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at Academy of Arts Architecture and Design in Prague


What is the form of dressing up the space? A question that is still very topical. A question that goes to the very essence of the façade. But what is the specific issue of today in relation to this topic?
If the contemporary observer looks around, he will find that one garment is largely silent or wastes meaningless expressions, and the other speaks a language he has long since ceased to understand. We are talking about the confrontation between the contemporary and the historicizing house. Why the historicizing house? If we look more closely, we will see that this house is full of many communicative elements. Column, pilaster, bossage, edicule, pediment, cornice, arch, but also sgraffito, etc. There are many elements here, and each of them carries a certain message. The façade itself becomes a kind of complex table of references to a particular historical style, but also to a mythological, religious or political story. It would seem that these are outdated symbols that are no longer needed today. But is this really the case? Haven't we gotten into a bit of a situation where the only thing that speaks to us most often from the facade of a house is the pure presentation of material or technology? Or rather, that the material speaks for itself and there is nothing to add? Or should the technological art dazzle or rather intoxicate us so much that we simply do not want anything else? Imagine a Colosseum without "unnecessary" rows of pilasters. Yes, the building would certainly remain dazzling enough for the contemporary observer, but apparently that was not enough for the Roman builders. They needed to give the building a legacy with a story - a décor that would add poetry to the building. Of course, it couldn't be just any decor, but decor that was related to the principle of the building, but above all to the culture to which the Roman builders subscribed, as they were aware of its immense quality. This is why the building can speak fully. The question is, however, what are today's houses supposed to tell us? At a time when mythological, religious or national stories have long been off the agenda. In an age that still lives off the principles of modernism, which in its early days swept away any decor from the surface of the façade. In an age where the potential of the house to speak is mired in the censorship of advertising. A time when the very notion of heritage has lost its original value. We live in the age of the internet, in the age of the overabundance of links. Yes, these times don't lend much to the eloquence of the facade as they used to. But should architecture resign itself to this theme? Isn't it time to give passers-by the incentive to read the architectural surface fully again? For if we look at certain trends in society, we find that talking architecture is subconsciously missing from people's minds. By these tendencies I mean, for example, Videomapping, Street art, but also the very colourful painting of houses or the cladding with polystyrene decorative elements.

The present work deals with the theme of the façade, specifically the hidden meaning of its key decorative element, the ancient column. The main aim is to uncover the forgotten essence of this element and, through a re-interpretation in contemporary language, to bring it back to the face of the contemporary house, namely to bring it closer to the contemporary observer. In order to solve this problem comprehensively, but at the same time with sufficient emphasis on the architectural surface, the final outcome is the design of a new façade on the existing supporting structure. The location of the solution is Wenceslas Square, the epicentre of the architectural communication.


If we say "facade in the context of Prague", one of the first places that comes to mind is certainly Wenceslas Square. A place where the face of the building as a significant participation in public space has been intensively addressed since a certain period of time. The second half of the 19th century was a crucial turning point. "When the walls fell, the suburbs with their rapidly growing industry gradually joined the city, when Greater Prague emerged with the Republic and the population reached one million. Thanks to its location and size, Wenceslas Square became the natural centre of this Greater Prague, the centre of transport, financial institutions, trade, editorial offices and newspaper printers, as well as entertainment with its many cinemas, cafés, pubs, bars and hotels." In short, the original horse market grew into the "heart of modern Prague, which became the crossroads of the history of the city and our country in the 20th century". Although this status persists to this day, the place has unfortunately undergone some changes. The current situation is that about one in ten houses is now empty, and many of them belong to foreign owners who have capital stored up rather than an interest in the place's flourishing. The mistake was made mainly during the communist regime, when after the Second World War the buildings were nationalised, i.e. taken away from the original owners. This severed the ties and after the coup, when ownership was partially restored, many of the owners no longer had the financial means to renovate and the houses began to be sold off in large numbers. At the same time, however, it must be said that this place, despite its less than ideal current state, is facing major changes in the future that should restore the place to its original standard. I don't think that planting new trees will help, but the reconstruction itself can certainly help the place. Another important role will of course be played by the return of the original tram line, which clearly belongs here. The place would also be greatly helped by the diversion and calming of the arterial road itself, which is still a question mark. Another big change will be the new large Savarin complex, which is in close proximity. Most of all, however, it would benefit from the return of enlightened owners who would be genuinely interested in uplifting this dilapidated showcase of the metropolis.
As for the houses themselves and their facades, the square can be divided into several groups. The first are the buildings which, by their size, illustrate the original historical plotting and heights. Although their quality lies primarily in this preservation, there are also very successful and unique examples among them. The next group are the so-called 'neo-palaces', which are also the most numerous. Their value lies mainly in their rich baroque motifs. Among them is the Wiehl House, which is perhaps the most interesting element of the houses on Wenceslas Square for its uniqueness. This group is followed by the Art Nouveau palaces, which stand out above all for their magnificent and original decoration. This is followed by houses from the functionalism and purism periods. Naturally, these buildings abandon traditional decoration in favour of large glazed facades, on which, apart from the dazzling glass, advertising becomes the only decorative element. There is also a representation from the ranks of 20th century neoclassical facades. Despite their relative austerity, one can observe interesting ways of reinterpreting the classical language as well as original reliefs. Another group consists of houses that no longer have a more numerous representation of their period style on Wenceslas Square. This is the Družba department store, which is particularly notable for its specific tower made up of media panels. It is also worth mentioning the postmodern House Na Můstku, which has its qualities mainly in its work with the corner and reinterpretation of the articulation of the original house that stood on this site. Finally, we cannot forget the Euro Palace, which is the last quality work that was built on Wenceslas Square. This is mainly due to its elegant work with the symbolic golden tower, which together with the Crown Palace forms the lower gate of the square.

In the design part of my thesis I decided to work with the building on Wenceslas Square No. 47. The intention is not to demolish the building or redesign its layout. The main purpose of this work is to concentrate purely on its surface, i.e. the facade. If we look at the supporting structure of the building, we find that it is a standard reinforced concrete skeleton, which is not a major problem of this building. Within the layout, it creates a loose floor plan that can be freely modified, even in the form of connecting floors. The division of floors is also not problematic, as it follows the typical division into a commercial high ground floor and a regular administrative floor, which is not unfamiliar to Wenceslas Square. The real problem with the building is its method of communication, specifically the mindless and cheap expressions that this building wastes. It is not at all clear from the decor used what it actually refers to or what is hidden behind it. At the same time, the complicated articulation of the window grid and the attempt to have a tower, which is not there, also contribute to the unconvincing fa- sade.
In fact, if we look back at the surfaces of the buildings within Wenceslas Square, we can see that many of them contain a plethora of symbolic elements that bear some real reference to a deeper meaning or historical pattern. At the same time, they are often pioneers of a new style at the time and thus become iconic objects that form the unique character of our "showcase metropolis". The question then arises: 'How should the current facade of the multifunctional building on Wenceslas Square look?'


Let's start with the most important part, the content of the house message. In my opinion, it is essential to constantly communicate to people, i.e. to remind them of the forgotten essence of things. In this case, it is the ancient column as decor that has survived to the present day. However, the problem lies in the way we look at it today and whether we are still aware of its essence. This is mainly due to the modernist break with tradition, but also
the way we look at the historical object today as a preserved monument. The aim of the communication is therefore to uncover the forgotten essence through contemporary language. But what is the essence of the communicative element I am writing about here? As I have already mentioned in the first chapter of this thesis, the essence of ancient decor can be understood as the expression of a certain adoration, that is, an act of worship or adoration of a god. At this point, however, a fundamental contradiction arises, namely the confrontation of a sacred decorative element with a strongly profane application. Is it appropriate for a commercial and administrative building to borrow sacred language? Given the times in which we live, times that are overwhelmed by consumerism, it is all the more necessary to encourage people to reflect on the things they see around them and thus give them the opportunity to get to the heart of things. It is all the more appropriate to present this message in a less conspicuous way. For this reason, the house should fulfil the educational function of a book or other textual or pictorial medium. The power of an image or text to speak in a book is simply different from that of the façade of a house. In my opinion, therefore, it is important that a commercial or office building should also speak about more important things. If only because they currently constitute the majority of new buildings. All the more so if it is a house on Wenceslas Square, which is the epicentre of representation. So to use language referring to the sacred within a profane object is not a serious problem for me.
The form of communication with the contemporary observer should be comprehensible, but not cheap. In order to be intelligible, one needs to use a visually proximate language that one is familiar with at the level of the everyday. If we think about this, the language of advertising certainly comes to the surface. The use of a purely advertising medium as a communication element within a façade would just be too cheap. What can be worked with, however, are the individual fragments, as subconsciously known communication elements that can be integrated into the tectonics of the building. In the case of a department store, the figure of a model or a model offers itself as a communicative fragment. However, this is not only an element within the clothing industry. These are figures that we see every day on advertising surfaces, as a universal structure for selling a product. They are the chosen anonymous ones who are constantly displayed before our eyes. Their meaning, however, can be interpreted as more than a mere construct for selling a product. They can also be compared to those sacrifices carrying the roof of an ancient temple as an expression of adoration. In this case we can speak of the adoration of consumerism. The form thus becomes a kind of direct reflection of the current state of society. It takes on the face of advertising, but points to a much deeper essence than simply selling a product. It refers to tradition and its essence. Another means of contemporary language is the Internet. Within this digital world, which is increasingly intertwined with the material one, one fundamental thing can be observed that can be used for the form of the message within the façade. That thing is the phenomenon of reference. The Internet is essentially a grouping of countless links of all kinds that we click through on a daily basis. We are therefore used to easily and quickly uncovering information and what is behind it. It is the process of uncovering the links that is important for architectural surface reading. To this can be added the phenomenon of "scrolling", which is also a way of reading today.

The design is a regular square system. This is partly due to its clean and simple look, but also a reference to the Instagram grid as a contemporary self-presentation platform. The frames are thus meant to draw attention to the parallel between real and virtual self-display. The basic structure of the object is based on the traditional division into legs, body and head of the house. This is a system that is often forgotten today, and yet for centuries has been the basis for the division of not only the palace type, which this house is. The lower limbs of the building are formed by the base, namely the imitation bossage. Boslage is defined as 'Sculptured or imitated in plaster blockwork with a projecting surface roughly dressed, dressed in the form of a diamond cut, etc.'. Within his- toria, this type of treatment also spoke, among other things, of the status of the owner of the house. The reason I see the sense in bringing back this element is primarily in its ability to aptly represent the lower part of the house. The next part is the body. This is where the façade becomes both more lightweight and more telling. This is a hybrid order of revealing, which is defined in detail in the next chap- ter. The last part of the house is its head, i.e. the crown.

The whole thing is underlined or highlighted in colour. This function of colour has been the main one from the beginning. Since the material used is aluminium, it can be treated by anodising, which is "an electrochemical process whereby a uniform compact oxide layer is formed on the surface of a metal (aluminium, titanium, niobium) which is involved as an anode in an electrolytic bath, which is significantly harder and more chemically resistant than the metal itself, thus improving the mechanical and chemical properties of the anodised products". This process also produces a natural colouration that corresponds to the applied stress. Although the colour can be enhanced by chemical dyes as part of the process, the purpose of the application is precisely to preserve the natural colour. It follows that a tension strength can be assigned to each colour. This effect is used to colour the individual elements within the façade. Each floor therefore has its own colour, which corresponds to the degree of tension that the element 'carries'. The range of colours therefore progresses from a higher stress - the load - to a lower one. This arrangement promotes the gradation of the surface.

At the beginning there was the question of what order to give to the facade today. At a time when the status of men and women is undergoing a major redefinition. If we are to think of the system as a reflection of society, it is hard to imagine that we could put the sexes in a hierarchical order, i.e. male, female and girl. In my opinion, we need to create an order that better represents this situation within the framework of today. The proposal is therefore a so-called unisex order, which has a proportion of 1/8 diameter to height. It is an averaging of the male 1/7 and the female 1/9, as described by Vitruvius in his Ten Books on Architecture. This order also corresponds to the regular repetition of the height of each floor. To give the façade a certain gradation, layering and readability, the system is designed as a gradual unveiling of the essence of the element. At the same time, it follows the aforementioned process of uncovering links within the internet or scrolling. The order thus proceeds as follows. The first tier is realistic depictions of bodies. The first element is a reinterpretation of Karyatid, which is more reminiscent of a male figure in its body position. Next to him stands a woman who, on the other hand, is more in the position of Atlante, who is the mythological giant supporting the vault of heaven. Thus, there is an intermingling of the sexes even on a horizontal level. From the most massive link, the order progresses to a lighter form of the so-called Hermes. Herma is defined as: "A male or female semi-substance with an architectural formation in place of the lower half of the body, usually in the function of a vertical supporting member". This is followed by the semi-column, or pilaster, which is defined as "A vertical architectural member projecting slightly from the face of the wall and - unlike the lyssena - provided with a head and foot." The design is a simplified element speaking of its proportion, i.e. 1/8 width to height. The last element is text, specifically hypertext, which symbolizes an internet link and also directly reveals the essence of the element, i.e. adoration. The final floor is left blank. The whole system of reading thus moves from the heavy material to the light immaterial.


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