Today's Czech in History is Jan Kotera, a well-known Czech architect of the turn of the 20th century. When he arrived in Prague after finishing his studies in Vienna, he was not welcomed very warmly, but he was firmly resolved to materialise his ideas, and thanks to his stubbornness, a new architectural style appeared in the Czech Lands.
At the end of the 19th century, Prague was a rather provincial town, closed to any foreign influences and quite unwilling to accept new creative ideas, especially when they came from Vienna, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, of which the Czech Lands were part at that time. Jan Kotera was born in the Moravian city of Brno in December 1871, and as a young man, he studied in Vienna. Professor Vladimir Slapeta from the Faculty of Architecture at the Czech Technical University in Prague explained to me why Kotera is now considered the father of Czech modern architecture:
When he arrived in Prague from Vienna, Kotera was not a welcomed person, reportedly because he had several attributes that were 'unacceptable' for the Czech society of that time: his Czech-German origin, his studies in Vienna, his youth and his outstanding talent. In Vienna, where he proved a very successful student, he was awarded a 'Roman Prize' for his final thesis, featuring a design of an ideal town around the tunnel in Calais, France, which included a one-year stay in Italy. With such experience Kotera could have sought a job in Vienna, but he came to Prague, where he had to fight against old-fashioned historic styles in architecture.
Kotera's work went through several phases, but since its very beginning it left behind the practices of the by-then fashionable Art Nouveau style, and underlined the structure, function and modern look of a building. Kotera's fidelity to the Wagnerian slogan 'what is not purposeful is not beautiful' is still one of the main attributes of Czech modern architecture today.
His most famous buildings are the Municipal museum in the East Bohemian city of Hradec Kralove, Peterka's house on Prague's Wenceslas Square, where for the first time he used metal and non-covered rough concrete, his own villa in the Prague 10 district, and Trmal's villa also in Prague 10. Professor Slapeta says Kotera was highly influenced by one of the greatest architects in the United States, Frank Lloyd Wright:
A big part of Kotera's work are designs that have never been materialized. One such example is the building of the Law Faculty of Charles University in Prague: Kotera made several designs, trying to fulfill the wish of the purchaser - from the Art Nouveau style in 1907 to a neo-classicist version in the 1920s - but he did not live long enough to see the building being built. Architect Machon who built the Law Faculty after Kotera's death in the late 1920s, is said to have been unable to avoid a certain degree of rigidity. But Kotera did not devote himself to pure architecture only, he saw it more widely:
Kotera made designs in many fields: arts and crafts - such as dishes and glass, furniture, interiors, linoleum, wall paper decorations but also tombstones, some of which can be seen in cemeteries in Prague. At the end of 2001, the Municipal House in Prague - Obecni dum - organized a huge exhibition on Kotera's work to mark the 130th anniversary of his birth, and professor Slapeta was one of its curators:
Jan Kotera died on April 17, 1923 at the age of 51.
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