Category Archives: Architecture

Tales of travel and adventure in Central Europe

The Globe Bookstore and Coffeehouse Turns 20

GlobeOpeningPartyThis photo shows the scene 20 years ago this week, when the Globe Bookstore and Coffeehouse first opened its doors in Prague’s Holesovice district. I was one of the five original partners and I can remember the details of that long and agonizing summer as we anticipated the opening as if it were yesterday.

The Prague Post published a story this week on the anniversary and plans in early August (August 2 and 3) to hold parties marking the milestone. Here is a link to another story with more details published in 2006. This week’s Post story is comprehensive and I won’t repeat bits here, other than to say it’s hard to believe so much time has gone by and that I feel very fortunate for having been part of the Globe from the very start. Read More →

Kotva: Of Carbuncles and Communist Memory

kotvascanThe following is from an article on Prague’s legacy of Communist architecture that I originally wrote for the publication ‘Hidden Europe’. The editors wanted me to focus on a couple of landmark buildings in the center of the city. The ‘carbuncle’ reference comes from Britain’s Prince Charles, who famously referred to that country’s stock of 1970s-era Brutalist architecture as, well, a bunch of carbuncles.

Prague’s Kotva department store (pictured left in a stock photo from the 1970s) just may be the ugliest building ever built in the Czech Republic.

It dates from the mid-1970s and was hailed at the time as a Czech example of “Brutalism” – then the reigning international architectural style – while meeting the special ideological demands of Communism.

In fact, by nearly any measure, it’s a classic Prince Charles’ carbuncle. Start with the exterior: It’s a hulking, dark-brown box, windowless on several sides. The façade, on close inspection, looks to be made of some type of corrugated sheet metal. Read More →

Built in Brno: When Empire Met Modern

TugendhateditThe following is an article I wrote on modern architecture in Brno for the Wall Street Journal in 2007. Much of it still holds up as a discussion of Functionalist architecture and Brno’s role as the most modern and forward-looking Czech city in the years between World War I and II. The Vila Tugendhat, mentioned below, has now been thoroughly renovated and is open to the public in all of its original splendor.

It’s not easy being Brno, the Czech Republic’s second-biggest city. Paired uncomfortably with a world-class beauty like Prague, it’s a dowdy Birmingham to Prague’s imperial London. Then there’s the matter of the difficult-to-pronounce name (it’s “BURR-no”).

But for a brief 20-year period following World War I, the capital of provincial Moravia took center stage when it came to modern architecture, outshining its more famous Bohemian rival and establishing itself — fleetingly — as one of the Continent’s most exciting places to build and design.

A surge in what would become known as Functionalism produced several important buildings in Brno — from private residences to office buildings and even a crematorium. Read More →