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Prague’s First “Skyscraper” and Environs

Location: edge of W. Churchill Square looking from the Seifertova Street 

The General Pension Institute, later the Trade Union House and, nowadays, the Radost House (since 2019) has been Prague’s first high-rise (52 m) and a significant Functionalist building on the Winston Churchill Square. It was built in 1934 in the spot previously occupied by the municipal gasworks, to the design of young architects Karel Honzík and Josef Havlíček. It is characterised by the latest urban, design and technical methods of its time. The central office building of a cross-shaped layout (although the city planning regulations required a compact block layout) is extended by a two-storey business wing on the north side towards Seifertova Street while southwards, in the direction of U Rajské zahrady, there is a three-storey residential wing. The main front façade opens to the Winston Churchill Square. The building also has up to three levels of basement premises. The office section wings are oriented along the basic directions; the north-south part runs for 82 metres and amounts to 11 storeys. The east-west wing has 92 metres in length, and six storeys. The building has a reinforced concrete structure with brick masonry organised in modules, sets of basic office units measuring 6.5x3.4 metres where the width of an office unit equals the width of a standardised window. The façades are covered by the original ceramic, yellow and white glazed tiles by RAKO. The outdoor walls of the yards on the east and west sides of the building use light blue tiles. The high floors accommodate employee care – doctors’ offices and library are situated on the seventh floor of the south wing.  The tenth floor is dedicated to the CEO and meeting rooms. The eleventh floor had employee recreation rooms, showers and locker rooms, and of course the mechanical room of the elevator. There were also two tiled roof terraces with a breath-taking view of the city, intended for relaxing. The building technology included even air conditioning.  The total construction costs amounted to 64 million Czech crowns. Digging in the foundation of the old gasworks discovered the remains of Krocín’s fountain, an extraordinary Renaissance work that used to adorn the Old Town Square (stored in the National Museum’s Lapidarium). In 1951, the entire pension system of the time was assigned to the Czechoslovak Trade Unions by an administrative decision of the Party; since then, the building was used by the Central Trade Union Council and, later, the Revolutionary Trade Union Movement and, lastly, by the Bohemian-Moravian Confederation of Trade Unions. In 2018, the building was sold to joint-stock company, Dům Žižkov a.s. 

The Winston Churchill Square was named after the important British statesman, Winston Churchill. The square was created by reclaiming some of the land previously occupied by the Žižkov gasworks after the construction of the General Pension Institute in 1934; it was initially named “U Pensijního ústavu“ (By the Pension Institute). After 1955, it was named after the Industry Minister, Gustav Kliment. As the President of ČSSR, Antonín Zápotocký, acted as the Chairman of the Central Trade Union Council from 1945 on, the square was named after him in 1977 and his statue by Prof. Jan Simota was installed in its centre. Since 1990, the square has had its current name, and a statue of Winston Churchill was installed here in 1999 with the attendance of his grandson and British ex-Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, who used the opportunity to visit the Žižkov Town Hall. The statue is identical with the Winston Churchill statue at London’s Parliament Square; a work by Ivory Roberts-Jones, a great admirer of Prague and its arts. He designed an entirely new statue for Žižkov but he died in 1996 aged 83, and just a clay model of the statesman’s head had been finished. A cast of that is exhibited in the interior of the Town Hall. 

In the north, the Square is delineated by the Functionalist building of the Prague University of Economics and Business from 1935, built to the design by architect Vratislav Lhota and Ing. Mečislav Petrů.