Sunday, July 12, 2009

I needed some cash in my new neighborhood

When I first moved into my Prague neighborhood, I needed to run to an ATM to pay my security deposit. "No problem," said my flatmate, "my bank is nearby." Based on my experience of ATMs in America, I wasn't expecting much. I actually wasn't expecting anything at all.

Local bank branches in America are usually housed in small brick buildings of 5,000-15,000 square feet and are forgettable in appearance. Cities usually deplore them because these branches use up prime corners of real estate and don't bring in any sales tax. Plus, have you noticed how many corners they take up? It's a lot. It's a rare bank building in America that evokes any emotion upon entering.

Not so in Prague. Join me in the pleasure of discovering the beautiful architecture of the Legio Bank Building (now CSOB) at 24 Na Porici in Prague. Before the Internet and TV ad campaigns, formidable architecture probably equaled branding. Cities were more glorious for it! Now that brick-and-mortar banks have to compete with Internet banks, maybe they could go back to imposing architecture to differentiate themselves and give us some reason to go in there...but I digress. I came back to this bank again and again for the sheer pleasure of it.

LegioBank's version of Prague Paving,
the stone of choice for
Prague sidewalks,
was my first signal this would be
no ordinary branch.
It was no ordinary sidewalk.
Notice the repetition of circles
and half circles throughout the project.

The bank was designed by
Czech architect Josef Gocar in 1921-1923
in the style of Rondo (Round) Cubism
which expressed Czech nationalism
at the time.

It featured a frieze designed by Czech sculptor
Otto Guttfreund, depicting scenes from
Czechoslovak history unknown to present-day Americans,
when the Czech foreign legion fought in Siberia
during the First World War.

Later, Otto died before his time
by drowning in the Vltava River.

There is a pathos sometimes to Eastern European
political art unknown in American art.
Could you picture the soldier in the gas mask
on an American bank?
Me neither.
Regardless, I loved it because
it made me stop and contemplate the soldier's fate
each time I went there.

Stunning iron railing detail
again repeating the circle theme.

Oh, the pleasure of opening these
massive front doors!

Enjoy with me the superb detail
on the floors and the ceilings.

Funny, he didn't repeat the circle theme
on the floor, maybe circular tiles
didn't exist?

More exquisite woodworking
Internal doors.

The circular iron scrollwork guarding the elevator
is done in the colors of the Czech national flag:
red, blue and white.

Photos aren't allowed of the lobby
with it's pretty fountain and beautiful
architectural detail. It is a bank after all
and has to worry about security.

I will say it was several moments of just standing and
looking at it with my mouth agape before I could go ahead
and pursue my bank business.
It's that pretty.

You'll have to settle for the lobby foyer, above.
Down the hall is the vault and the trust department.
Even the vault has beautiful scrollwork!

Align Center
What do these shut gates leading upstairs
say to you? Open and explore?
Me too!
Let's go!

Oh, and in case you needed MORE BEAUTY
as you walked up the stairs
the architect provided it on the
stairwell ceiling.

And in marble on the walls.

Wow. I wonder what this room was used for.
The parquet floors are so beautiful.
I can imagine the Board of Directors meeting here.
Or an amazing cocktail party
Or the waiting room lobby for the bank execs.

This room and dome were on the second floor of
a building with about five or six floors.

Beautiful wall painting detail.

Imagine, this dome made it from the 1920s
without being ruined.
Small miracles.
Another beautiful design detail it would be hard
to imagine in America.
An American developer would want to rent
all the square footage
or let the atrium light benefit every floor
by removing the inner windows and walls.

Orco, a real estate company,
is developing the offices for rent.
You could hang out with the soldier.
That office window is available.


Kathy said...

WOW! That is absolutely awesome!

Anonymous said...

So beautiful! You're right; I can't imagine any bank in the US looking like this. Thanks for sharing!

Michael Carøe Andersen said...

Wow, cool. I'll have to walk by there some day and have a look.

There is another building close to Mustek with a similar architecture.

Karen said...

Thanks everybody. Michael, I think I know that building by Mustek. Is there a cafe on the second floor with a balcony where you can sit and watch all of Prague fabulousness go by? Always meant to go there in the summer months.

Michael Carøe Andersen said...

Yeah that's it. I haven't been inside that one as well. Oh, still so much to see in Prague :)

Bethy{aka}lilsis said...


salamander said...

Great post, thanks. Maybe you'd like to go and see a lesser known Art Nouveau bank tucked away in Prague 10, too. Take tram 22 and get off at 'Vrsovicke namesti'. Then walk back about 50 yards, the bank, with its columns and eagles, is easy to find.

Karen said...

Ooh, thanks for the tip salamander. I'd love to see it!

Isil Musluer said...

Wow! I really loved your post Karen! I adored those fantastic doors. I would love to see them.

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