Experts cite Maj building as important example of '70s Brutalist architecture

28-03-2006

Last month it came to light that Tesco, the owner of the original Maj building in the centre of Prague, was considering demolishing the famous department store in favour of a newer building. Maj, in its original form, has stood on the corner of Narodni and Spalena Streets since 1975 - and then - as now - is one of Prague's best-known shopping centres. Consequently, many Czechs - but also a number of important architects- say it would be a mistake if the building were pulled down.

For many Czechs, especially Praguers thirty and over, it will always be "Maj" - the famous building on Prague's Narodni Street that housed one of the few major department stores under communism. Although the famous site changed its name and ownership in the 90s and has now long been owned by Tesco, many still refer to the building as Maj and that's hardly a surprise.

The building for many is more than "just" a department store. Designed in the 1970s, it is also an important example of the late 20th century architecture style Brutalism. This boxy architectural style makes use of regularity and repetition, but, occasionally "changes up" details and highlights unexpected elements. The Maj building is a mix of different details: a grid façade, larger glass sections, clean lines, and columns.

While some rue its look as dated, others, like architectural historian Zdenek Lukes, say the building is notable and 'unique':

"Maj is a good example of 70s architecture of course, created by the young architects in that period: Martin Rajnis, John Eisler, and also Miroslav Masak from the SIAL Group, the best studio in Czechoslovakia in that period, following 1968. The building itself is interesting, an example of Brutalism in architecture, and a candidate for registration as a monument."

For Dr Lukes and others, it should come as a relief that Tesco has reportedly downplayed any suggestion of demolishing the building - on the contrary, the company is said to be favouring renovations. What could still complicate matters, though, is if the Ministry of Culture declares the Maj building an official monument - which could happen in several months. Recently a member of the Academy of Sciences put forward a proposal that if respected would theoretically restrict the owners' hand regarding major changes.

But, even there, says Zdenek Lukes, a compromise would be most reasonable:

"In this example I think it's better to make a compromise, because [Maj] is a living building, used as a department store, and it needs renovations and changes to the interior very often. I'm of the opinion that in Maj's case, the 'cover', that is the façade of the building could be registered but not the interior."

28-03-2006