Prague’s landmark Máj department store closing for restoration

Two of the original architects are working on a project that will bring back some of the original look to the 1970s structure.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston Published on 21.04.2022 14:15:00 (updated on 22.04.2022) Reading time: 3 minutes

The Máj department store on Prague's Národní třída will start a large-scale renovation in June. The last day for customers to visit the shopping landmark, currently home to a branch of Tesco, is May 15. It will reopen at the end of 2023. The cost of the project is up to CZK 1 billion, though the exact figure has not been disclosed.

“The entire ground floor and the first floor will be closed on April 30, and from May 1 it will no longer be possible to enter OD Máj from Národní třída and walk through the passage. Tesco's retail space will still be open to the public until May 15. Starting on May 16, all entrances to the department store will be closed,” said Václav Klán Jr. of Amádeus Real which owns the building.

Amádeus Real, which is run by the Klán family, has owned the building since 2018. It has been designated as a protected cultural landmark by the Czech Culture Ministry since 2007.

When declaring it a landmark, the Czech Culture Ministry said the building was one of the first in Prague to pioneer a conscious connection of interwar functionalism with elements of Brutalist architecture, foreshadowing in the interior the architectural concept of high-tech style.

Work to clear out the building should take about three weeks. The building will then be turned over to a contractor, which has not yet been selected. The developer has obtained a valid building permit for the work.

Visualization of Máj interior. Photo: Amadeus Real.
Visualization of Máj interior. Photo: Amadeus Real.

The renovation should preserve the building’s external appearance and restore some of its internal elements. The building was built between 1972 and ’75, so the renovation comes 50 years after the original start of construction.

Amádeus Real said that it collaborated with the two of the building's original architects, Martin Rajniš and John Eisler, on the renovation plans. The third architect, Miroslav Masak, apparently did not participate. The architects were inspired in part by the plans for Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, but Máj actually opened two years earlier.

Rajniš is still active in Prague. He worked on the Gulliver Airship at the DOX Center for Contemporary Art and the Doubravka XIV lookout tower in Prague 14. Eisler has worked on many international projects and was long based in New York but is now also back in the Czech Republic. His recent work includes the Arkády Pankrác shopping center.

Visualization of Máj interior. Photo: Amadeus Real.
Visualization of Máj interior. Photo: Amadeus Real.

“We think that its final form, after modernization, is a good adaptation of our original idea, but also a positive step forward. It is simply not possible to preserve the whole situation at the level of 50 years ago. We believe that the public will like it when it opens,” Rajniš said.

The renovation work was delayed by the building's landmark status, meaning that it cannot be radically altered. The preservation group Klub Za starou Prahu (Club for Old Prague) two years ago was critical of the previous draft of the renovation plans. The group said the proposed modifications would fundamentally and unacceptably change the shape of the building.

Máj in 1975. Photo: Amadeus Real.
Máj in 1975. Photo: Amadeus Real.

The developer now states that it has reached an agreement with the conservationists to preserve the building’s appearance and restore exposed ceilings on the individual floors. Originally, ductwork and infrastructure were visible, following the modern trend of the time.

It won't be possible to return Máj completely to its original concept. The store once opened onto a concrete plaza where people could sit and relax after shopping. There was a metro entrance, which had some small shops. Windows from the shopping center overlooked the plaza. That space has been developed into the Quadrio shopping center, which blocks any view from that side of the building. Only a small portion of the plaza remains behind Quadrio.

Plaza next to Now-covered plaza next to Máj in 2006. Photo: Wikimedia commons,  Aktron, CC BY-SA 3.0
Now-covered plaza next to Máj in 2006. Photo: Wikimedia commons, Aktron, CC BY-SA 3.0.

The department store was built on the site of the neo-Gothic Špork Palace, which was torn down in 1938 leaving an empty lot. The store opened as Prior 02 on April 21, 1975, but the name soon changed to Máj, and that name has stuck to it since. The store was operated by U.S. retail chain Kmart starting in 1992. After the Czech-registered branch of Kmart was absorbed by the Dutch division of Tesco, the store was renamed back to Tesco in 1996. Tesco rebranded the story as My Národní in 2009.  

Máj was not Prague’s only department store in the communist era. Its rival Kotva opened less than two months earlier on February 10, 1975, at Náměstí Republiky and is also still in operation. That building was planned on a radical hexagon design. A new museum dedicated to the 1970s and ’80s in Czechoslovakia is planned for an entire floor.  

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