Unique pieces from former Czechoslovak Embassy in Stockholm to go on sale in Prague
Unique interior design pieces from the former Brutalist-style Czechoslovak Embassy in Stockholm are set to go on sale in Prague this Thursday. The auction, held by Arthouse Hejtmánek, will offer furniture designed by architect Jan Bočan produced by the famous TON factory. Also on sale will be a large-scale glass object by the legendary glassmakers Libenský and Brychtová. I discussed the furnishings of the Czechoslovak Embassy in Stockholm with architectural historian and writer Adam Štěch and I started by asking him about the building itself.
“It was designed as a total work of art, where architecture, interior, design and art meet together to create one big artwork.”
“The former Czechoslovak Embassy in Stockholm is one of the country’s unique embassies designed in the 1960s and 1970s, which represents a special chapter in the history of our modern architecture.
In the communist era Czechoslovakia wanted to present itself through the architecture of its embassies. That's why they were built by some of the country’s best architects. Also, the projects had quite high budgets, which allowed the architects to experiment and design not only great architecture, but also interiors and design objects.
“The Czechoslovak embassy in Stockholm was designed by Jan Bočan, who, along with Karel Filsak, focused on designing embassies during the 1960s and 1970s. Just like the other embassy buildings, it was designed as a total work of art, where architecture, interior, design and art meet together to create one big artwork. The furniture pieces that will go on sale are part of the overall creative concept of the building.”
The building was designed in so-called Brutalist style. Could you describe it to our listeners in greater detail?
“Yes, it was designed in Brutalist style, which was, let's say, very trendy at the time, not just in Czechoslovakia, but also in Western and Eastern Europe. The term Brutalism comes from a French term ‘Béton brut’, which means raw concrete. And raw concrete is the primary material of Brutalism and also of the former Czechoslovak embassy in Stockholm.
“The design of the exterior is very monumental and raw, with really authentic, undecorated surfaces of concrete. However, Jan Bočan combined them with other materials as well. He used bricks, which are typical for Scandinavian architecture, and he also used a lot of steel and glass.
“The embassy was designed using a kind of a modular system. The building is very rectangular, composed of concrete modules, which were put together to form the whole building.”
You said Jan Bočan was one of the two architects who focused on designing embassies in the 1960s and 1970s. What are some of the other buildings that he designed?
“Jan Bočan also designed the embassy in London, which I consider an architectural gem. It was completed in 1971 and that same year it won one of the most prestigious British award given by the Royal Institute of British Architects. Jan Bočan won the RIBA award for the best building design by foreign architects in Britain.
“I think this London embassy is more typically Brutalist because it is basically just built out of raw concrete. There are not many other materials except for concrete and glass. It was also furnished with great furniture pieces, very monumental and very unique. So just like in Stockholm, the furniture, lamps and artworks where really like customised for the interior, which makes the architecture very special.”
“Jan Bočan experimented with these very typical bent wooden rods in a very flamboyant, sculptural way.”
Some of the interior objects from the Stockholm Embassy, which were also custom-made for that specific building, are now going on sale at an auction held by Arthouse Hejtmánek on Thursday. Can you describe some of these furniture pieces in greater detail?
“There are several pairs of armchairs, which are the most visible part of the furnishings. There are actually several types of armchairs, but all of them are made from bentwood. It is plywood and bent rods, which were used by Michael Thonet already in the 19th century to create his famous Thonet chairs.
“Bočan used the same technology in the 1970s in the state company called TON. He experimented with these very typical bent wooden rods in a very flamboyant, sculptural way. The armchairs are quite big and their constructions are very interesting. They also have very nice wicker seats, which were used for the Thonet chairs already in the 19th century.
“What I like about these chairs is that they are influenced by the tradition of furniture-making in this country, but they were innovative at the same time.”
Bočan was not the only author of the interior design. Also on sale will be this sort of large-scale glass sculpture by the famous glassmakers Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslava Brychtová.
“Yes, I believe these glass sculptures should be acquired by some museum, because they are really amazing. Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslava Brychtová are very important Czech glass artists, who basically invented the discipline of art glass already in the 1950s.
“They very much collaborated with the architects of Czech embassies, both with Jan Bočan and Karel Filsak. You can come across their huge glass sculptures in almost every single embassy built at the time.
“There were two types of glass objects in the Stockholm Embassy. There were these lighting columns, which are not just a glass sculpture, but more of a lamp or a light object. Some of them were standing and some of them were hanging from the ceiling, resembling a chandelier.
“They are made out of cast glass, which is a very time-consuming technology and also very technologically advanced. So it was very challenging to even make these huge pieces of glass, and they are very typical for Czechoslovak public interiors. You can find them not only in the embassies, but also in the interiors of hotels and other representative buildings of that time.”
I believe there will also be a couple of paintings on sale…
“Yes, there will, because painters and sculptors were always part of these creative teams designing Czechoslovak embassies. One of them is a very huge painting by Albín Brunovský, which is a kind of abstract, a little bit figurative and a very imaginative painting.”
Would you say there is a big interest among art collectors in this specific period Czechoslovak design? Would you say the items will sell well?
“I think they will be sold, I would say the interest in the unique, bespoke design of that era is still growing. I think that ten years ago, almost nobody collected design here, because collectors here in Czechia are a little bit conservative and they mostly collect paintings and sculptures. But I think the interest in these objects is growing.”
Finally, I know that the Stockholm embassy has quite recently been renovated by a famous Swedish design brand, Acne Studios. Have you seen the transformation and what do you think about it?
“I haven't been there, but I saw pictures. Of course, I am a little bit sad that the building doesn’t serve as an embassy anymore, because it would be amazing. I think there are not that many beautiful embassies in the world.
“The embassy was sold already in the 1990s and was first used as an office building. Acne acquired the building a few years ago and they turned it into their headquarters. The renovation was done byJohannes Norlander, who is a very talented, young Swedish architect, and I think he did a great job.
“I think he did the renovation sensitively, which means you can still see some of the original features and original surfaces and materials. He added this very contemporary layer with contemporary furniture by several interesting international designers. So I think he gave the building a second life.”
The Czech furniture brand TON is synonymous for its manually bent wood furniture, created with the help of a technology that has been in continuous use for over 160 years.
Hundreds of thousands of among the world’s most iconic pieces of furniture, Chair No. 14, literally took shape at the TON factory in Bystřice pod Hostýnem, built in 1861.
A temporary gallery has opened in Brussels to celebrate architect and designer Josef Hoffmann, who was born in Moravia and rose to fame in Vienna.