the exhibition? Why was the conservative journal, a platform of the last historicist architects, the only periodical to review it? There are two possible explanations. First of all, the exhibition took place in August when competent publicists went on holiday and "there is no one in Prague anymore, no one, literally no one", as noted in the Lidové noviny feature of August 5, 1909, entitled V letní sezóně (In the Summer Season). The reviewer from Architektonický obzor was the only one to stay and wait for the exhibition. Behind the second reason, undoubtedly more serious, were the disappointed hopes of the competition’s initiators, the modernist-minded members of the Club for Old Prague, namely architects Janák, Gočár, Hypšman (Hübschmann), Engel, Petřík, Stanislav Sochor, and Zdeněk Wirth, an art historian and advocate for the conservation principles of the Vienna school of art history. Koula’s sneering review suggests that the Club played an essential role in the organizing the 3rd city hall exhibition. But this is also evident from the report on a debate evening in Prague on January 28, 1909, during which the members of the Club’s modernist wing outlined their hopes for the competition [Soutěž na přestavbu a přístavbu radnice 1908–1909]. They wanted to prove that the Old Town Hall could be completed using modern forms without disturbing the historical character of old Prague. Simultaneously, the exhibition was meant to show that architectural historicism is unsuitable for the task. In its report on the 1909 debate evening, the magazine Styl wrote the following: “the opinion that it is impossible to repeat historical styles in a modern building [=city hall] will be universal among the architects [ibid.] Architecture historians who attempt to interpret Gočár’s almost futuristic design [Švácha 1997] should of course take into account this expectation on the part of the Club for Old Prague.

However, the hopes that the Club’s modernist members pinned on the 3rd city hall competition went unfulfilled. The city council approved a competition jury in which historicist architects prevailed (Josef Bertl, Alois Čenský, Josef Fanta, Vratislav Pasovský, Josef Schulz), while modern architecture had only two advocates there: Jan Kotěra and historian Jaroslav Goll, the only member of the Club for Old Prague in the jury. Gočár’s, Janák’s and Engel’s designs had no chance to succeed under those circumstances. Although some of the Club’s architects did in the end win the third and second prizes, namely Bohumil Hypšman (Hübschmann) and Theodor Petřík, the first prize went to Antonín Wiehl, despite Kotěra’s and Goll’s disapproval. Wiehl, an outstanding representative of the historicist generation, came up with the design in the style of Czech Neorenaissance.

This encouraged Koula to write his review for Architektonický obzor in a tone that was deriding toward the modernists, while triumphantly praising Wiehl. Modernist magazines, on the other hand, were not interested in publicizing what they must have perceived as a defeat. By this time, exhibition reviews in large dailies were mostly written by authors sympathizing with modernism and the modernist wing of the Club for Old Prague Club, such as Wirth, V. V. Štech, Antonín Matějček, Vilém Dvořák. These authors, too, likely preferred not to mention the competition’s results. In the end, works that we still remember today and that some of us value as great achievements went almost unnoticed in the summer of 1909.   

Rostislav Švácha

Works Cited

Gočár 1910: Josef Gočár, [výtah z průvodní zprávy k projektu přestavby Staroměstské radnice v Praze], Styl II, 1909–1910, p. 39

Kronika, October 1909: Styl II, 1909–1910, Kronika, October 1909: Soutěže, p. 8

Soutěž na přestavbu a přístavbu radnice 1908–1909: Soutěž na přestavbu a přístavbu radnice (…), Styl I, 1908–1909, pp. 285–286

Švácha 1997: Rostislav Švácha, K futuristickým motivům v české architektuře, Umění XLV, 1997, pp. 330–340

Švácha 2013: Rostislav Švácha, Soutěže, in: Lubomír Konečný – Anna Rollová – Rostislav Švácha (edd.), Od kabaly k Titaniku: Deset studií nejen z dějin umění, Praha 2013, pp. 217–238

jm 1909: jm [Josef Merhaut], V letní sezóně, Lidové noviny XVII, no. 213, 5. 8. 1909, pp. 1–2

Further Reading

Anonymous author, Soutěž na přístavbu radnice, Styl I, 1908–1909, p. 245

Anonymous author, Obec pražská vypisuje veřejnou ideovou soutěž na návrh pro přestavbu a přístavbu Staroměstské radnice, Styl I, 1908–1909, pp. 251–252

K [Jan Koula], Ještě k soutěži na radnici Staroměstskou, Architektonický obzor VIII, 1909, no. 6, p. 25

Anonymous author, Kronika denní: Z rady kr. hl. města Prahy, Čas XXII, no. 188, 10. 7. 1909, p. 5

Anonymous author, Výsledek ideové soutěže na přestavbu Staroměstské radnice, Národní listy XXXXIV, no. 188, 10. 7. 1909, p. 3 

Anonymous author, Výsledek jednání poroty pro posouzení návrhů na přestavbu Staroměstské radnice, Národní listy XXXXIV, no. 195, 17. 7. 1909, p. 3

Anonymous author, Porota pro posouzení soutěžních návrhů na přestavbu Staroměstské radnice, Venkov IV, no. 167, 17. 7. 1909, p. 6

Anonymous author, Kronika, Volné směry XIII, 1909, p. 333

Anonymous author, Projekt Theodora Petříka (…), Architektonický obzor VIII, 1909, no. 11, p. 49, 50; illustrations. 52, 53

Anonymous author, Prag, Altstädter Rathaus, Mitteilungen der K. K. Zentralkomission für Erforschung und Erhaltung Kunst- und Historischen Denkmale, Band VIII, 1909, pp. 442–444  

Marie Benešová, Josef Gočár, Praha 1958

Antonín Engel, Jaroslav Vondrák, Bohumil Hypšman (Hübschmann), Otakar Novotný,

JNK [Pavel Janák], Radnice, Styl II, 1909–1910, Kronika, leden 1910, pp. 23–32

Theodor Petřík, Stanislav Sochor, Josef Gočár, Pavel Janák, [výtahy z průvodních zpráv a vyobrazení projektů ze soutěže na přestavbu Staroměstské radnice 1909], Styl II, 1909–1910, pp. 35–63

Jiří Ševčík – Rostislav Švácha, Praga: cento anni di progetti per la Piazza del Municipio, Casabella LII, č. 549, Settembre 1988, pp. 16–25

A. Wiehl, Soutěžný návrh přístavby pražské radnice v III. soutěži – 1. cena, Architektonický obzor VIII, 1909, č. 10, s. 46, 47; č. 11, s. 51, 52; illustrations 47–49

Zdeněk Wirth, Staroměstská radnice, Styl II, 1909–1910, pp. 33–35

Zdeněk Wirth, Josef Gočár, Genf 1930

Archival Sources

Archive of the Club for Old Prague, minutes from the meeting of the Domestic Council, Book 4, records from 24. 3. 1908, 13. 10. 1908, 27. 10. 1908, 17. 11. 1908, 12. 1. 1909, 19. 1. 1909, 26. 1. 1909, 3. 2. 1909, 9. 2. 1909, 2. 3. 1909, 9. 3. 1909; Book 5, 6. 4. 1909

Exhibiting authors
Reviews in the press
Koula Jan

K [Jan Koula], Radniční III. soutěž v Praze, Architektonický obzor VIII, 1909, no. 8, appendix

Log in

Information about who is the administrator of user accounts and who to contact when there is a problem.

Forgotten password