The history of architecture is littered with designers who, for various reasons, have disappeared from the record or have remained on the margins. One of the unfortunate architects to have suffered this fate was Bedřich Feuerstein (1892–1936), who is known primarily for the crematorium he designed in Nymburk. The exhibition of his work now at the Technical Museum in Prague is a welcome and long overdue event. The curator, Helena Čapková, has already published a book on Feuerstein’s work, and this exhibition is a crystallisation as well as a development of her earlier research on him.
In the small town of Nymburk, some 55 kilometres to the East of Prague, sits one of the more unusual examples of interwar architecture in Czechoslovakia: the town crematorium. Built between 1922 and 1924, it is a plain rectangular main building – the ceremonial hall – with cylindrical front and back. Thanks to its plain unornamented forms, its low rectangular base, and a flat overhanging rectangular roof, it strikes the viewer like an exercise in the exploration of elementary geometry. This impression is reinforced by the portico around the sides and front, consisting of squat, plain columns. Everything about the building appears mis-proportioned. The portico columns seem too wide for their height, and the height (and that of the ground storey) appears to be out of proportion to the rest of the building. The upper part of the ceremonial hall thus looms over the storey below. In addition, the distance of the columns from the rest of the building gives it a squat appearance, as if it had in some sense been compressed by some enormous weight. We might dismiss this unprepossessing structure as a misconceived design, except that it is highly revealing not only about developments in architecture in Czechoslovakia, but also about social and cultural developments in Czechoslovak society.