Czeching out in style
There are delightful architectural surprises on almost every street corner, finds
On a remote mountaintop in Central Europe a telecom tower hovers like a futuristic Thai pagoda above the borderlands of the Czech Republic and Poland. I’m on a tour of avantgarde Czech architecture and design and the Jested Tower built in the 1960s epitomes all the flair and creativity of 20th century Czech architecture. To reach the tower I take an exhilarating cable car ride up Jested Mountain. It’s mid summer and hikers scrambling over the rocks wave at the car as we glide above their heads. At the summit, the 94m tall concrete and fibreglass structure sweeps down in an elegant curve, mirroring the conical slopes of the mountain. In front of the tower I sit down in a lively beer garden where, buffeted by the wind, I take in the majestic view of rolling hills where on a clear day you can just make out the distant towers of Prague.
It was in Prague in the 1900s that a long period of artistic experimentation began that introduced daring new architectural styles into the country. At the Municipal House, a palatial Art Nouveau concert hall that opened in 1912, I join Dr Bonita Rhoads, a bubbly New Yorker and founder of Insight Cities, a company specialising in architectural tours in Central European and American cities.
“The building illustrates a revolution in society,” she explains, “rapid industrialisation and the growth of the bourgeoisie freed architecture from its classical constraints and allowed architects to experiment with new artistic forms and technologies.”
The Municipal House was one of the first public buildings in Prague to use electric lighting and inside, angular brass chandeliers and wall brackets beautifully illuminate the swirling floral decor and sensual frescoes typical of the Art Nouveau style.
From the Municipal House we walk over to the nearby House of the Black Madonna, an old department store that opened in 1912. Designed by acclaimed Czech architect Josef Gocar, one of the first architects in the world to experiment with Cubism, the elegant geometric motifs adorning both the exterior and interior are a forerunner of 1920s Art Deco.
From Prague, I head west to Pilsen and make an enjoyable detour to the world famous Pilsner Brewery where I try a delicious, unfiltered triple decocted lager straight from the barrel. Pilsen was once home to an affluent Jewish community who in the 1920s hired leading architects to create stylish contemporary city centre apartments. Foremost