Plečnik’s Prague

A Monument to Czech Nationhood

After arriving in Prague, Plečnik was appointed to a teaching position at the Prague School of Applied Arts. For the first time he received a regular salary, had the benefit of university vacations and was able to devote more time to his present interest - the studies of Slavic art.
On his retirement, he replaced Jan Kotera as the Head of the School of Applied Arts, and in the words of Paval Janak, reoriented the school's revolutionary modernity toward a "mature modern classicism".
Plečnik was an inspiring teacher, successfully blending in his approach, classic and modern pedagogic principles:
"The important thing is not who is guiding the student. A master has but one obligation: to help his student to learn, to see and to discover…"In 1914 Plečnik, along with Kotera, Gočar and Kamil Hilbert, was among the founders of Společnost Architectu, an association of architects opposed to the official academicism of Czech architecture. The works produced at the school and published at the end of 1912 in Společnost Architectu journal are an interesting mixture of the classical (in the style of Plečnik), the patriotic (focusing on the nationalist theme) and of cubism (representing the avant-garde).
During the war years Plečnik could not expect any important commissions. He turned his attention to decorative arts, and involved himself in the craft of gold- and silversmith. He travelled extensively in Slovenia, particularly the Karst region, and for the first time became thoroughly acquainted with the art of his country. He grew concerned that the lack of sensitivity of foreign architects was causing Ljubljana to lose its character, acquired over the centuries from proximity to Italy, and began reflecting on the capital's city planning problems. It was period of maturation for Plečnik, giving way to an intense desire to return permanently to Slovenia.
The end of World War I (1914- 1918) saw the breaking up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the emergence of new nation-states - Czechoslovakia, Hungary and The Kingdom of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs (later renamed Yugoslavia). Proud of their nationhood, the new states were anxious to start reconstruction with great buildings and the establishment of schools of architecture. Plečnik, by then an architect of considerable renown, was offered professorships in Prague, Ljubljana, Belgrade, Berlin and Zagreb.
Before he made up his mind, a new challenging offer caused him to delay his decision. Tomas G. Masaryk, President of the Czech republic was addressing the problems of urban development in the capital and the long overdue restoration of the Prague castle. He wanted the castle with its rich historical tradition to become the national symbol of the young republic.
Plečnik was first appointed as a member of the jury for the competition, chosen for his plan of Garden of Paradise and finally appointed the Castle Architect with the brief of restoring the ancient fortress. Masaryk was looking for an inspired creator whose architectural design could express the very values on which the Czech state was based. Prague had become the capital of the newly established Czechoslovak republic and needed a striking monument as centerpoint and expression of its newly founded nationhood.
Tomas Masaryk saw in Plečnik the visionary genius with skill and ideas to realize the concept. He noted in his 1925 declaration:
"The nation regards the castle as a national monument, hence we must transform a castle intended for the monarch into a democratic castle."
He understood and shared Plečnik's ideas of blending the classical with the modern, and drawing on ancient tradition as expression of national identity.
Plečnik's work on the Prague Castle - Hradčani was a watershed and the most monumental architectural project of Plečnik's career. None of Plečnik's creations can compare in importance and breadth to the restoration of Prague Castle. He shaped Hradčani into the great national monument of the Czech state. He did away with centuries of accumulated additions, removed restricting walls, opened stunning vistas onto the city, laid magnificent gardens, designed monumental staircases and gateways, remodeled the President's residence and filled the place with national symbols.
The work was monumental in conception and scope, and intensely satisfying to Plečnik. However his restoration work was too drastic and innovative to be understood or appreciated by the general public and he had to withstand constant attacks in the media.His work on Hradčani occupied him for 15 years (1920-1935). He moved to Ljubljana in 1920, but returned to Prague each year during the vacations, working with zest and enthusiasm.
The Prague Castle remains an enduring and extraordinary monument to Czech nationhood and Plečnik's genius.


My thanks to Dr. Peter Krečič, the Director of the Architectural Museum of Ljubljana for advice, contribution towards preparation of the Plečnik articles, and the permission to use the photographic material in his publications.
Sources: Peter Krečič, Jože Plečnik, DZS, 1992
Peter Krečič, Jože Plečnik - Branje oblik, DZS, 1997
Peter Krečič, Plečnik's Ljubljana, CZ, 1991
F Burkhardt, C Eveno, B Podrecca, (ed.):
Jože Plečnik, Architect: 1872-1957, MIT Press, 1989
Slovene Studies, Journal of the Society for Slovene Studies, No.2 1996