The Phenomenology of the Ticket Hall

The Phenomenology of the Ticket Hall

Published in : Intruder : Florian Pumhösl and the Students, Academy of Fine Arts in Prague 2012, p. 8-13

 

In 1924, the magazine Stavba published a declaration by a group of architects – representatives of the future wave of architectural functionalism – in which they stressed that the system of creating modern architecture “is analogue to the production process of a modern machine”. In other words, architectural form should be in principle defined by the function of the construction and related to operating circumstances. Three years later, when the architects Adolf Benš and Josef Kříž were designing the new monumental palace of Prague Elektrické podniky, this rule had still been the most important “moment” in their creative thinking. In his text entitled the modern office Building and published in the same year, Adolf Benš clearly defines the basic rules for such construction. In principle, he is interested mainly in functionality, although he also takes into account the psychological aspects of the work environment to which the aesthetic expression of the building relate. Later on, Adolf Benš stood up against the famous effort of Karel Teige to transform architecture into a purely pragmatic and exact “science”. However, the principle stressing the determining role of function remained as strong as ever, regardless of the fact that the need of sensitively-balanced composition arrangement had been taken into account. The Elektrické podniky palace indeed offers itself as a great example of how a rational solution mixes with a classically balanced composition of substances and of the spatial layout of the floor plan. Though spatial economy and rational layout are omnipresent, the architects nevertheless included some monumental spaces in their design as well. While the high, pompous entry hall served both as a real and a symbolic central space stressing the importance of the institution for the life of the rapidly developing modern metropolis, the large size of other spaces, including the ticket Hall, was fully reasonable when looking at it from the perspective of their function, i.e. major service place for general public. The airy space was bounded by walls of the surrounding wings, and flooded with light coming through the elegant iron and concrete roof construction, with its glass panels. The building’s sober design concentrated on the necessity to welcome large numbers of visitors coming to the counters situated on the sides. Looking at the premises from the 1920s architectural point of view, the palace could be categorized as a working place similar in many respects to a manufacturing plant. The task of the architects was to create a space adequate in terms of capacity, communication, light and hygiene. at the same time, these characteristics were to be incorporated in the aesthetics of its well arranged and clear architectural form. From this point of view, the ticket Hall is a perfect embodiment of the interior social space of the 20th century. It would only take a few changes and its design could just as well serve as a railway station hall, an exhibition space, or a gym. the model user of the building would be a pragmatic and consistent man holding in esteem both his time and the sufficiently dignified, while democratically sober, place in which he could handle the daily issues of his life. The life of an average citizen would mix here with that of an important institution exercising control over some key points of the urban organism. This place had been both a part of the administrative machine, a vital one even, and a place where a large number of the city’s inhabitants spent a rationally measured out amount of time. Due to this second characteristic, the palace also functioned as a social space formatted by the then-existing social system. However, spaces, as well as the architecture surrounding them, very often don’t live according to their creators’ intentions, and this is also the case of the very generously-designed Elektrické podniky palace. Several decades later, the structure could no longer meet the new requirements of the increasingly bureaucratic system of the ever-growing juggernaut of a socialist metropolis. Although the space of the hall was designed with pragmatism and functionality in mind, seen from the point of view of the very institution, by then released from the clasp of the esprit of a proud civic society, the hall had one major weak point: the understanding of it as a “space”, a semi-public space. The useless dash between the workspace behind the counters became an ideal area for the extension of the “working” process. This is how the bizarre addition was built during the 1960s. What characterizes this block of rooms standing in the middle of the hall is total absence of architectural design and the use of standardized elements, typical back then for interior architecture. Within a generously and systematically designed space grew a formation of almost archetypal architectural qualities, an embodiment of amateurishness and DIY pragmatism. When seen from the outside, this independent, roofless object set in the floodlight ticket Hall seems to attain almost sculptural quality. The modern form of rustical cosiness of its interior is furthermore stressed. by several generations of wall paint and linoleum layers and offers itself as an intimate hideout in which one can escape the dignified transparency and systematic organization of the surrounding space. I remember how strong my emotions were when I saw the space of the Ticket Hall several years ago when this addition still stood there unused, covered with a thick layer of dust. Back then, the building functioned as a closed workplace of a bank and the hall had lost its function as all the activities had been moved to the office rooms. This was the first time I saw this place and it amazed me in several ways: the airy elegance of its original architecture and its strange, but all the same, curiously enchanting addition. Since then, the Elektrické podniky palace has been opened to the public and a large number of cultural activities, such as exhibitions and social events, have been organized on its premises and this strange space has become a very attractive location. However, the specific strangeness of the site has become more of a lure, using its bizarre feeling as an accompanying effect. This is one of the reasons it would be difficult to consider the ticket Hall as an ideal exhibition space. It is rather a place where cultivated and rational architecture collides and cohabits with the peculiar popular skill which could make proud even the most remote fire station. this site is in fact a social space, a room as conveniently arranged as possible for people to work and communicate in it. the maverick block and its decrepit equipment create a strange net of layers and relationships, which makes the addition extremely difficult to grasp. It certainly possesses what Christian Norberg-Schulz defined as “genius loci”. These qualities can prove to be very seductive for any site-specific artist, despite the fact that this art category is today to a great extent deeply rooted and conventional. the project carried out in the Elektrické podniky palace by the Šaloun studio students under the leadership of the Prague art academy (AVU) guest professor Florian Pumhösl underwent several changes during the process of its creation. From the very beginning, the ticket Hall space served as a theme and as a place where the students created their artworks. The space served as a laboratory for a process during which the group tried to define the final form of the project. Little by little, the students shifted their interest in this specific space from individual interpretations (or struggles) to a concept uniting the result of the process in a framework of a single medium – analogue photography. at the time of the construction of the Elektrické podniky palace, analogue photography was an important means of expression of the avant-garde, which made a mutually advantageous alliance with architecture. For the photographers, clean geometry and precisely designed shapes of functionalism represented an ideal creative material for their camera lens. as for architecture, the refined aesthetics of photographic language were the best means of presenting new projects. Nevertheless, in the case of this project, photography serves rather as a tool to distance oneself, its historical technology form unifying the variety of artists’ approaches. Unlike the present, digitally manipulated photography, analogue photography carries a hallmark of authenticity. For a long time, the impression of a photon stream into a material form had been making of photography the “medium of truth”. In their works, presented as photographs, the young artists have dealt in numerous ways with the restrictions imposed on them. Some used the photographs to document the works they either created or installed in the space of the ticket Hall. Others played with the photography medium and its tradition of a documentation means. The act of displaying the photographs in the rooms of the bizarre addition has furthermore underlined the effort to dissociate oneself from a direct exhibition presentation on the premises. While looking at the photographs, the viewer has been isolated from the surrounding generous space in which most activities photographed took place. Works by the project participants found themselves in similar position also in this publication it isn’t merely a catalogue but also a resumé and a final output of the project. In the past semester, the Ticket Hall of the Prague Elektrické podniky has become the place of and partially the theme of a process which had an artistic, pedagogic and social dimension. Owing to this, the functionalist architecture frame has become an impetus to fulfill the aesthetic function as defined by the contemporary of the building’s creators, Jan Mukařovský. And although they may not like it, this function is present here as a basic and determining element. Similarly, art creation must be present in the structure of every healthy society, regardless of how much its usefulness is contested by general opinion.

Viktor Čech

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