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

Guldenerova 1317, 1258 / 21, 23, Sladkovského 1258, 1213, 1214 / 65, 67, 69 (Plzeň) Plzeň Východní Předměstí
Public transport: Petrohrad (TROL 12)
GPS: GPS: 49.7414992N, 13.3939097E

The People’s Building and Housing Cooperative in Pilsen had been building apartment houses in Sladkovského Street and its surroundings systematically since the early 1920s. In 1930 and 1931, it complemented them in the eastern part of the street, at the intersection with Guldenerova Street, with a relatively large corner complex of five-storey buildings with small apartments to at least partially satisfy the continuing demand for attainable rental housing. Two detached houses and one semi-detached house were realized in three stages by Pilsen builders Karel Hájek, Rudolf Pěchouček, František Kvasnička and Karel Krůta.

The intention to build on the corner plot was formed by the Cooperative as early as in 1928. The idea was that of a “corner house in the manner of foreign cities”, the ground floor of which would include an inn and – similarly to the Cooperative semi-detached house in Masarykova street in Doubravka from 1927-1928 – shops of the West Bohemian Consumer and West Bohemian Butcher and Charcuterie Cooperatives. The other floors were to hold up to 62 one- or two-room flats. The living units were conceived as “the cheapest possible”, with sanitary facilities to be shared by the tenants – employees of the city or people recommended by the city – on each floor. For economic reasons, the apartments were to be equipped with a stove located in an alcove with the possibility of separating it from the living room by a curtain. They were to be closed with small halls with a wardrobe and a pantry.

The corner house was meant to stand out with its ingenious mass concept combining round and rectangular shapes and become the dominant element and focus of life in the area. The project was developed by architect Hanuš Zápal together with his colleague from the Municipal Building Authority and another traditional collaborator of the Cooperative, Karel Ulč, on the basis of their study trips to Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands, where buildings of a similar type had proved successful. The facade, where the authors combined smooth plasters and bare brick surfaces, also revealed the Nordic inspiration.

The final appearance of the house, built in 1931, however, came from a different, seemingly more modest project, probably prepared by the “construction assistant” Václav Fiala. Although he adopted some motifs from Zápal and Ulč’s solution in his design – the slight elevation of the corner part of the building, modern flat roofing or small windows of the “attic”, he moved away from the previous project in most others. In the exterior, for example, he did not apply the retraction of the wings in the corner, the round curve in the ground plan of the part facing Sladkovského Street or the generous areas of ​​unplastered masonry. Václav Fiala intersected both purist, smoothly-plastered facades in the first to fourth floor with a large shallow risalit with a grid of three-light windows and distinctive, plain cornices at the level of the window sills and lintels – including the corner part.

Such morphology, characterized by a simple play of lights and shadows and an absence of excessive décor, became characteristic of the “Cooperative” architecture at the turn of the 1920s and 1930s. The importance of the corner was underlined by a balcony on the first floor, lined with steel tubular railings, and corner windows flanked by a vertical strip with the inscription “RESTAURANT” in the section facing Sladkovského street. The top floor was lit by three standard large windows, but small windows were also applied to a number of houses from around 1930, including other buildings in the complex or the Cooperative or municipal apartment houses in Plachého and Korandova streets (C2–1922).

The restaurant premises were located on the ground floor, and on the other floors there were always seven one-room apartments with a kitchen and toilet and one studio flat; the bathroom, however, remained shared (on each floor there were always two bathrooms accessible from the corridor). With the exception of the outer parts of both wings of the ground plan and the “room”, the living area was facing the street, while the facilities and the hallway joined them in a narrow belt along the middle load-bearing wall. The “attic”, topped with a modern flat roof hidden behind a low parapet wall, also contained, in addition to storage space, a laundry with an ironing room and a drying room, and even an original playroom for children. In the corner of a modest yard with concrete paving, a shelter for bicycles, prams and bins was placed.

In 1930, shortly before the start of the construction of the corner building, the neighbouring semi-detached house No. 67-69 had been completed in Sladkovského Street, again with a typical purist facade, shallow bay windows and rectangular vertically oriented windows. Smooth surfaces were only enlivened by simple window sills and chambranles, as well as relief inscriptions with the name of the Cooperative. This facade solution, where the authorship of Hanuš Zápal is provable, was applied by the Cooperative in variations in a number of its realizations since the late 1920s – for example in the above mentioned complex of apartment houses in Plachého and Korandova streets.

The semi-detached house in Sladkovského Street concentrated a total of 34 one-room and four two-room apartments on the ground floor and other storeys. With the exception of the ground floor two-room apartment, all other units shared bathrooms (one between two apartments). The flat facilities were arranged in a somewhat awkward layout near the staircase, situated at the courtyard facade outside the central axis of the floor plan. Under the roof, there were attic storage units, a laundry room, and a children’s playroom.

In the front of Guldenerova Street, the corner building joined apartment house No. 21, which was constructed in 1930-1931. The author of the project, once again Václav Fiala, emphasized the central axis and the vertical character of the front facade with a double-graded avant-corps, the windows of which were lined with vertical relief strips and a centrally located entrance accentuated by a rectangular relief casing of the upper part.

The building differed from the other parts of the complex not only in its architectural form, but also in the three-wing layout with the living area facing the street and the courtyard and the facilities located in the middle tract. The architect arranged a total of 15 one-room apartments with a separate kitchen and nine studio flats in the house – with the exception of the ground floor – always two studios and three apartments per floor. Unlike the other buildings in the complex, every housing unit had its own sanitary facilities. The construction programme of the space under the roof was identical to the corner house of the ensemble.

The whole complex has retained its original function to this day; only the restaurant on the ground floor of the corner building was converted into a canteen of the nearby Pilsen Power Distribution Plant at the turn of the 1940s and 1950s and adapted for commercial purposes in the 1990s. The shell of the building has recently undergone a significant reconstruction, which on one hand respected the relief elements of the facade, but not its original colour on the other. Moreover, due to the thermal insulation of the external walls, the windows were moved away from the facade surface; the vertical restaurant sign also no longer exists. The other two houses have preserved their original architectural character, including the typical relief typography with the name of the Cooperative on the building front.



People’s Building and Housing Cooperative in Pilsen


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