Administrative building and hydroelectric power station of the Electrical Company of the City of Pilsen
1920–1926

Denisovo nábřeží 920/12 (Plzeň) Plzeň Východní Předměstí
Public transport: Pařížská
Muzeum
GPS: 49.7427656N, 13.3812233E
Architect:

In connection with the rapid development of electrical engineering and the soaring consumption of electrical energy used in Pilsen (and elsewhere) to drive vehicles of the municipal rail system since 1899, the early 20th century saw a need to ensure sufficient electricity resources for the city. Production of a coal-fired steam power plant, which was part of the Pilsen Electrical Company complex in Cukrovarská Street, and a hydroelectric power plant in the building of the Manor Mill had to be supplemented by additional energy supplies from the Burghers' Brewery.

As early as 1892, Professor of the Czech Technical School Karel Vosyka envisaged the construction of a new hydroelectric power plant on the Radbuza River in a project that would extensively regulate the riverbed in the city centre. A modern facility at the new weir was to replace the old power station in the mill at the Mill Drain (Mlýnská strouha), which was to be filled in. The Royal Weir located in the area in front of the building of today's Museum of West Bohemia was to be removed as well. The city did not proceed to implement this aspect of the extremely technically demanding project, which was preceded by the construction of today's Wilson Bridge in 1912-1913, or to construct the embankment walls until after the First World War.

The new fixed weir, with a height of 5.31 and a length of 60.78 meters, was built about 100 meters upriver from the Wilson Bridge in 1921. An inlet with a 25-metre-long tunnel, which led water to the turbine of the power plant, was attached to the concrete weir. Already at the start of 1915, the Municipal Building Authority in cooperation with the Electrical Company of the City of Pilsen, which was to operate the building in the future, were commissioned to prepare the construction project. In his role of municipal engineer, it was most likely architect Hanuš Zápal who took up the task and designed a two-storey building with a sober Classicist façade. The building housed an engine room on the ground floor and an accumulator room on the first floor. Rooms for warehouses, transformers, and a switchboard were to be attached to it towards the yard. Given the events of the war, however, the construction, which allowed for the possibility of extensions and additional storeys, did not commence.

New steps to build a house with a hydroelectric power station were undertaken by the city soon after the First World War. In 1920, Zápal designed a five-storey building in relation to the existing project with an opulent front with large segmented windows, triangular gables, and giant-order pilasters evoking the impression of a "palace-like" building and not a technical facility. Noteworthy is also the asymmetrically conceived yard façade with bare brick surface on the ground floor, which implies the author's inclination toward geometric Modernism. Then, probably in 1921, Zápal elaborated on another project, this time planning a more sober street front with Cubicist elements of pointed shapes. In the first "temporary" stage, a single-storey house with an engine room was built according to this design the same year, followed by another floor, intended for the so-called balancing battery. That same year, the hydroelectric power station itself was put into operation to supply energy to tram carriages.

The building acquired its final form in 1926, when it was extended and raised by another three floors designed for offices, a luxuriously furnished boardroom, and a shop selling lighting and cookers. In terms of height, the hydroelectric power plant building equalled that of the emerging representative housing development of public buildings lining the waterfront along Denisovo and Anglické Nábřeží, as well as the town houses on Jungmannova (now Americká) Avenue.

The author of the project of the last construction stage was again Hanuš Zápal, who successfully combined basic Classicist features (symmetrical arrangement, five pilasters completed with a simple entablature, and a pronounced main cornice) with Cubicist motifs ("bevelled" pilasters and jambs of selected windows and the cornice above the ground floor) and elements of contemporary Modernism (three-dimensionality of the façade with graded bottoms of a pair of balconies, window scuntions on the top floor, and the crown moulding) in an almost monumental form. Similarly to his 1920 design, Zápal laid out the final form of the courtyard façades asymmetrically and slightly differently from the main façade. He freed them of Classicist elements and, at the north-eastern corner of the building, designed a stair tower protruding from the main mass of the building as an avant-corps. Thus, only the middle part of the façade is symmetrical.

In the post-war period, a so-called traction substation was attached to the court wing of the building. Plans from 1946, bearing the name of the builder Oldřich Smrčka, feature a ground-floor of simple Modernist shapes. This building, with a cellar, a control room, a feeder hall, and transformers with booths on the ground floor, combined a masonry load-bearing system with reinforced concrete columns. Today's appearance of the traction substation, partly extended by an additional floor, is probably the result of later adaptations.

The complex on Denisovo Nábřeží still serves its original purpose at present – the hydroelectric power plant still produces energy and supplies it to the power distribution network. Only the original Francis turbine, which secured operation until 1964, was replaced in 1986 by a Kaplan turbine after a break in electricity production of roughly twenty years. The building’s office space continues to be used by the Pilsen City Transport Company, which was established in 1946 after the Electrical Company of the City of Pilsen was split into power-producing and transport divisions. During modern renovation of the building, a body housing a lift with glass fronts facing both the street and the yard was added to the northern gable wall.
 

AŠ – PK

Investor

Electrical Company of the City of Pilsen

Sources

  • Archiv města Plzně
  • Archiv Odboru stavebně správního, Technický úřad Magistrátu města Plzně
  • Historie PMDP, pmdp.cz, http://www.pmdp.cz/o-nas/historie-pmdp/, vyhledáno 16. 1. 2017.
 
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