Prototype House with a Prefabricated Skeleton

Date 1953–1954
Architekti/ky Karel Janů, Karel Prager
Trail Otrokovice
Code Z12
Address Mánesova 1095–⁠1098, Otrokovice
Public transport Public transport: Otrokovice, Společenský dům (TROL 2; BUS 55, 70)
GPS 49.2148928N, 17.5109500E

In 1953–⁠1954, a vacant plot near the Baťov central square, to the west of the Social House, was used for the realisation of a prototype house with a prefabricated skeleton, referred to as the "Janů type" or T16/54. Two authors working mainly in Prague in the post-war period, Karel Janů (1910–1995) and Karel Prager (1923–2001) participated in its design. With its construction and architectural expression, the house very well reflects the changes that took place in the organisation of the construction industry after 1948. With the transition to a nationalised, centrally planned construction industry which emphasised economic aspects, typification, standardisation, and scientifically controlled industrialisation of housing construction, intensive experimenting with suitable constructions, technologies and materials gained importance.
In the 1930s, together with Jiří Voženílk and Jiří Štursa, Karel Janů was a member of the left-wing avant-garde group PAS, which was already interested in the industrialisation of architecture under the influence of Soviet models. After World War II, he was one of the key figures who promoted new methods and ways of organising the architecture profession. In addition to publishing activities (Socialistické budování. Oč půjde ve stavebnictví a architektuře /Socialist construction. What will happen in construction and architecture/), he also became the first director of the merged and nationalised construction companies of the Czechoslovak Construction Works. In 1953, he developed the T16/54 structural system, which is based on an assembled concrete skeleton and is filled with massive brick blocks instead of traditional masonry. It was this design solution that the freshly graduated architect Karel Prager applied to the prototype built in Otrokovice. Prager was later behind a number of progressive designs that were inspired by contemporary western architecture utilising modern materials and technologies of metal curtain walls, such as the Institute of Macromolecular Chemistry (1960–1964), and the New Stage of the National Theatre (1981–1983), and the Federal Assembly building in Prague (1967–1974).
The Otrokovice prefabricated house prototype was designed in the era of high socialist realism, which looked for models in national history, folk art or classicism. Karel Prager also turned to historicist decor at that time, still in line with the tendencies promoted by the state. He emphasised the two outer entrances of the five-storey block with a monumental colonnade. A quartet of subtle columns perched on a low staircase spanned the entire height of the house. Above the ground floor, the building was surrounded by a slightly protruding cornice, which divided the columns into two parts. Along the entrance were smooth columns with simple capitals, while above the dividing cornice the columns had flutes and richer composite capitals. The architect also emphasised the decorative character of the facade with a series of small balconies with ornamentally interlaced metal latticework, which he inserted near the windows between the columns. The predominant vertical division of the façade was supported by colour-coded bands around simple two-part windows, connecting all floors. Low reliefs with the motif of doves and crossed ribbons were inserted under the windows on the ground floor. The residential building was completed by a distinctive attic with a balustrade. The more modestly designed façade facing the courtyard lacked column orders, the vertical line here was mainly represented by strips of stairwell windows.
In the theoretical discussions on the pages of the professional press Architektura ČSR, which at the time fully focused on supporting socialist realism, Prager's decorative concept contrasting with the experimental construction was not received with unreserved enthusiasm. It was criticised for its "palatial character" and the incorrect use of architectural morphology, which reached the point of being "crude and vulgar in form." The verification construction of the same structural type in Prague in Vršovice in 1955 was subsequently freed from more prominent decorative elements. Although the skeletal system allowed greater freedom with the floor plan, its further use was opposed by the financial, technical, and craftsmanship requirements of the design. Therefore, the cheaper and faster structural panel technology soon gained the upper hand among state project organisations. In close proximity to the prototype of architects Janů-Prager, a quartet of G40 panel houses soon appeared in Otrokovice, which was as the first structural panel house, according to the project of Bohumír Kula and Hynek Adamec, built on Benešovo nábřeží in Zlín between 1953 and 1954.
Despite partial changes to the windows and entrance doors, the house with a prefabricated skeleton was preserved in its original form until 2022. The building was then completely renovated due to its poor technical condition. The original decorative elements in the form of reliefs were removed and partially returned as replicas after the façades were insulated. The characteristic column order with latticed balconies was not removed during the modifications. Unlike the Institute of Macromolecular Chemistry, the New Stage of the National Theatre, and the Federal Assembly in Prague, which have been listed as heritage monuments in recent years, the prototype house with prefabricated skeleton is not protected. Although it bears significant architectural qualities and considerable historical value, all interventions in its form are legal, despite the fact that they may erase a number of details and irreversibly damage the overall appearance of the house.