HANUŠ ZÁPAL (1885–1964) Pilsen architect

07/10/2015 to 07/02/2016
exhibition hall "13"
Petr Domanický
Petr Domanický

Although Hanuš Zápal (1885-1964 ) was the greatest architect of the 20th century in Pilsen, very little attention was paid to him. Several decades later, having been completely forgotten, his name is now known and many of his achievements are protected cultural monuments; however, a comprehensive monograph of his work is still lacking. Zápal devoted practically his entire lifetime to architecture and the protection of monuments in the region, and he made a significant impact on its appearance.

From 1910, when he became an employee of the City of Pilsen, he designed a number of important public buildings in Pilsen, mainly schools and social institutions, but also buildings of a technical nature. At the same time, he privately dealt with house design and the protection of monuments. Above all, the premises of the baroque pilgrimage site in Mariánská Týnice near Kralovice was saved thanks to him. In the pre-war period he privately designed a number of other public buildings in towns in West Bohemia. Zápal’s work in the period 1910-1960 comprises dozens of designs and implementations covering the entire development of Czech modern architecture from Neoclassicism and late Art Nouveau, through Cubism and Kotěra-modernism, Rondocubism and Purism to Functionalism.

The exhibition, which presents the first complete view of the architect's work, is held on the occasion of the 130th anniversary of his birth, 105 years since the start of his work in Pilsen, a hundred years after winning the title of City Engineer, and on the occasion of the year that Pilsen becomes the European Capital of Culture. The exhibition includes not only historical plans, photographs and documents, but also models of buildings.

An eponymous book is published in cooperation with the Starý most publishing house and becomes the first major comprehensive remembrance of Zápal’s work.

The most significant partners of the exhibition and book
West Bohemian Museum in Pilsen
Archives of the City of Pilsen
Archives of the Department of Edifices at the Pilsen City Council
Museum and Gallery of the Northern Pilsen Region at Mariánská Týnice
Central archives of the company Pilsner Urquell
State Reginal Archives
National Archives
private archives
archives of schools
Zapálení group and others

For Jan Zápal, who used the first name Hanuš from his time at university, the fact that his family originated from the Rakovník and Kralovice regions had significant importance. The local landscape, with its many monuments whose origins are usually associated with Plasy Monastery in the Baroque period, had an extraordinary influence on him. Not only did he make efforts to save endangered monuments, but he also drew inspiration from these Baroque masterpieces throughout his life as an architect.        His characteristic sensitive incorporation of new buildings into the landscape, his consideration of mass, and his nonviolent continuity of structures of different character all have precedents in High Baroque buildings.

It is logical that Zápal, whose interest in monuments was evident at the early age, formed an attachment to Professor Jan Koula during his studies of architecture at Prague Technical School. Zápal was also a member of the group of students that Koula took to the Club for Old Prague, over which he presided. Moreover, Zápal worked for Koula as a part of his work experience – he prepared materials for the reconstruction of one of the most important monuments in Pilsen, the Renaissance Town Hall. He also briefly worked for Antonín Balšánek, preparing detailed plans of some of the interiors of the Municipal House in Prague; for example, the Smetana Hall foyer. A great stimulus for Zápal was his relatively long work experience with Bedřich Bendelmayer, who was creatively evolving historical building principles. The Town Hall in Pilsen became a symbolical building for the novice architect due to the fact that, shortly after his training with Koula, he succeeded in tendering the job of municipal architect in Pilsen, the centre of his native region. He worked at the Pilsen City Building Authority for more than two decades. Zápal’s arrival happily coincided with a time of change around the turn of the 20th century, moving away from the extremely conservative atmosphere characteristic of Pilsen urbanism, architecture, monument preservation and art. The previous authority of the strongly conservative architects František Auer, Josef Farkač and Josef Škorpil was gradually being replaced by the younger generation. Zápal’s position in Pilsen, and at the building authority, was not easy and carried with it countless bureaucratic problems. However, the architect was able to implement an unusual number of designs for extensive buildings for a wide spectrum of purposes. Even though, thanks to this, he held an exclusive position, the absence of competition did not in his case lead to mediocrity or creative atrophy. One recognisably strong influence at the beginning of his Pilsen engagement was the Neo-classicist Ludvig Tremmel, who could be considered around 1910 to be probably the only local creative architect implementing numerous contracts based on the creative work of the Baroque and Classicist masters. But, at the same time, Zápal also followed the work of Jan Kotěra and the latest foreign realisations, which he often visited personally. In his first solo project, the complex of school buildings on Radecký Square (today’s Masaryk Square), recognizable beneath the details of late Art Nouveau and Neoclassicism is the strong influence of Baroque mass composition, whose modern transformation was introduced shortly before in Pilsen by Ladislav Skřivánek. Zápal took inspiration for the details from school buildings in the West.

During the First World War, Hanuš Zápal devoted himself to the reconstruction and modification of many monuments. These works included projects on the interiors of the historic Town Hall and the adjacent Imperial House. Through his work on the reconstruction of the city’s most prominent monument – St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral – he cooperated closely with Kamil Hilbert, with whom he also collaborated later and whose approaches strongly affected his own work. As a restorer, Zápal himself repaired endangered Aleš frescos on one of Pilsen’s houses and in 1917 he designed the pedestal for Jan Zoul’s headstone where he applied, for the first time in Pilsen, the morphology of Czech Cubism. After the First World War, Zápal further developed his cooperation with Ladislav Lábek and his circle, especially the Society for Ethnography and Monument Preservation. Together they worked on the preservation of historical buildings in Pilsen and its wide surroundings – his most outstanding work was in Mariánský Týnec, where he saved a Baroque pilgrimage site from destruction at the last minute. He cooperated with leading historian Antonín Friedl at Hůrka in Plzenec, and also in Plasy. From 1920, his own work started leaning more towards the geometrical Modernism of Kotěra, but he also incorporated elements of Neoclassicism and Cubism. In the so-called Sokol Pavilion he created the first public building in Pilsen to be recognized as Modernist. Not only did he use the then progressive constructions of so-called Hetzer frames, but also the pleasantness of colourful traditional Slavic folk art. The most distinctive link to the constructions of Kotěra can be seen in the buildings of the Higher School of Economics in Pilsen. Zápal thoughtfully and extraordinarily sensitively incorporated this building into the surrounding landscape and greenery.       A rare understanding between architect and builder can be seen in the design of Ladislav Lábek’s own house. Lábek’s preserved diary uniquely captures the initial thoughts that accompanied his search for expression in the new buildings emerging shortly after the establishment of an independent republic. Along with Modernism, Zápal, mainly in city contracts, also used Cubist elements and elements from the so-called National Style (Rondo-cubism). However, the mass solution often remains under the influence of Baroque rules. With the building known as the “Skyscraper”, Zápal had the arduous task of unifying three chaotically designed disparate buildings into one unit. His solution eventually became the symbol of the successful modernization of Pilsen in the interwar period. Even back then, part of it constituted the conversion of older industrial buildings, most notably in the case of the reconstruction of a former mill into so-called Social Care Homes. Thanks to numerous large city investments, of which Zápal was a part, the architect could be seen to be seeking      the expression of new types of building – for example, the filtration building of the city waterworks and the crematorium, projects which were preceded by a study tour of Germany and Switzerland. Privately, he designed the first modern Bohemian Brethren prayer room in South-west Bohemia.

Throughout all of his creations, if the context demanded, Hanuš Zápal worked with reference to folk architecture. Rural buildings thus significantly influenced the concept for the house that he designed in the early 1920s for his parents in Kralovice, and also, for example, the complex of school and post office buildings built in Železná Ruda the decade after. In the case of the residential building and restaurant in Pilsen’s Bílá Hora he combined elements of the English country pub with the gable of a residential building from Essen in Germany with elements of local historical architecture.

Although Zápal devoted practically his whole life to his native region, he also realized some projects elsewhere. The most significant is the extensive complex at the School of Economics in Opava, where he applied the newly conceived Neoclassicism, resembling Engel’s university buildings in Prague’s Dejvice. In the case of the Masaryk Institute building in Pilsen, Zápal simultaneously proposed flat roofs for the whole building for the first time and began a period in which many of his projects were based on contemporary Dutch architecture. The symbolic crowning of more than twenty years of work for the city of Pilsen was, even in an artistic sense, represented by the school building in Pilsen-Doubravka. He chose a functionalistic style with flat roofs, probably due to the fact that the surrounding area was an up and coming modern city district.

Zápal continued designing privately after his retirement in 1931, primarily focusing on school buildings in smaller towns in the Pilsen Region. Each expression was chosen individually according to the context of each particular place. At the same time he sought his own way, different to contemporary functionalists. The highlights of these endeavours are the school building in Plasy, taking into consideration the context of the nearby Baroque monastery, and the Bohemian Brethren Church in Kralovice, whose model is found in the religious buildings of Northern Europe. The design of the Catholic Church for the Pilsen district of Skvrňany represents a remarkable work. The intentional effort to distinguish the Catholic Church from the usual contemporary buildings of that half of the 1930s can be sensed in his return to historical architectonic elements.

In retirement Zápal became intensely devoted to monuments – first of all, he finally began the complex rescue of the pilgrimage site in Mariánská Týnice, about which      he had been dreaming since his early youth. The approach to the restoration of this monument, culminating at the beginning of the Second World War, represents an extraordinary contribution, also from the point of view of the development of the theory  of monument preservation, on a national level. The war period also included his large realisations for the so-called Penny Club of Škoda factory workers, with whom he had already cooperated in the past. The pinnacle of this era is the sanatorium in Lipnice nad Sázavou, whose character, due to the lack of steel during the war, lead to the expression of a building resembling the works of Frank L. Wright or Vladimír Grégr.

After the Second World War, Hanuš Zápal devoted himself almost exclusively to monuments – first place in his hierarchy once again stood Mariánská Týnice. His      last known work was the adaptation of the staircase in front of the Baroque church        in Přeštice. The Communist regime managed to practically eliminate Zápal from    public life and move him out of Pilsen. Societies in which he operated ceased to exist. The personal ambitions of an individual connected to the totalitarian regime even led to Zápal’s expulsion from Mariánská Týnice. The fact that he was devoted to it, on and off, for more than half a century and that, thanks to him, it had survived up until the second half of the 20th century, ceased to be mentioned. Also, his architectural works were affected by the degradation of values characteristic of society as a whole. Only since the 1990s has interest in Zápal’s work slowly reawakened. His most important surviving buildings have become cultural monuments, and this book is the culmination of efforts to create an honourable monograph of the most important representative of the architecture of South-western Bohemia in the last two centuries – the ‘Gočár of Western Bohemia’.