The people of Hiroshima gathered on Tuesday to mark the 57th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb. The bomb killed 140,000 Japanese civilians, and turned the city into a blackened wasteland. Pictures of that wasteland show just a single building left standing, the famous "A-Bomb Dome", now the centrepiece of Hiroshima's Peace Park. But less well known is that one of the world's most famous buildings was the work of a Czech architect, who spent much of his life in Japan. Rob Cameron has more.
"The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. We have used it in order to shorten the agony of war, in order to save the lives of thousands and thousands of young Americans."
President Truman announces to the American people that an atomic bomb has been dropped on the city of Hiroshima. Survivors of the bomb called it "pika-don" - "pika" meaning a bright flash of light, "don" to represent the tremendous sound of the explosion. The bomb flattened every building in the city centre except one. The Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, designed and built by the Czech architect Jan Letzel, was left standing - something of an irony, because the bomb exploded almost directly overhead.
Jan Letzel was born in 1880 in the town of Nachod in north East Bohemia, near the Polish border. The son of a hotel owner, he studied at Prague's School of Creative and Industrial Art under Jan Kotera, the founder of modern architecture in Czechoslovakia. Letzel graduated in 1904, and in 1907, after a stint in Egypt, he came to Japan, finding work as a designer in Toyko.
During his ten years in Japan Letzel created more than 15 residences and public buildings. Hiroshima's Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, a fusion of neo-Baroque and Art Deco, was completed in 1916. Hiroshima at that time was dominated by two-storey wooden buildings, and the Promotional Hall, with its bold European design and unique copper-plated dome, soon became one of Hiroshima's most striking landmarks. Twenty years later it would become a landmark for the whole of humanity.
Jan Letzer himself never lived to see the transformation of his Industrial Promotion Hall into the A-Bomb Dome. The architect left Japan in 1923 in the wake of the Great Kanto Earthquake, and returned home to Czechoslovakia. Suffering from ill health, he died on December 26th 1925, at the age of 45.
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