Pair of commercial and apartment buildings of the People’s Building and Housing Cooperative in Pilsen

Masarykova 592, 591 / 18, 20 (Plzeň) Plzeň Doubravka
Public transport: Habrmannovo nám. (BUS 28, 29, TROL 16, 17)
GPS: 49.7562264N, 13.4194981E

Due to its affiliation with a prospering city, sufficient distance from major industrial plants and the attractiveness of the surrounding natural framework with the Úhlava and Mže rivers and Chlum hill, the former village of Doubravka became one of the most important focus points of residential development in Pilsen in the 1920s. In addition to the Pilsen municipality and several cooperatives led by the Doubravka-based Building and Housing Cooperative, it was contributed to by the People’s Building and Housing Cooperative as well, which until then had been active mainly in the Imperial (now Southern) and Prague (Eastern) Suburbs.

As early as in 1926, two years after Doubravka joined so-called Greater Pilsen, the Cooperative began negotiations with the city regarding its intention to build a commercial and residential semi-detached house on Masarykova Avenue. The construction of the building with a ground floor reserved for the stores of related food cooperatives – the West Bohemian Consumer and West Bohemian Butcher and Charcuterie Cooperatives – began a year later. The construction of a four-storey building, adjoining the corner house No. 16, which was built shortly before by the care of the city, was completed in 1928 by the builder Rudolf Pěchouček.

As in the case of the semi-detached house in Lobezská Street (C11–1117) realized nearly simultaneously, the plan documentation was prepared by Hanuš Zápal, together with his colleague from the Municipal Building Authority, Karel Ulč, whose signature is found on the drawings. He designed this building too as a pair of mirror-inverted houses connected by a sloping roof (a hipped roof here). The house was devised so as to emphasize its position in the middle of the street front. The “monumentalizing” effect of the building was further enhanced by the builder by raising the semi-detached house by almost an entire floor above the neighbouring municipal apartment building (and its later “twin” on the opposite side of the block).

Although the authors applied similar underlying principles in the design of the semi-detached house as in the building in Lobezská Street, in terms of mass arrangement they took inspiration from the apartment houses of the People’s Building and Housing Cooperative from the first half of the 1920s. To increase the number of housing units in the building, they complemented both parts of the semi-detached house with a perpendicular courtyard wing. (However, the designers of the apartment houses of the Trade-Civic Building and Housing Cooperative or the Zádruha Cooperative – see C3–1667 or C11–2367 – followed a similar approach). Nevertheless, they used a different characteristic feature of the semi-detached house design in Lobezská Street when they fitted the courtyard wings with a deck roof. 

Zápal and Ulč dynamized the lapidary mass of the semi-detached house with a modestly designed shell with the help of an unusual element of the layout, which they had applied in the semi-detached house project in Lobezská Street a few months earlier – they situated some of the hallways and toilets unconventionally in the street tract, illuminating them with windows in characteristically shaped loggia niches, which broke up the facade on the first, second and third floors. They also rhythmized the main facade under a distinctly protruding crown cornice with a grid of not very large windows and enlivened it with short line segments of window ledges, narrow “frames” of recessed chambranles and a continuous strip separating the ground floor from the higher floors and bearing relief inscriptions with the original names of the Cooperative shops. The symmetrical arrangement of the main facade, accentuated by a low roof dormer with purist forms, was disturbed only by the different size of the shops and their display windows.

As with the semi-detached house in Lobezská Street, Zápal and Ulč chose a two-wing arrangement with a central load-bearing wall for the main part of the semi-detached house. One-room flats with a separate kitchen were located in the street wing, and studio flats and the house staircase in the courtyard wing (therefore, the apartments were not cross-ventilated). An exception was the ground floor, where the authors dedicated the front section to the Cooperative shops and warehouses. In the two courtyard wings, connected to the main building by a narrow ground floor corridor, they placed one-room apartments with a kitchen. And, in this semi-detached house as well, the economical housing units were furnished only with toilets so that the two bathrooms in the basement of the courtyard wings were used by all the tenants of a total of forty flats. There were also two laundries and small cellar units in the basement of the building, while the attic remained empty.

The two houses also shared the fate of the progressive flat roofs atop the courtyard or side wings. In 1931 and 1932, the Cooperative decided to replace them with traditional hip roofs – probably due to leaks. In both cases, the builder Karel Krůta was commissioned to carry out the construction works. The courtyard wings of the semi-detached house in Masarykova Street underwent further alterations in the late 1970s, when one-room flats were modernized and merged into three-room apartments, equipped with a bathroom.

The charm of the soberly modern building was irrecoverably lost in 2019 due to an insensitive reconstruction of the facade. As a consequence of thermal insulation, all relief elements, including the inscriptions, were removed; the characteristic bend of the loggia niches vanished as the short parapet walls in the front of the facade were torn down, and the steel tubular railing was replaced by a conventional present-day solution. The original wooden windows had given way to plastic ones some years before that.


People’s Building and Housing Cooperative in Pilsen


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