County Sickness Institution in Pilsen
1925–1927

Denisovo nábřeží 1000/4, U Lázní 1000/2 (Plzeň) Plzeň Východní Předměstí
GPS: 49.7450048N, 13.3833539E

 The flow regulation of the Radbuza River, completed in 1923 after 26 years of work, provided the centre of rapidly-developing interwar Pilsen with new metropolitan space for the construction of important public buildings. The first of these to be erected was the extensive County Sickness Institution building (Okresní nemocenská pojišťovna), built in 1925–1927 on the embankment Denisovo nábřeží, which combined administrative, healthcare and even residential functions. The appearance of the four-storey building with a basement and loft space, in the neighbourhood of which the equally grand Municipal Baths building (C1–1217) was completed in 1932, was derived from the winning plans of a 1925 competition drafted by the Pilsen architect Bohumil Chvojka in collaboration with the builder František Vachta. The construction work was executed by the Pilsen building firm of František Němec Sr. Only two years later, construction of the adjacent Masaryk Student House (C1–1150), also designed by Chvojka, was completed. A home for apprentices and the building of the Summer Camp Puppet Theatre that in Chvojka’s concept concluded the embankment frontage in the direction of Americká Avenue (and on which the architect collaborated with Josef Skupa) were never built.

In the first of Chvojka’s designs of the flat-roofed insurance company building with modern shapes, there is an evident influence of Cubism, which after the founding of Czechoslovakia became one of the sources of the decorative National Style. During the course of drafting the plans, Chvojka gradually removed such elements from the exterior of the building; the concept of the “Brizolit” cement-rendered facades, divided by horizontal string courses as well as subtle stepping of individual wall expanses and profiled window cases, reflects the architect’s progression from monumental Classicist forms to Purism. This shift is visible especially in the shaping of the rear facades, while Historicism, on the contrary, can be seen in the morphology of the two-storey high portico, whose bossaged arcade projects considerably on the street parterre into the public space, marking the main entranceway. The mass of the portico is continued above on the level of the second storey into a shallow, four-storey high avant-corps, surmounted by a cuboid tower that provides a transition to the whole corner section of the building: the rounded corner on the intersection of Denisovo nábřeží and U Lázní Street has only three storeys. Chvojka oriented the main, F-shaped block of the building parallel to the river and created a courtyard between the two side wings closed by a lower two-storey block. The west wing also had two storeys. The architect designed a garage building for the southwestern corner of the complex.

Chvojka projected both functions of the building into the layout of the interior – while the two street wings held surgeries (and also a caretaker's flat on the western side next to the vehicle passageway through to the courtyard), the perpendicular courtyard wing served for administration and communication with insurance clients, as is betrayed by the still preserved glazed cashier desks and the waiting area. Set opposite the entrance lobby with steps leading up to the raised ground floor is a grand triple staircase rising from the double-section main courtyard wing, linking the ground floor with the representative first floor. The office of the insurance company director and a conference room were situated on the first floor in the front section facing the embankment. A smaller “service” staircase adjacent to the tower avant-corps led to the upper floors with two-room and three-room flats. The Pilsen painter and printmaker Josef Hodek, a student of Josef Váchal’s, had a studio in this part of the building at one time. A similar staircase was located in each of the two main wings. The uppermost floor contained three smaller flats and the loft spaces of the flats, stores, three laundry rooms and two large terraces facing the courtyard.

Worthy of special attention are the interiors of the building, which, unlike the exterior, betray Chvojka’s penchant at the time for Art Deco. This can be seen in the chromatic and material handling of the staircase vestibule and its former reception desk, and characteristic colourfulness of surfaces and marble cladding are applied also in other common areas. The colouring of the ceilings, the execution of which is reminiscent of the Czech State Industrial School on the square Chodské náměstí (C3–1585), where Bohumil Chvojka worked from 1919 on, corresponds also with the ornament of the floors. The corridors of the building were decorated with a range of applied art features; in the part of the building with doctors’ surgeries, for example, an original drinking fountain, a typical interior feature of First Republic public buildings, is still preserved. Also superbly crafted are the gate to the second floor of the building and a wrought iron staircase grille ornamented with snakes wound around a goblet, a traditional symbol of healthcare facilities. The original light fixtures and the large, stained glass windows on the stairway are also impressive. The figural themes of the stained glass panes with the figures of a manual worker, a farmhand, a breastfeeding mother and child and an old man at rest with the sun rising above them refer to the purpose of the building – the provision of lifelong health insurance intended for all population groups. The stained glass panes, which were installed on site in 1926, were designed by Chvojka himself and the work was executed by the glass artist Jiří Nový. An exhibition area on the second floor in front of the directorate offices in the new building displayed the sculpture group Young and Old by the Pilsen sculptor Otokar Walter. After 1945, it became part of the memorial to employees of the insurance company who were killed during WWII. Chvojka worked on the design for the actual representative spaces (for example the conference hall) in collaboration with Václav Šustr, who some years earlier had had a hand in the appearance of the assembly hall of the Czech Brethren Church of Master Jan Hus (C3–1722).

In the 1950s and 60s, the sprawling complex underwent repeated building alterations and modifications, following which the onetime insurance company building became a fully-fledged healthcare facility called the First Polyclinic in Pilsen. Around 1972, the complex was extended. The plans for the Municipal National Health Institute (Městský ústav národního zdraví Plzeň) were drafted by the team of A. Jansa, V. Klein and J. Kukačka under the leadership of Jaroslava Gloserová.

The architectural qualities of the building, which still serves as a healthcare facility with the name Poliklinika Denisovo nábřeží, have been protected as a cultural monument since 1998 and, in the course of gradual restoration of the building, the present private owner is respecting its status as such.

 

LR – PK

Investor

County Sickness Institution in Pilsen

Sources

  • Archiv Odboru stavebně správního, Technický úřad Magistrátu města Plzně
 
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