In the last part of our SOC/MOD series, we will visit Karlovy Vary, but not because of the famous film festival. Towering in the fairytale town of the Czech Republic, the Spa Hotel Thermal, designed by the Machonin couple, has been expecting guests since 1977 with its sixty-five-meter-high tower building, 273 rooms and huge conference rooms. And now we made a miniature version of it—go and get your own in our online store!
Written by: Dániel Kovács
The Spa Hotel Thermal was built as the central venue for the world-famous film festival—thus helping the spa town to become world-famous and the Czechoslovak regime to consolidate after the Velvet Revolution. The designers, Věra and Vladimír Machonin, were key members of the young generation of Czechoslovak modern architecture who won proposal successes one after the other in the 1960s. The 1964 proposal victory for the hotel in Karlovy Vary was followed by the third prize in international competition at the University of Dublin in 1966; encouraged by this, the Machonins resigned from the state design company and set up their own studio, also alluding to its pioneering nature as Ateliér Alfa. In contrast to the usual schedule, of the two, Věra was “more of an” architect, and Vladimír was responsible for finances and customer service. Until Vladimír’s death in 1990, they designed their very well-known, great works here: the Kotva and DBK shopping centers in Prague or the Czechoslovak Embassy in Berlin, in defiance of a state machine that was not particularly sympathetic to their aspirations.
The seventies were the most active period for the couple. Spa Hotel Thermal was built from 1968 until 1977, for nine years, after the demolition of more than two dozen houses in its way. Among them is the former villa of the Mattoni family, which established the world fame of the local mineral water—so when the Czechs shot a great costume TV series about the family in 2016, the family home was missing from the many authentic venues…
Although Karlovy Vary knows the scale of large hotels, the Spa Hotel Thermal can still show something new there. The total capacity of the conference rooms reaches two thousand people, the main hall can accommodate up to 1148 people at a time. The 65-meter-high tower building offers 273 rooms with its own restaurant and café, as well as a heated 50-meter swimming pool for the comfort of the guests; the whole tucked into the scarce area available in the Teplá valley with a shoehorn.
The pool receives water from the largest spring in the spa town, Vřídlo. A new spring hall was built for this in the 1960s, based on the design of Jaroslav Otruba, and it still stands in the city center. The flat-roofed, glass-walled hall—or should we say colonnade—stands quite out of the historicizing backstage of the city center, especially with the crystal-shaped tower emerging at the top, which symbolizes the bursting spring water. It is due to the typical absurdities of the region that the hall was named after Yuri Gagarin for a while, who visited the film festival in 1966. The Soviet astronaut also received a statue in front of the spring.
However, the statue no longer stands there, it has been swung all the way to the local airport, and Karlovy Vary is convincingly playing the role of the turn-of-the-century jewelry box in front of visitors of the spa and the festival. The most telling moment in its history is the Spa Hotel Thermal. Although it has served as a central venue for the festival until recent years, the outdated infrastructure no longer met the guests’ expectations, with the swimming pool kept closed since 2012, for example. The renovation has been announced since 2015 by the owner ministry; the grandchildren of the design couple, Marie and Jan Kordovský, launched their aptly named campaign “Respekt Madam” this year to raise awareness of the building’s values and not least the copyright of the 92-year-old Věra Machonin. Over time, graphic designer Matěj Polák and architect Pavel Směták joined their initiative.
The comprehensive renovation finally began in 2019, targeting mid-2021 as the handover date. The promise was that in addition to a complete interior renovation, the building would retain its exterior appearance. Fate brought that the intervening festival was canceled due to the COVID-19 epidemic. Although the Kordovskýs maintain their skepticism about the state’s intentions, in the meantime, part of the renovation has been completed, and that of the swimming pool is still ongoing. Behind the scaffold, Spa Hotel Thermal quietly dreams of festivals and screenings.
- Photo 2: Spa Hotel Thermal, Karlovy Vary. Photo: Marie Kordovská, from the archive of the architect. Source: sosbrutalism.org
- Photo 3: From left to right—Vladimír Machonin, Pier Luigi Nervi, Věra Machoninová. Source: Respekt Madam
- Photo 4: Spa Hotel Thermal, Karlovy Vary. Photo: Eva Torkar. Source: sosbrutalism.org
- Photo 5: Spa Hotel Thermal, Karlovy Vary. Photo: Lucie Vasilova. Source: sosbrutalism.org
- Photo 6: Spa Hotel Thermal, Karlovy Vary. Photo: Eva Torkar. Source: sosbrutalism.org
- Photo 7: Spa Hotel Thermal, Karlovy Vary. Photo: Marie Kordovská, from the archive of the architect. Source: sosbrutalism.org
- Photo 8: Spa Hotel Thermal, Karlovy Vary, interior (excerpt). Source: Respekt Madam
- Photo 9: Spa Hotel Thermal, Karlovy Vary. Photo: Marie Kordovská, from the archive of the architect. Source: sosbrutalism.org
- Photo 10: Spa Hotel Thermal, Karlovy Vary. Photo: Jaroslav Franta. Source: sosbrutalism.org
If you are a fan of modern architecture and film at the same time, Spa Hotel Thermal is for you! Get your own miniature version of it!
Product photos: Lilla Liszkay
In our custom-designed SOC/MOD collection, we reimagined the iconic buildings of socialist realism from Kyiv through Budapest to Karlovy Vary in the form of concrete deskware items and unique posters. Grab them now in HYPEANDHYPER’s store! Attention: extra limited quantities!