Saturday, August 22, 2009

The building blocks of Communism

They say that Communism was a failed social experiment, but it was also very clearly a failed architectural experiment.

Driving into the Czech Republic was one of the most bizarre and depressing periods of my trip. To get to Prague we had to first transit through Slovakia, of former Czechoslovakia fame. This was a country still trying to shake the hangover of communism and pull itself out from behind the stigma of the former iron curtain. Square lifeless buildings, designed purely for function and in no way containing any artistic or visual merit, more than dotted the landscape throughout Slovakia (at least the parts that I could see).

I had thoughts that once we entered the Czech Republic that things would be different, and we would see some of the architecture that the jewel of Eastern Europe is known for. Crossing the border only led to further disappointment though, and I saw more of the same rigid and imposing buildings wherever I looked. Arriving at the hotel, I was pleased to see a little colour on this building, though it followed the motif of depressing and square faithfully.

I think the best way to describe buildings built in the communist era is as though a lazy teenager with a short attention span has designed it as part of a school assignment.

In fact, it reminded me very much of my high school graphic design projects with Mr Holden. I hated that subject, and I would put only the minimum effort required which would allow me to pass and not fail the year. One particular project we had to design a building, and Mr Holden had just given me detention for sitting next to someone who used to light matches, and so I was less than inspired to put any effort into it. My building was nothing more than a four-storied rectangle. When I showed him my draft I was advised that it was boring, and didn’t even have any colour. So I coloured each story a different colour.

This is my hotel in Prague. It is almost as though a communist spy had travelled into the future, stolen my blueprint for a successful building, and adapted it for their needs by adding another 10 stories. It was all very garish, especially as this hotel was used to demonstrate to the West the power and might of the Communist way of thinking.

Luckily these buildings are usually only limited to the outer areas of the city – the actual city centre of Prague turns out to be every bit the jewel of the Eastern European crown.

1 comment:

  1. I really should keep up with your blog more often. This totally gave me my laughs for the day!! Especially the bit about you getting detention for sitting 'next' to someone who used to light matches :-)