Nowadays, the brutalist architecture in Bratislava consists of neglected buildings covered in graffiti, but brutalism is much more than that. This architectural style shows a pure beauty of concrete, marble, and straight geometrical lines. Of course, not everyone can decide if brutalism is beauty or the beast, and that is why those buildings are slowly replaced by modern skyscrapers, offices, and shopping malls. Let's explore the history of some of the most iconic buildings of modern Bratislava.
Brutalism emerged in the late 1950s, but it is more typical for the period from the 1960s to the 1980s. We can see many examples of brutalism architectures across the world in countries such as the US, England, or France, even if it is generally more linked to the Soviet era. Those buildings are usually made of blocks of concrete or other bare materials, and their appearance is cold, or in other words, brutal. Many people find them ugly, and brutalism was even criticized by public figures such as Prince Charles. In Central and Eastern European countries, this architectural style is associated with communism. So, many people don't like it because they are trying to forget the past and destroy the communist legacy. On the other hand, this architecture represents a period in history, and many brutalism architects did an outstanding job, and their buildings became iconic.
Istropolis, the House of Culture of the Slovak Trade Union in Bratislava, was a communist institution. This building that later became a congress centre has a very central location, so it quickly became an important meeting point and a symbol of new Bratislava. Istropolis was built between 1956 and 1981 by three architects: Ferdinand Konček, Iľja Skoček, and Ľubomír Titl. Since it took about 25 years to Istropolis to be built, the final project was changing over the years due to political pressures or problems that occurred during the construction. The building is made with a Cuban marble, a gift from the communist leader Fidel Castro. The first marble delivery actually got lost, so Fidel had to send another one. The interiors full of build-in sculptures and other artworks are no less outstanding. However, the building is slowly decaying, and it was recently sold. We still don't know its destiny, but there is a big chance that the original building is going be razed to the ground.
Kukurica is not the real name of this building, but its nickname persisted, and probably no one uses its name Hviezda anymore. "Kukurica" in Slovak means corn, and locals named the building after corn because of its resemblance. Kukurica was built in the 1970s by the Ministry of Defense as a military academy and a dormitory. The interesting part about its dormitory is that due to the shape of the building, there were no rectangle rooms. The ground floor served as a lobby with a bar, decorated with social realist art pieces. Back in the time, Kukurica was the highest building in Bratislava and the tallest round building in Europe. The mastermind behind the construction is Ján Strcula. Unfortunately, the same fate has struck Kukurica, and this building is also falling apart. Since 2017, Kukurica is closed down completely and waiting for a buyer. However, this new buyer probably won't count with a brutalist legacy, and he will want to rebuild it as a modern building according to the 21st century standards.
Slovenský Národný Archív is a building of the National Archive of Slovakia, owned by the Ministry of the Interior. It is still used by students, historians, scientists and journalists, which means we can still admire this brutal beauty and see it from the inside as well. Vladimír Dedeček, one of the best Slovak functionalist and brutalist architects, started with its construction in 1974. Due to lack of finances and its complicated location (the building is situated on the hill), the Archive was finished in 1983 with the help of political prisoners. Its structure is made out of marble that came from Yugoslavia, another communist country. The building shape and its red and white facade were supposed to look like an archive deposit. A part of this complex was also a vast concrete amphitheater, great for assemblies so typical for the communist regime. But, since 2008, the parcel with the amphitheater was sold and demolished.
Understandably, many people in Bratislava are glad to see that the buildings from the former communist regime are decreasing. But on the other hand, the brutalist architecture is a legacy of an era and has witnessed its rise and fall, the same as people who grew up during that period. It left a scar on the city, but scars are just another kind of memory. It is rather a moral question, whether it is worth investing money to save its brutal value or to build something completely new. At this point, the future of those buildings is uncertain, so you better visit Bratislava now, and you can make up your mind on whether you see beauty or the beast.
Cover photo © iStock/JuliScalzi
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