In 1928, an unparalleled event took place in Brno. To mark the 10th anniversary of the re-establishment of the Czech independent state (28th October 1918), Brno hosted An Exhibition of Contemporary Czechoslovak Culture.
Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the first Czechoslovak president, was the patron of the exhibition which lasted from May to September. It was a demonstration of the creative intellectual potential of Czechs and Slovaks and a proud showcase of cultural, technological, industrial, and agricultural achievements of the young republic. It is worth mentioning that in the 1920s, Czechoslovakia ranked amongst the 10 most developed countries in the world. It was a time of hope and optimism.
The tradition of annual markets and international trade shows in Brno dates back to the 13th century. They boomed particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries when Brno was an important industrial hub, particularly for the textile industry.
However, in order to be able to host such a huge event, the city needed a dedicated exhibition centre. After 30 years of campaigning and planning, the permanent exhibition grounds – Brno Exhibition Centre – was built in 1927-1928. The complex is situated on a vast platform between the river Svratka and the hillsides of the well-off residential and villa quarter.
Leading architects and engineers were invited to design individual halls and the layout of the entire area. The modernist style manifested the spirit of the young Czechoslovak society.
‘What a surprising show, generous, pure, unequalled by any other show I have ever seen. One cannot but praise the principle of unity; a shared purpose laid out this magnificent space and all designers respected the same architectonic style. The result – precision and pure harmony.
This is I think the ultimate cultural insight offered to us by this exhibition of contemporary culture: when designing, building and creating, one has to be brave and embrace radical and disciplined unity. This is the spirit of modernism, contemporary, clear and concrete.
Having seen this enormous and successful manifestation, I say we should adopt this in any enterprise and endeavour and – this is how to do it!’
In the 1920s and 1930s, Brno was one of the hotbeds of modernist and functionalist architecture in Europe. Villa Tugendhat, designed by Mies Van Der Rohe, is the most famous building from this period. Alongside The Glass House, Brno Exhibition Centre offered a compact collection of modernist architecture, pavilions set in parks, relaxation areas and water features, inter-connected with generously laid out boulevards. With restaurants, cafés and a theatre, it was more than a mere exhibition centre, it was a city of its own.
We were lucky to be able to visit the site in 2018, for the centenary celebrations of the Brno Exhibition Centre.
Free from bombastic corporate installations, omnipresent advertising and crowd pleasers, the airy halls stood there, in hot mid-June sun, impressive, bold, beautiful examples of modernist architecture.
Here are some of our highlights:
Hall A (Pavilion of Industry and Trade) is the central hall of the entire complex; it dominates the entrance area.
The designers were Josef Kalous and Jaroslav Valenta.
The construction only took incredible 230 days!
Its characteristic features are parabolic arches supporting the glass ceilings, and a central rotunda, which today is a multi-functional space hosting congresses, fashion shows, concerts, performances and social events.
Overhanging staircase at the gallery, with its winding, fluid forms, demonstrates the potential of ferro-concrete structures.
Hall Z is one of the later additions. It was built in the early 1960s in the Brussels style, and it was designed by Ferdinand Lederer, Zdeněk Alexa and Zdeněk Denk. It is a vast round construction in steel, ferro-concrete and glass, with 124m diameter, two broad exhibition galleries running alongside its inner walls and a characteristic cupola roof that has become another dominant of the exhibition complex. The highest point of the cupola is in 30m height.
Today, Brno Exhibition Centre is only open to the public during international trade fairs and exhibitions, and for concerts, cultural and social events. Many more halls have been added over the years, respecting the modernist and functionalist heritage.
In Brno, modernism lives on.