Časopis ARS 30 (1997) 1-3


K otázke národného štýlu v slovenskej architektúre
[On the National Style in Slovak Architecture]


The question of the National Style, topical in the architecture of the 19th century, found its resonance also in the Slovak milieu. Conscious attempts at creating the "Slovak Style" in architecture appeared in the course of the 1880s, and, similarly to other European countries, the sources of its inspiration had been searched for in the vernacular tradition. This, however, happened under specific socio-historical circumstances: On that time, Slovakia performed a part of the Hungarian state (called the Upper Hungary), the Slovaks being exposed to the massive ethnic oppression and magyarization that grew in its intensity after the Austro-Hungarian Compromise and culminated in the years around 1900.

Under these conditions, the Slovak intelligentsia found herself in rather defensive position: the attention was focused on the most explicit "national" phenomena (language, literature, verbal traditions, folklore) while peasants being considered to represent the "healthy roots" of the nation and the peasants' art the "broadest fundament of the national culture" (Ján Kollár). Thus, also the interest in folk architecture had been, in the Slovak context, characterized through three aspects: 1st - archaic: similarly to other countries, in Slovakia, too, the peasant's house represented an archetype; 2nd - authentic: the patterns ( elements) were found in the most distant, mountainous regions of the northern Slovakia, so as to gain the "clean" authentic forms; 3rd - autochthonic: attempts at pointing out the ( continuous) existence of the identical folk, the identical peasants' culture before the Magyar conquest of the region.

Leaving aside the historic architectural styles (e.g. the specific Renaissance Style of east-Slovakian region Spiš), the concept of the national heritage had been comprehended in a narrowed, strictly ethnical sense (as the heritage of the Slovak ethnic, not of the region - the country of Slovakia being inhabited also by other ethnics).

The first attempts at formulating the "Slovak style" were connected with the architect Blažej Bulla, who, in 1887, designed plans for the so-called National House in Martin. The plans entitled "Public community house with theatre in the Slovak style" show a combination of Neo-Renaissance with elements taken over from wooden folk architecture of the Orava region. They, however, remained unfulfilled - the building self had been erected in 1888 in the common Neo- Renaissance style.

Yet, another structure conceived by Bulla in the "Slovak style" happened to be executed on that time: the entrance towergate to the exhibition of the folk embroidery, constructed by Oravan carpenters in 1887, became the first and for a long time the only fulfillment of the ambitions aiming at creating the "Slovak Style" in architecture. Although a kind of temporary architecture, it awoke much attention and exercised a significant influence.

This also was the case of Dušan Jurkovič (1868) who had been trained at the Staatsgewerbeschule in Vienna, 1884 - 1888. In the summer 1887, he came to know Bulla's wooden structure in Martin and the experience ought to become "the definite life orientation" for him. After completing his studies (because of inconvenient conditions at home) Jurkovič settled down in Moravia. In the 1890s, he preoccupied himself with extensive ethnographical studies. The results of these found reflection in his designs for ethnographic exhibitions (Vsetín 1892, Prague 1895) as well as in numerous publications (the most important being Práce lidu našeho - The Works of Our People, Vienna, 1905 - 1913).

As a creative architect, Jurkovič by far overcame Bulla - starting with a kind of folkloristic eclecticism, combining forms taken over from diverse folk buildings (the ensemble of tourist facilities at Pustevně), in the following years Jurkovič had transposed folk inspiration into a more abstract level, seeking in it an analogy of principle rather than a direct model, and combined the folk elements with the topical trends as represented by British architecture and Viennese Wagnerschule. Thus, around 1900, he created a specific style (diverse buildings in Luhačovice or the chapels at Sv. Hostýn) that was usually referred to be "national" - e.g. by F. Žákavec, Jurkovič's first monographist (in 1949, Jurkovič even became awarded with the official title of honour "the national artist"). However, in the period around 1900, quite different to such Ö. Lechner or K. Kosch in Hungary, or S. Witkiewicz in Poland, Jurkovič, did not develop any kind of ideology of the "national style" ( intention of that kind could be observed only in Skalica Club House, 1904, commissioned by one of the representatives of the Slovak National movement Dr. Blaho).

Comparative analysis of Jurkovič's works designed for diverse Bohemian and Moravian regions documents the fact that his designs were always conceived in a close connection with the local building tradition and concrete circumstances of the given task while his style was changing with time and place - therefore, in this respect, it seems more appropriate to denote his style as individualistic and regionalist rather than the "National Style". His comprehension of architecture was too complex and dynamic one to be tied up with bound of the (political) ideology.

The situation became different after the Czechoslovak republic was founded in 1918. Settled down in Bratislava and working as the head of the newly established office, Jurkovič became responsible for the monuments preservation in Slovakia. On that time, he more consequently and explicitly elaborated his conception of the national heritage encountering the historical monuments, folk arts as well as specific natural localities (High Tatras, Demänová caves). As different to the situation mentioned in the beginning, Jurkovič's concept implied that the Slovak nation should take the history of its whole land (although being for centuries a part of Hungarian state) for its own and demand for its new interpretation. The historical consciousness of the "ahistoric" nation was to be strengthened through extensive education, restorations and adaptations of important historical buildings (the historical monuments ought to finally become "appropriated" by the Slovak nation), and creating monuments and memorials to outstanding personalities of the history. In this respect, Jurkovič himself showed the way with his designs of the monument at Bradlo (devoted to the co-founder of the Czechoslovak republic, General M. R. Štefánik, 1919 - 1928), and of numerous adaptations of historical buildings (Zvolen castle, 1922 - 1926). The concept represented an impulse to extensive monuments investigation and conservation.

In the first post-war years, the question of the "National Style" reappeared in the Czechoslovak Republic. A number of Czech architects preoccupied themselves with developing a kind of an "official", or "national" style in continuity with the specific style of the pre-war Bohemian architecture, the so- called Czech Cubism. This specific variant of Art Deco denoted as Rondocubism became soon transferred to Slovakia (mostly Bratislava) by young Czech architects who came around 1920 (Šilinger, Balán, Grossmann and others) - however, the specimens of their work show moderated expression if compared to those created by the Prague protagonists of that style.

Expressive character and massive appearance remained typical of the "official architecture" even after the idea of Rondocubism had been left. But in the relaxed atmosphere of freedom and democracy, both of these "official" styles very soon made place to Modernism (Functionalism). However, due to the persisting sensibility towards tradition, also Modernism soon gained some specific (regional) traits (Jurkovič, Belluš and others).

And what was the fate of the original, i.e. strictly to folklore oriented concept? Elements of folk origin are to be found in some of Jurkovič's designs conceived for the countryside (the tourist facilities, or the cheap assembled village houses). With other architects the folklorism happened to appear rarely, usually in periods of a "national euphoria", thus in the beginning of the 1920s - villas in Bratislava by Merganc and Tvarožek that evoked much criticism, or in the 1940s - designs by Harminc that remained partly unexecuted.

As for the "national character" of architecture, in his notes, Jurkovič always pointed out the claims of authenticity of architecture, uniqueness of the creative act: "We, architects, are expected ... to remelt universal values into our own, to impart our feelings, and our hearts to them... This is an artist's mission in his nation." At the same time, he repeatedly stressed: "The work of art is rooted in the time. And I was always cautious to listen to its voice."