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JIŘÍ PELCL (1950)
Designer and architect, Rector of the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague. He was a founding member of the Atika group (1987), and since 1997 has been the Head of the Academy’s Interior and Furniture Design Studio. He designs buildings, interiors, furniture and furnishings.

SWANSONG

AN INTERVIEW WITH JIRI PELCL, CONSULTANT FOR THIS CHAPTER

WHAT APPEALS TO YOU ABOUT THAT PERIOD?
From that era, especially the fifties, I sense a great energy among artists, critics, engineers and designers as they sought to find and formulate a new, more human relation to objects and the environment in which man lives and works. That energy was accompanied by a belief that after the war, humanity would work to create a new world, where there would be prosperity for all. When I look now, many years later, at the things they used at home, be they furniture, pots and pans, glass, ceramics or kitchen appliances, they seem to be much more in tune with their time. It seems to me that design was more committed, more comprehensible to people, and perhaps precisely because of that, it defined style, more so than contemporary design, which is full of artificial intellectual constructions, and under the watchful eye of the media. Perhaps my impressions of the fifties are influenced by sentimental memories of my childhood, of wonderful flying cars that whizzed through my boyhood dreams, engines roaring.

WHAT DID THAT PERIOD CONTRIBUTE TO CZECH DESIGN?
It was a time of fundamental change in society, especially in 1948, when industry was nationalised. That era was characterised by a quest for an aesthetic style for socialism. For Czech design, it meant above all realising your own abilities and limits in the process of developing and designing industrial products and household items in the conditions of socialist manufacturing. Continuity with development and manufacturing in other European countries was maintained until the end of the fifties, as is evident from Czechoslovak exhibits at many international fairs, with the most important being Expo 1958 in Brussels.

WHAT EVENTS DO YOU THINK HAD THE GREATEST INFLUENCE ON CZECH DESIGN?
An important event was the exhibiting of a model for a lathe by Vincenc Makovský at the 5th Zlín Free Art Salon, and then in 1947 when the Academy of Applied Arts in Prague was given university status. A crucial role was then played by the communists in 1948, when they took control and nationalised industry.

WHAT WERE YOUR CRITERIA FOR SELECTING INDIVIDUAL EXHIBITS?
I tried to choose products that I associate with that time. Cars and motorbikes, for instance the Tatra 600 Tatraplán, and later the Tatra 603, made a great impression on me.

IS THERE ANYTHING FROM THOSE YEARS THAT YOU WOULD CALL TYPICALLY CZECH?
The Jawa Pérák motorbike was definitely a typically Czech product.

IF YOU WERE ON A DESERT ISLAND AND COULD TAKE THREE OBJECTS FROM THAT PERIOD WITH YOU, WHICH ONES WOULD THEY BE?
I’d drive around the island in Kovář’s Tatra 603, I’d film the natural beauty with Míra and Míšek‘s 8mm camera, and I’d stop for a cup of coffee from Ježek’s Manon mocha service.