Perimeter block, infillSlab, point-access
Habich House
Havlicek, Josef & Jaroslav Polivka | Prague, Czechoslovakia | 1927-28
Image of Habich ...
Street facade.

ProjectHabich House
ArchitectHavlicek, Josef & Jaroslav Polivka
CityPrague
CountryCzechoslovakia
AddressStepánská 33, Nové Mesto 645
Building TypePerimeter block, infill
Slab, point-access
Number of Dwellingsc. 18
Date Built1927-28
Dwelling TypesNA
No. Floors7
Section Typeflats, mixed use
Exterior Finish
Materials
stucco, metal, wood & metal windows
Construction TypeR-C/masonry
Ancillary Servicescommercial and office use

Josef Havlicek studied under Josef Gocar at the Prague Academy of Fine Arts between 1923-26 and thus was one of the first generation of young Czech architects to begin practicing just as Functionalism was gaining momentum as the dominant style of the new Czech Republic. Havlicek was a member of the avant-garde group Devetsil and was active in the Czech chapter of CIAM. He and Karel Honzik were partners between 1925 and 1936 and both of them were active in many of the important competitions and exhibitions of the time including the Koldom competition for collective housing and the Czech Werkbund exhibit in Brno in 1928. Karel Teige says the two architects were influenced by the work of Le Corbusier, especially his proposals for the City for 3-million and Plan Voisin, and that they tried to apply these ideas in their own work. The firm was probably best known for the design of the General Pension Institute, 1932-34 in Prague, a large public building done in the Functionalist style.

Havlicek and Honzik designed a small apartment building on Kafkova Street in Prague in 1925-26, but their designs for the Koldom collective housing competition in 1930 and the four story apartments built for the Werkbund Exhibit in Brno in 1928 reveal a developed interest in housing. Koldom was the vehicle for exploring the design of slab-type buildings and minimal dwellings, and the 4-story flats built for the Werkbund Exhibition of Contemporary Culture was the prototype of a long slab, which the architects referred to as rowhouses. A similar slab-like formation of rowhouses was later built by the architects as the Molochov apartments in the Holesovice district of Prague in 1937-38. Their commissions in the late 1920's, however, were limited to smaller projects, several small apartment buildings on infill sites.

The Habich House, named for the department store that occupied the ground floor, is a mixed use building on an infill site in the old center of Prague. Offices occupied the three floors above the department store and there were three floors of apartments above this. This differentiation of use can be clearly seen in the zoning of the street elevation. Responding to the zoning limits of 7 floors and the commercial ground floor use that is typical in the city center, the building aligns with adjacent buildings on the street and steps back at the top floor forming a continuous terrace. The "U"-shaped building opens to a courtyard in the rear. Stair towers in the corners of the "U" provide access to a double-loaded corridor plan type for the office floors and separate lobbies for the top three floors of flats. When it was built, the commercial zoning of the building, that is the bottom four floors, was a more dominate quality of the street façade. The spandrels between horizontal strip windows were filled with signs and company logos. This, along with the original steel windows and the continuous glazing of the storefront created a very flush, reflective surface. In this context, the three apartment floors which are organized as 6 alternating bays of flush wall and recessed balconies, create a deep residential cornice resting on and in contrast with the sheer commercial base. Considering Havlicek and Honzik's interest in Le Corbusier's 1920's designs, it seems at least plausible that the alternating solid/void organization of the apartment façade is derived from the spatial parti of the immeubles-villas projects of the 1920's. At the rear, the building mass steps down to a 6-floor height on the sides of the "U". In contrast to the street façade, the courtyard surfaces are less commercial, more utilitarian, a pure Functionalist infill façade.

All the signs are gone from the street façade now and the reflective white surfaces have turned to soot-impregnated stucco, the result of 60 years of occupation and lack of maintenance. Wood windows have replaced the original thin steel sections, and the awnings of the department store are missing, so that many of the features that helped create this dynamic façade are missing. Even so, the idea of the section can still be clearly seen; the quintessentially metropolitan model of mixed use occupancy that must have appealed to Functionalist sensibilities. The rear façade, which is never published, pays less pretentious homage to its utilitarian roots; the ultimate function-dictates-form exercise.

Kohout, Michal & Vladimir Slapeta, Prague, 20th Century Architecture, Springer, New York, 1999, p. 32.

Teige, Karel, Modern Architecture in Czechoslovakia and Other Writings, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, 2000.

Svácha, Rostislav, The Architecture of New Prague 1895-1945, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1995.

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