Koranda Congregation House and Chapel
1935–1938

Anglické nábřeží 2142/13 (Plzeň) Plzeň Jižní Předměstí
GPS: 49.7429317N, 13.3797450E

Among the most valuable examples of interwar Pilsen architecture is a trio of Protestant churches and chapels erected in the vicinity of the historical centre during the 1920s and 30s. While in formal terms the Czech Brethren Church of Master Jan Hus (C3–1722) and the so-called “Bethlehem Chapel” (C2–1777) adhere to traditional architectural articulation and, to a certain extent, Decorativism, the third building of the trio, the Koranda Congregation Hall, is among the boldest building designs in Pilsen. The genesis and course of construction of this temple of the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren’s Eastern Congregation, which carries the name of the first Pilsen Hussite preacher, Václav Koranda († 1453), also reflects the avid construction activities of the young Evangelical churches. These Protestant communities standardised an original concept of a unified complex combining a church service hall with spaces for educational and social activities (usually a theatre or lecture hall), a vicarage and residential rooms.

Similarly to other churches that were established after 1918, the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren in Pilsen initially had no premises for their own activities and had to make do with co-use of the Catholic Church of St. Anna. The newly-consolidated Catholic Church, however, inveighed against the new reformist offshoots and refused to share their premises with them, which in Pilsen led to a large-scale dispute that ended before the Supreme Court, which ultimately upheld the Catholic case. The Eastern Evangelical Congregation was therefore compelled to pursue the construction of its own building. The Eastern Evangelical Congregation was therefore compelled to pursue the construction of its own building.

The congregation, led by the vicar Karel Machotka, formulated quite a clear image of the construction programme of its new building and chapel, which were to be erected on the site called Bujetova realita close to Wilson Bridge (Wilsonův most) and the West Bohemian Museum, between the embankment Anglické nábřeží and the now no longer existing part of Prokopova Avenue. The requirements were published in the announcement of a 1924 architectural competition, which was won by a design by the Prague architect Bohumír Kozák, a member of the Czech Brethren, who had therefore already had considerable experience in designing Protestant chapels. Kozák’s plans for the Pilsen congregation marked the new Modernist path of Czechoslovak Protestant architecture typical of the subsequent period. The forms of the building design were based on the principles of the new denomination, closely following the Czech Reformist tradition in which the main emphasis was placed on early Christian simplicity and purity, democracy and equality of believers and pastors. In the spirit of Kotěra-style Modernism, therefore, Kozák decided not to have the brick masonry of the building rendered. The facade thus does not conceal the structural essence of the building and is architecturally ‘truthful’ and ‘honest’, like the new faith itself. Nevertheless, the building is very monumental, due mainly to its symmetry and the stress of the entrance facade by height. Kozák’s plans also defined the fundamental concept of the layout of the congregation building as one large walk-through whole, with the chapel located in the centre of the site, separated from the two streets by rental houses with congregation spaces. Although all the essential requirements for construction were prepared, the plans were not implemented due to a change in the concept of the embankment Anglické nábřeží. The City of Pilsen therefore offered the congregation a larger nearby site – the Tradesmen’s Hall (Řemeslnická beseda) and the Municipal Baths.

In 1927 the young Prague Functionalist architect Jan Gillar drafted plans pro bono for the new site. His avant-garde design did not retain Kozák’s layout; it is asymmetric and formall1y much more radical. Under the influence of the scientific current of Functionalism, Gillar left the facade entirely smooth and unadorned, almost creating the impression of a factory building. Gillar’s ascetic, Purist approach can be perceived as a distinctive way of creating an embodiment of the aforementioned principles of the Evangelical faith. In 1928, the architect drew up another plan, which returned to a symmetrical concept, although the building was now given a monumental entrance portico. Period publications of the congregation labelled Gillar’s designs as “beautiful”, yet technically and financially unfeasible, and for that reason neither were they implemented.

It was not until 1934 that the congregation’s construction committee assigned the drafting of new plans to the architect Jaroslav Fišer, who had been working in Pilsen since 1929. His design also underwent certain development, though the individual variations were marked by a progressive, highly cultivated Functionalist concept. In the first version, the architect, according to the wishes of the congregation, located the chapel as the most important component of the whole complex in the geometric centre of the teardrop-shaped site. In the basement level beneath it was an assembly hall, while the other operational and residential spaces were contained in the front of the building facing both streets. The main entrance to the chapel was located on the embankment Anglické nábřeží in the congregation house, while the entrance to the assembly hall faced Prokopova Street, where the rental houses were. The plan anticipated that all parts of the new complex would be built simultaneously, despite the fact that they partly overlapped with the existing Tradesmen’s Hall, but it was not possible in the given circumstances to implement the construction work in this way. Vicar Karel Machotka therefore took the initiative and sketched changes to Fišer’s plans so that the building work could be launched without delay. Among other things, he altered the shape and position of the chapel, resulting in its circular form, and relocated the assembly hall from under the chapel to a neighbouring position.

In the implemented version, the congregation building acquired a monumental, axially symmetrical main facade with a raised central section, symbolically crowned with a large relief chalice. On either side of the central section is a glazed strip behind which were conservatories. The central chapel building is “hidden” in the inner courtyard and is unconventionally capped by a cupola. An important role in the interior is played by natural light (in contrast with dark Catholic mysticism), which enters through a circular array of glass blocks in the canopy of the reinforced concrete cupola and through wide windows on the ground floor. In line with typical Protestant requirements, the interior is plain and simple, devoid of ornament that would distract the congregation from inner meditation. The space is given rhythm by a dozen white columns around the perimeter that support the gallery above. A monumental statue of Christ, a copy of an original by the Danish sculptor Berthel Thorvaldsen, dominates the space. The overall layout of the chapel reflects the democratic nature of the new church, which rejected any hierarchy. Not even the chancel is separated from the nave, but on the contrary forms part of a unified space. The establishment of a columbarium, located beneath the chapel, may also be seen as a symbol of egalitarianism and the struggle against convention and Catholicism.

 


 

Investor

Eastern Congregation of the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren in Pilsen (Vicar Karel Machotka)

Sources

  • Archiv Odboru stavebně správního, Technický úřad Magistrátu města Plzně
  • Milan Kudyn, Husovy sbory v Čechách a na Moravě. Architektura 1920–1940 (diplomová práce), Katedra dějin umění FF UP, Olomouc 2009.
 
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