Josef Karel Říha

Date of birth: 1. 6. 1893 Rokycany

Death date: 10. 2. 1970 Praha


After graduating from the Faculty of Architecture and Civil Engineering at the Czech Technical University in Prague, the Rokycany-born Josef Karel Říha did his internship with Jan Kotěra. He worked for a short time as an official of the State Heritage Preservation and then was an independent architect from 1923 on. His first designs were still in the spirit of National style aesthetics, however, later Říha stripped buildings of decorations and subsequently arrived at Purism and Functionalism. In the 1920s and 1930s, he was primarily interested in the issue of cheap, good quality living and he designed many buildings with small apartments – e.g. buildings for police and post office employees in Pilsen and army annuitants (C3–1731) and the apartment buildings with small apartments of the workers’ house Vela in Prague etc. – and also standardised houses in Sub-Carpathian Rus. He also designed his own house of Functionalist shapes.

Josef Karel Říha was also an author of poly-functional objects – the building of the Mining and Metallurgical Company Palace housing the Vlasta Burian Theatre in Prague (1929) and the Ferra department store. He took part in a great number of competitions; his designs were often acknowledged yet never realised – be it the urban development plans of many smaller towns (Strakonice, Nový Bítov), the regulatory plan of Mukacheve (together with Alois Mikuškovic), or the development plan of Ruzyně. In the year 1938, he designed the Czechoslovak pavilion for the New York World’s Fair and he prepared a great many exhibition displays in this period as an architect.

Josef Karel Říha was also a populariser of architecture – he contributed to the Lidové noviny and Socialistické listy newspapers, to architecture periodicals (Stavba, Stavitel, Architekt SIA) and to the art anthology Život. His areas of interest also included rural development and urban and landscape planning, not only within his external engagement with the Institute for City Construction at the Masaryk Work Academy. Regional planning gradually became his main focus, with his views and findings summed up in the book Země krásná: kniha o přírodě, civilisaci a plánování (“A Beautiful Land: A Book on Nature, Civilisation and Planning”) in 1948.

Říha’s post-war work is not very well-known; it is worth mentioning his adaptation of the House U Hybernů and design of the Motol Crematorium in Prague from the years 1951–1954, whose aesthetics combine the morphology of pre-war functionalism and the contemporary influence of Regionalism. Říha is also the author of the plan of the park comprising a landscape complex with the crematorium.
Josef Karel Říha died in Prague on the 10th February 1970.