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ThrowbackThursday : The Federal Assembly

One of Prague’s more controversial buildings is a fusion of mismatched styles

If pictures of the former stock exchange on what is now Wilsonova Street look a bit familiar but not quite right, there is a reason for that.

The exchange building, the work of architect Jaroslav Rössler, was completed in 1938. It didn’t serve as an exchange very long, and became the home of the National Assembly, or parliament, after the war. There was not much need for a stock and commodities exchange in the communist era.

But the space proved insufficient., ant it was meant as temporary measure until a new building could be built on Letenské náměstí.

Then in 1966 a competition was announced to expand the former stock exchange to make it suitable to house the Federal Assembly, with two chambers: the House of the People and the Chamber of the Nations.

The competition was won by Karel Prager, one of the top architects of the communist era. His other works include the glass-encased New Stage of National Theatre and the crystalline-shaped Komerční banka building in Smíchov, as well as several unrealized projects that have a slightly dystopian futuristic look.

The expanded Federal Assembly has divided both the public and the critics. Rather than continue the building in its old fashioned and boring stone bank style, Prager added a modern glass, metal and stone building on top and around it, sort of like putting a fancy modern frame on a mediocre old painting.

One guide to Prague architecture, Prague: Eleven Centuries of Architecture, refers to is as “an unsuitable solution” to integrating modern architecture in to a historical setting.

The two style don’t completely clash, though. There is an echo of the stonework on the old building in the new support pillars and the side wall of the new entry wing. The vertical lines of the exchanges windows are seen in the strong verticals of the new structure.

An avant-garde sculpture by Vincenc Makovský was added in front of the building and a metal pillar was places on the side for decoration.

The building served as the Federal Assembly until 1992, when Czechoslovakia split up into two separate countries.

Some renovations over the years, though, have altered the architect’s original vision and many of the interior design elements meant to give a cohesiveness to the structure are now gone.

The building then served as home for Radio Free Europe, from 1994 to 2002. Because of security concerns, concrete barriers and an armored military vehicle made access to the building difficult and also hindered road traffic during much of this time.

A restaurant located in the back of the building advertised itself as the world’s safest restaurant due to all the security.

The building is now again accessible to the public as it is currently operated by the National Museum, and the barriers and APC are now gone from the city center.

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