Furniture Rescued from the Destroyed Hotel Praha Tells Its Complicated Story

Sprawling apartment complexes, dominated by unsightly slabs of concrete, were an architectural hallmark of Communist-era utopias. Grandeur made way for austerity throughout the Eastern Bloc. But there were instances, rare and well-concealed to the public, where luxury remained the norm. Hotel Praha, a marvel from the former Czechoslovakia, was one such stunningly out-of-place locale. As part of this week’s London Design Festival, the local multidisciplinary design studio Sigmar and Prague-based creative collective OKOLO have joined forces to present “The Lost Masterpiece of the Hotel Praha” at 3 Yeoman’s Row in the Brompton Design District.

Completed in 1981—six years in the making—Hotel Praha was built in Prague’s leafy Hanspaulka district as a playground for senior Party members. Its architecture, courtesy of Jaroslav Paroubek, Arnošt Navrátil, Radek Černý, and Jan Sedláček, mimicked the hill upon which it was erected, a sinuous line that faintly calls to mind the fluid, graceful curves of Zaha Hadid. The lobby’s circular staircase instilled an air of drama upon entry; the swimming pool flaunted ceramic tiles and decorative glass panels; and the winter garden, reminiscent of a tropical greenhouse, starred a mosaic ceiling. All of the 136 commodious guest rooms had prime views of Prague Castle. But in 2014, Hotel Praha, to the horror of many, was demolished.

Hotel Praha‘s grand staircase.

Photo: Courtesy of Sigmar and OKOLO

The decision was rife with controversy. Nina Hertig, cofounder of Sigmar, says there were two factions: “One side was the architects and historians, who thought of it as this important building, and [then there were] the others, a large part, who saw it as a symbol of oppression and extravagance during a time when most people were in queues for bread and bananas.”

When the Iron Curtain fell, Hotel Praha was converted into everyday accommodations, but, says Hertig, “it was first built as a resort for the elite. There was a cinema, a hairdresser, a restaurant, a bowling alley. With so few guest rooms, the scale of it was impossible to maintain.” Soon after billionaire businessman Petr Kellner snatched it up, plans to destroy the landmark were announced.

A hotel bowling alley.

Photo: Courtesy of Sigmar and OKOLO