Heritage Obscured: Undesirable Legacies of the Prior Department Stores in Slovakia

by

Natália Kvítková

Keywords

  • post-socialist heritage
  • Socialist Modernism
  • collective memory
  • undesirable architecture
  • mass Modernism

This paper traces the undesirability of the Obchodný dom Prior (_Prior _department stores) in Slovakia and explores the issues at hand in preserving this unwanted Modernist heritage, a closely-knit weave of aesthetics, national identity, historical narratives and economics.

Hailed among the defining architectural projects of socialist Modernism, the _Prior _department stores are characterized as pure, honest and concise examples of modern Slovak architecture, reflecting the traditions of regional materials and methods as well as that of interwar functionalism, which were applied to modern prefabrication methods. Collectively they represent the dichotomy of socialist Modernism, in that they are both utterly quotidian and completely remarkable, elucidating the complex reality of the difficult architectural heritage of Eastern Modernism.

The heart of the argument suggests that despite these colossal architectural specimens encapsulating four decades of socialist rule, their purpose as an ideological apparatus has been largely reduced and oversimplified. That overshadows the role of the _Prior _as an integral component of socialist consumption practices, from which Slovakia emerged as a mass consumer society, as well as their immense collective contribution to Slovak architectural development, recognized as progressive in design and technology.

Presently, their legacy remains entangled in difficult memories and complex histories and they face enduring contest against their existence through economically driven reconstruction, demolition and insensitive refurbishment. It is only the recognition of the depth of their contribution to modern architectural culture that might offer recourse for their legacy.