Hotel Nord-Sud, South View
by Katarina Burin
Models and plans give body to a building that no longer or doesn’t yet exist, designed by an interwar architect that never was
Petra Andrejova-Molnár, Hotel Nord-Sud, 1932–34, model, south view
“Once again, I walked down those corridors, those walls, through the shaded light giving way to the sight of the sea. Being in the Nord-Sud was like being in a ship of cantilevered dreams, always there but long forgotten, in a lobby where bodies and objects revealed both their right to leisure and its illusion, a land governed by pirates but not by the police.”
– H.M. Carroll, Architectures of Eastern Europe, 1933The Hotel Nord-Sud was lodged near the town of Zadar,
off the coast of Yugoslavia. Elegant signage announced the entrance to the remarkable lobby, situated on the ground floor, which boasted four-metre-high ceilings in a flexible open reception. An extensive use of glass allowed the constant sight of the sea through the structure’s floating, transparent supports. The cantilevered roof, nautical and yet restrained, was balanced by symmetrical modular interior spaces. All of the fourteen cabin-like bedrooms and two suites had balconies, and the hotel offered both an impressive lookout café on the third floor and an open restaurant and bar on the second. Its most arresting design elements were the terraces that united interior to exterior, panes of glass separating the two. Being in the Nord-Sud,
as Carroll describes, was like entering a borderline space between inside and outside, ground and sea, which responded neither to the demands of nationalist architecture nor to the utopian abstraction of social space championed at the time by the International Style. The Nord-Sud was an interior space that let the outside directly in through intricate borders and permeable boundaries, exposing the language of modernist architecture to the specific historical and local conditions of a site.
The small hotel, the construction of which began in the turbulent year of 1932, was eventually understood as the signature interwar work of the architect Petra Andrejova- Molnár. This was the architect’s first large-scale construction and one in which she worked through the elements that have since become essential to her designs. P.A., as she came to be known, was born Petra Jozefina Andrejova in Zlín (Moravian Czechoslovakia) in 1898. She studied at Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts and travelled extensively in the early 1920s, spending periods of time in Brno, Budapest, Prague, Vienna and Berlin. Greatly influenced by the fertile architectural exchanges of the interwar period, P.A. embraced modern materials and building techniques. As a student in Vienna, she would have been exposed to the Austrian work of her Moravian predecessors Josef Hoffman and Adolf Loos, and, though her aesthetics would seem to be divorced from these earlier architects, she subtly drew from their approach to materials. The influence of Hoffman and Loos is most noticeable in the shade wall of the Hotel Nord-Sud. The light-capturing front wall, woven out of rectangles of different sizes, captured geometric light forms that were then rendered onto the tiles of the large open ground space. However, in contrast to Loos’s and Hoffman’s sobering designs, P.A.’s shade wall functioned as a porous partition rather than a limit or a division – outside elements were filtered, transformed and projected within. It exposed the building to its environment and let it be affected by the entropy of its natural site instead of shielding it from the landscape it was situated in.
The layering of the three horizontal floors with their overhanging open-air terraces both reacted to and emerged from the demarcation between land and sea, creating a sense of movement, like a passenger ship cruising along the coast. Shapes and materials came together in elaborate ways, composing a fluid geometry that felt light and effortless while distinctively demanding its own space, occupying a site situated between the openness of the sea and what
were at the time the shifting boundaries of the land. The lobby furniture – wall sconces, light fixtures and hotel signage – all reiterated the stylistic qualities of the hotel. Angular planes of different measures were layered onto each other, creating angles and protrusions, which composed the simultaneously dense and sparse design of tables and chairs. Attention was given to the form and movement of every detail, as if the forms introduced by the larger structure of the hotel lived also in the scaled versions of the furniture that occupied it from within.
ABOVE: Petra Andrejova-Molnár, Hotel Nord-Sud, 1932-34, façade
BELOW: floor plan
Although the Hotel Nord-Sud was the culmination of P.A.’s formative years and in many ways synthesises the architectural trends of the time, it can also be seen as a structure that defines an era now lost to us, like the building itself. During the interwar period young architects such as Bohuslav Fuchs, Jaromír Krejcar and P.A. herself, to name a few, were at the centre of a vibrant architectural community in the newly established Czechoslovak and Hungarian People’s Republics. In the shifting political arena of rediscovered boundaries, these architects were emboldened by the utopian spirit of the age and embraced an architecture that championed modernity, efficiency, functionality and a commitment to human progress and innovation. The city of
Brno rapidly became a centre for interesting architectural investigation and began to attract international attention. However, by 1932, the year of construction of the Nord-Sud, architecture in Central and Eastern Europe was no longer able to embrace hopeful internationalism or youthful idealism and experienced a forced hiatus occasioned by the war. The 1930s in Eastern Europe – marked by fierce territorial disputes and the rise of the nationalist movements – rendered any form of unification, through architecture or otherwise, nothing more than an illusion. While P.A. and many of her contemporaries continued practising architecture in various ways, they did so in a world vastly altered from the interwar years.
Despite having emerged in the utopian spirit of efficiency, functionality and commitment to human innovation, P.A. challenged many of her male contemporaries’ premises. Her complex partitioned constructions appropriated the modern architectural language of her peers but refused ideas of organic synthesis and abstracted utopianism, focusing instead on a concrete relation to the social history of a landscape. The Nord-Sud was never a space of febrile illusion or escapism – its construction refused both the promise of a utopian regional unification and the abstraction of social space to the imposition of a style. Working with elements derived from historical research onto the local conditions of a site, the building engaged with an important conversation about the shifting boundaries between landscape and construction, work and leisure, inside and outside. P.A. championed a utopian belief in art and design, but one that was grounded in the geography and social history of a place. To a certain extent, she inhabits an alternative history of the women interwar architects that never were.
Petra Andrejova-Molnár, Hotel Nord-Sud, 1932-34, north shade wall
The Nord-Sud was destroyed in the Second World War. What remains of this crucial building are the models, plans and documents leading up to its construction. And although much of its furniture was lost to the destruction – and the dislocations wrought by the war have made tracing even portions of extant interwar work a Herculean task – some was later reproduced according to documentation. Looking at the models and plans created by Petra Andrejova- Molnár, one senses the nascent productive instability between imagined and constructed space. They appear to bear a resemblance to the vernacular language of architectural construction and yet refuse to merely represent the details of a space yet to be built. The models of P.A.’s work are those where photographs and collages, shaded areas of colour, angles and a particular sense of scale occupy and destabilise the rational lucidity of architectural planning. They put on display the model as a fiction, as a transferable form lingering between built space and the pictorial space of the visual arts, rendering conspicuous the selective andnarrative fictions of architecture. Her remaining drawings, models, advertisements, interviews and catalogue essays give body to the imagination of a building that is no longer, or not yet, and carve for it a historical space of its own right. They move beyond the linear definition of architectural model as a prototype, emphasising an inherent suspension between their function as an object of knowing – a historical object and a trace of a material and an event – and its locus as a product of (and for) the imagination. P.A.’s models, drawings and planning materials draw the materiality of the non-visible into the historical canon of built work, and in this gesture they lodge in the model its full potential – as an object of duration, hinging between the imagination of its past and the promise of a future transformation, as a record of history and a project for history, made in the present.
Petra Andrejova-Molnár, Hotel Nord-Sud, 1932-34, view of corridor
Excerpt from a text by historian Joana Pimenta written on the occasion of an exhibition dedicated to Architectures of the South, London Society for Landscape and Design, 2006.
Petra Andrejova-Molnár (1898) was born in Zlín in Moravian Czechoslovakia. In 1907, she lived briefly with her family in Budapest, and in 1919, she began studying architecture at the School of Decorative Arts in Prague. She subsequently spent time in Vienna and Berlin and took part inNew House, the first housing exhibition of the Czechoslovak Werkbund in Brno in 1927. In the same year, she worked on the Project for Modern Apartments developed by the Werkbund – a project that was never realised. Employed at the office of architect Bohuslav Fuchs between 1927 and 1929, she assisted in the design of Fuchs’ Avion Hotel. A few years later, together with József Fischer, she supervised the construction of the House on Csatárka Street in Budapest, and in 1932 she began designing the Hotel Nord-Sud in Zadar, Yugoslavia. The hotel was later destroyed during the war. In 1939 she left Vienna for Berlin. Her activities during the war remain largely unknown. She emigrated to the United States in 1948 and died in Lincoln, Massachusetts in 1977.