Friday, 27 December 2019

The Hotel Kyjev and
modern, visionary
street art in Bratislava

Street art on the façade of the Hotel Kyjev in Bratislava (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Many years ago, on a working trip to Egypt, the hotel in Alexandria was such a standard example of Stalinist brutalism that some of us began referring to it as ‘Hotel Bratislava.’

I cannot remember the true name of the hotel, and I had not yet been to Bratislava. But every time I see brutal hotels that have survived in Mediterranean resorts since the days of the explosion in mass tourism in the 1970s and 1980s, I am reminded of this sad hotel that represented the worst in cheap and functional planning.

When I saw the Hotel Kyjev on Rajská Street near Kamenné námestie in central Bratislava last month, I realised it may well have been the very place that must inspired some in our group to label that sad hotel in Alexandria.

The hotel has been closed for seven or eight years now and is deteriorating into a sad state of decay and neglect. But the Hotel Kyjev is one of the boldest architectural reminders of socialism in the centre of Bratislava. The hotel was designed by Ivan Matušík and built in 1973. It was named the Hotel Kyjev after the capital of Ukraine was one of tallest buildings in the Slovak capital, at a height of 65 metres.

Throughout the communist era, the hotel had no serious competition in Bratislava. It was often reserved for the most important guests of the state and visiting dignitaries – even the President of Czechoslovakia had his own suite there.

After the fall of communism, the hotel remained open. Because the interior was never remodelled, the retro style of the lobby, the public rooms and the accommodation became an attraction for tourists. The view from the roof was said to be breath-taking.

But after the revolution, there was no money to keep up with other hotels on the market. The hotel changed ownership for the last time in 2007, when it was bought by the British developer Lordship. But it needed considerable investment. Lordship tried several times to change the look of the hotel and to redevelop the area along with the neighbouring Tesco department store in Stone Square.

The distinctive design of the Kyjev could not keep the hotel open, and it closed its doors in 2011. Initially, developers wanted to tear it down, but they changed their minds after public pressure, although the hotel has never been declared a monument.

Most people in Bratislava agree Stone Square needs revitalisation. The area lacks public green places, and open spaces, the buildings are seen as dirty buildings and the area has attracted homeless people in considerable numbers. But a large number of people want the hotel complex designated a national cultural monument.

Now, however, the entire façade of the Hotel Kyjev has been transformed in recent years by the photographer Lousy Auber into one of the biggest street art pieces in Central Europe.

As part of a recent street art festival in Bratislava, Auber was planning and designing the work for six months. The artists received permission from Lordship and then consulted City Hall and preservationists about their design. The optical illusion was created in only few hours by 17 mountain climbers who used colourful sprays.

The façade has evoked strong reactions, both positive and negative. Some people wonder whether it is too much of an interference with the design of a building in the monument zone or ask if it is destroying the modernist architecture.

However, Tomáš Lukačka, organiser of the Bratislava Street Art Festival, has responded, ‘If anybody is concerned that we have destroyed something on the building, this is not true – the building has already been destroyed.’

The work, which has already prompted various responses, will probably remain on the building until the site is redeveloped.

Meanwhile, although the hotel remains closed, the popular nightclub in the Luna Bar underground, with its retro style remains open.

Will the Hotel Kyjev and Lousy Auber’s work be there, in this city of street art, this time next year?

I don’t know. I don’t have 20/20 vision.

Twigi … a shop window and façade in Bratislava inspired by the city’s street art (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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