A NEW POLE ON YOUR CULTURAL AND SOCIAL MAP


Where the finest flour was milled for a hundred years, the culture and buzz of the new city centre is now spreading. Gočár’s Automatic Mills are a former brownfield just a few tens of meters from the centre of Pardubice. Today, a new lively district.

BUNDLE OF 212 KEYS


The Automatic Mills caught their second wind in 2015. The day Mr. and Mrs. Smetana received a bundle of 212 keys from them. The mill wheels, which stopped after a century of continuous flour grinding and the collective memory of Pardubice, have been slowly turning again ever since.

Fences are being torn down, new squares are being built and talented architects are being hired. The regional Gočár´s gallery, the municipal contemporary art gallery Gampa, the educational laboratory Sphere (Sféra) and the Pardubice information centre gradually joined the project of the Smetana family. And the Mills start humming, murmuring and vibrating again.

Architects of AM
BEING THE OWNER OF THE MONUMENT – LUKÁŠ SMETANA

With Lukáš Smetana. An architect who was not afraid to become the owner of a national cultural monument in an unknown city. How to build in a few years something that should have taken generations. And why is the river so important for understanding the Mills.

HOW TO MAKE MEANING OF IT – ZDENĚK BALÍK

With the architect and principal of the eight-year architectural circus in Automatic Mills Zdenek Balík. How long has he been searching for the meaning of an abandoned industrial site in the centre of the city? And how do you attract the best people to the project.

ONE SHOULD NOT STAY DOWN TO THE GROUND – JAN ŠÉPKA

With Jan Šépka, the author of the only new building and public space in the Mills area. How can you measure up to the giant of the Czech architecture throughout the century and not be paralyzed by respect?

HOW TO SHOW EMPTY – MARTIN PROKŠ AND MAREK PŘIKRYL

Authors of the conversion from milling technology to theater. How to access empty space and what is it like when architects work for architects?

DIALOGUE WITH GOČÁR – PETR VŠETEČKA

With the architect of the conversion of the main mill building Petr Všečka. From the mill to the gallery operation. How to get light into a building and how to work with the new verticality?

TRANSFORMATION RULES – JOSEF PLESKOT

With the authority of the Czech architecture, Josef Pleskot, who was behind the idea of bringing the regional Gočár gallery to the Mills. How to get a building from the outskirts to the very centre of the city without leaving its place?

A Century
of Automatic mills
 

THE CITY IS BEING REORGANIZED. THE OLD TINY CITY MILLS DISAPPEAR ALONG WITH THE MEANDERS OF CHRUDIMKA AND LABE RIVERS.

 

At the beginning of the 20th century, Pardubice experienced a new renaissance. They find themselves on new railway artery, the regulation of rivers makes it possible to conquer the landscape. It is a magnet for industry and commerce. A brewery, sugar factory, distillery, foundry, power plant, bridge factory, steam sawmill, refinery or mill machinery factory are growing rapidly. The city is visibly changing its structure, taking on a new lease of life and optimistically expanding. There is a pressure for a new approach to its urbanism. The concept of a linear city, with which Napoleon transformed Paris in the 1890s, or with which the people of Prague changed the old Jewish ghetto at the turn of the century, is also coming to Pardubice. But a complicated medieval structure with the city river and the meanders of Chrudimka and Labe stand in the way. 

Pardubice mills are also to become victims of filling up the city river and straightening the riverbeds. In this, the local Jewish family of Winternitz senses a business opportunity and speculatively buys one mill. With their great economic power and legal background, they then force the city to exchange their mill for a lucrative plot of land with a 50-horse power source of energy – i.e. water. For this purpose, the city will even build a 10 km long drive from the Svitavka stream.

 

THE PROMINENT WINTERNITZ FAMILY FROM PARDUBICE WAS ABLE TO GET A BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY FROM THE CITY’S URBAN CHANGES.

 

The Winternitz brothers come from a prominent and publicly active family. Egon was the chairman of the committee of the National Exhibition of Physical Education and Sports in 1931, thanks to Karl, the long-time chairman of the East Bohemian Equestrian Club, the first concrete grandstands were built on the racecourse. The family is at the head of the Pardubice Jewish community. The Winternitzes can accurately read the social change unfolding in their presence. 

The Winternitzes direct the creation of an ideal business situation. Milling competition is eliminated. The “networked” plot is ready. They immediately start building a new monopoly. A mill whose size and technology will correspond to its time. They approach Prokop´s Plant (Prokopovy závody), a company from Pardubice, which at the time is a globally significant supplier of milling technology for automatic mills. They even negotiate a better price with the Prokops in exchange for a promise to build a mill in Pardubice with an architect, and the building will thus become a showcase, a showroom of automatic mill technology.

 

WINTERNITZ FAMILY IS HIRING A YOUNG ARCHITECT AT THE BEGINNING OF HIS CAREER. JOSEF GOČÁR.

 

We don’t know if the young Josef Gočár, who came from nearby Bohdaneč, was put on the Winternitzes’ path by a simple chance, acquaintance, a clique of the city planning office, or a speculative effort to minimize costs with a budding architect. 

Gočár is shortly past his studies with Jan Kotěra, and the mills of the Winternitz brothers are his first big order. Gočár feels that the age of art nouveau is over and new ways must be sought. The Winternitz Mill is one of his first steps on this journey. His talent and honesty are soon playing in the first world architectural league, and his work in Pardubice can be boldly compared with, for example, the industrial projects of Peter Bahrens of the same period. 

The operation of the mill was determined by the Prokops and their technology. The architect was to finish only the facade. Nevertheless, Gočár was able to influence the mass of the building with small interventions. He disrupted its compactness by separating the silo in the front part of the building into a separate monumental prism and innovative work with the facade. The essence of his work is honesty. It follows the construction and operational internal structure of the building. Where the machines are, there is a full wall. Where people move, there are windows. While the mill, the place of work, seems purely utilitarian, the facade of the silo, the storehouse of wealth, is richly decorated. Gočár was thus able to cope with the demanding task of a monolithic building with a blind facade and a mass that, in the given context, had a seemingly dislocated scale. By writing the internal structure of the reinforced concrete silo structure onto its facade, by balancing masses and geometric ornamentation, he creates a welcoming house out of something as inaccessible as a four-story factory. It is in the game with geometric shapes that we can already feel the beginnings of a new national style – rondocubism. The mills immediately become a monument and part of Pardubice’s DNA. They have been protected as monuments since the 1950s, without it being exactly clear at the time under which legislative title.

 

THE NEW TECHNOLOGY OF COMBINATION OF 8 MILLS IN A SINGLE BUILDING CARRIES WITH IT ONE HIDDEN RISK. THE FIRE HAZARD.

 

The automatic mills of the Prokop´s plants are a technologically interconnected system of 8 types of mills. They are located on floors above each other. The grain is first transported to the highest floor, then falls down through a labyrinth of glass tubes, and individual layers are gradually separated from it, which, thanks to their different bulk weights, reach a special mill on the corresponding floor. Different types of flour are produced. This great invention of the beginning of the 20th century made it possible not only to extend the shelf life of flour or to increase its gluten content, but also to commoditize it. The mill changes from a grain grinding service to a product factory. The lowest floor of the mill is the transmission. A huge gearbox that transfers the power to the individual mills and distributes their grinding rhythm so that the frequencies of the machines’ movements balance each other and the house does not collapse from vibrations. The resulting impression is a huge roaring monster that never sleeps. 

But the ingenious technology contained one design flaw. On the top floor of the mill, in the funnel below the hopper, a critical concentration of flour dust develops after several years of grinding. One that spontaneously combusts. Just like in 1919 in Pardubice.

 

WITH THE COMPLETION OF THE FIRE FIGHTING SYSTEM, GOČÁR IS ALSO LOOKING FOR OPPORTUNITIES TO EXPRESS THE CONFIDENCE OF THE NEW STATE.

 

As soon as in 1921, after the fire, the grinding continued. A new floor was added to the Winternitz brothers’ mill, as well as to all other mills of this type, to house individual seeders. A water tower with a volume of 50 m3 and a self-extinguishing sprinkler system was also added. The tower went through several variants in Gočár’s sketches. The resulting building with battlements boldly invites the Renaissance castle standing in sight. Together with the arches, at that time considered to be the basis of the new national style, they are a manifestation of optimism of the newly established self-confident Czech state.

 

THE WINTERNITZ FAMILY IS BUILDING A GRAIN SILO. GRINDING RAW MATERIAL STOCK FOR THE WHOLE YEAR. GOČÁR CONNECTS IT WITH THE MILL’S ICONIC EXPANSION ARCH (SO CALLED PRAMPOUCH).

 

It soon became clear that the Winternitz brothers’ well-oiled automated business had one weak spot. Inputs. Raw materials. The amount of grain on the market fluctuates and with it also its purchase prices. The dependence of the mill on the erratic current supply of the key raw material is simply unpleasant. That’s why the Winternitzes quickly decide to create space to buy more grain during the harvest season and to dry it. The eight original hoppers will be newly supplemented with a free-standing silo, which will ensure a supply of grain for the entire season. The choice is all the easier because the times are optimistic, energy is available and investments in industry are the clear choice of the majority of wealthy Czech families. 

The architectural solution of the silo is again based on technological needs of the mills. Even the design of the facade follows on from the previous work. But Gočár is looking for a new balance between analogical and innovative. For example, when he optically raises the height of the silo to balance it with the mass of the original object. Or when the object of the mill is noticeably romanticized.

Gočár is embarking on the silo extension at a time when the new Czechoslovak state, standing on the side of the war winners, is becoming a European industrial tiger. And when is it looking for new ideological supports for its statehood. The battlements, the arch under the extraction arch (prampouch), but also the monumentality and inaccessibility of the industrial building create a symbol of freedom, nation and growth as a clear self-confident counterpoint to the Pardubice castle – a monument of dominion and subjugation. 

However, the discovery of the most important excavation of the 20th century, Ištařina’s Gate, can also be reflected in Gočár’s work. Today, some see it as the inspiration for shaping the prampouch – the footbridge connecting the silo with the mill.

 

THE MILLS GET UNDER THE SKIN OF THE LOCALS. THE FIRST MENTIONS OF MONUMENT PROTECTION APPEAR.

 

Already in the 1930s, the first mentions of the historical protection of the mill building appear. While experts read in it the beginnings of the new Czech architectural style, locals admire the castle’s romance. In the following decades, automatic mills will become a part of the life of Pardubice. A large number of Pardubice families find employment here. And although the mill burdens its surroundings with its constant noise, dust and excessive traffic in such a way that it would condemn any other industrial operation to extinction, for the residents of Pardubice, the Automatic Mills are rather a proud urban landmark, a food castle, a part of the city’s identity.

 

THE WINTERNITZ FAMILY SELLS THE MILLS AND DISAPPEARS IN THE TUMULT OF WWII.

 

As the end of the republic approaches, so does the end of the Winternitz family. One of the brothers dies before the war. The second one sells the mills in 1938 and goes into exile through Germany. Here, however, he is detained and sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where his trace disappears. A total of 28 members of the Winternitz family from Pardubice will die in Nazi concentration camps. Those who survive are then scattered all over the world and none of them have the ambition to continue the large family business. 

In 1938, the name Winternitz disappears from the facade of the mill building and is replaced by the simple descriptive name “Automatic Mills”. But even the new, also Jewish, owner did not survive the war.

 

AFTER THE WAR, THE COLLECTIVE AND ITS NEEDS GET TO THE WORD. A BAKERY IS BEING BUILT NEAR THE MILLS.

 

After the war, there is no one to return the mills to, they are nationalized. After the post-war reconstruction, the city continues its industrial boom. The optimism of individual freedom is replaced by hopes for a collective future. Pardubice workers, concentrated in the emerging centre of the country’s chemical industry, need to meet growing consumption. And what is a better symbol of it than bread. A task for planners and ideologues. They order to redirect the production of bakery and confectionery products from the loins of the entrepreneurs, who still hold the majority of the bakery sector, to the large-scale factory. The collective requests the purchase of land in the vicinity of the Mill, where the central bakeries are being built. All of that according to the Russian “bread factory” pattern. Plus a community building, kitchen, playground, swimming pool. Everything for everyone.

 

A FLOUR WAREHOUSE IS ESTABLISHED AS AN INTERMEDIATE STEP BETWEEN THE MILLS AND THE BAKERY. BUT THE CONNECTION TO THE ORIGINAL MILL BUILDING LACKS THE QUALITY OF GOČÁR’S THINKING.

 

The simultaneous operation of the mills and the adjacent bakery will soon create a need for intermediate storage of the key raw material. Flour. And so, in the 1960s, a plan was created to build a flour silo. It is attached to the mills by extending the main building. 

From the architectural design of the extension, you can feel the binding respect for Josef Gočár. The extension continues the tectonics of the mill building, literally copying its morphology. But the respect is so great that it paralyzes the creators. While Gočár designed the facade to benefit from the operation of the building and prescribed its internal operation and division, the flour silo does not use these principles in any way. The facade is full of unnecessary windows, divided into non-existent floors. Nevertheless, the extension helps the mills optically, and the elongated proportion helps them fit better into their surroundings.

 

THE BREAD FACTORY IS COMPLETE AND THE MILLS ARE HEADING INTO AN ENDLESS PERIOD OF NORMALIZATION.

 

The flour lines will connect the new flour silo with the bakeries, and the bread factory is complete. Automatic mills have been working continuously for decades. They become a giant living entity, a place that gives people work and food, part of Pardubice’s modern urban mythology. A place that hums day and night and machines flash rhythmically in the windows. The giant food factory has been around so long that it becomes alive. It is a Pardubice memory accumulator.

 

AFTER THE REVOLUTION, THE MILLS COME INTO THE HANDS OF THE WORLD MILLING CORPORATION.

 

After the revolution, privatization separates the mills from the bakery. The mills are now a part of a global milling corporation that owns a third of all mills in the world. The purchase of individual mills is a means for it to keep the competition at bay. This principle differs only a little from the predatory start of the business of the Winternitz brothers . But what does this mean for the building itself? 

Automatic mills are a dream of the beginning of the 20th century and do not fit into the global ambitions of its end. As the plan for one central Central European mill is born in the corporation, it is clear that the fate of the original water mills on the Pardubice rivers awaits the Automatic Mills in Pardubice. History only a century away is repeating itself, only on a different scale.

 

IT APPEARS THAT AUTOMATIC MILLS WITH THEIR ARCHAIC OPERATION DO NOT BELONG TO THE 21ST CENTURY ANYMORE. AND THAT’S WHY THE MACHINES STOP AFTER A HUNDRED YEARS. THE MILLS ARE AWAITING THEIR RESTART.

 

What does it actually mean to run Automatic Mills in the 21st century? Twice a year to exterminate the entire area with Zyklon B and close the surrounding streets for it and hermetically seal every window joint, and yet watch the birds sitting on the ledges fall to the ground. To close the street twelve times a day every time a truck leaves the premises. Rely on maintaining exemptions from hygienic dust and noise limits. Stretch the surrounding bridges to the limit of the bearing capacity. The city surrounded the Mills, the industrial periphery became a populated centre. That is also why the Mills ended their production in 2013. 

And in order for their owner to be sure that no one will resume grinding here, in the spring of 2014 he dismantles all the mill technology, which disappears into the unknown. Only fragments of the original equipment remain, thanks to the enthusiasm of the local architectural association. And that’s just a few weeks before the Automatic Mills receive the highest possible level of historic protection in summer of 2014. 

However, as is typical for the Mills, the strong business momentum becomes an advantage. With the status of a national cultural monument, all internal equipment would also fall under protection. But empty mill buildings have all the possibilities ahead of them and do not have to become a museum of mill machinery.

 

ARCHITECT LUKÁŠ SMETANA AND HIS WIFE MARIANA PURCHASE THE AUTOMATIC MILLS. AND IT’S NOT ONLY THEIR LIVES THAT ARE CHANGING FROM THE BASIS.

 

Empty Mills become a political hot potato. Negotiations with the local and public administration about their future sound hopeless. And so, at the end of 2015, a bunch of businessmen in well-fitting suits are standing in the courtyard of Automatic Mills, and while they use the mandatory inspection of the property released for commercial sale to negotiate the winning offer, they do not even notice an inconspicuous young couple who came to the Mills really interested to see. The lives of the Smetana couple will change in a few weeks, and the mood of the speculators will change.

 

TOGETHER WITH THE ARCHITECT ZDENĚK BALÍK, SMETANA CREATES THE CONCEPT OF A NEW VIBRANT CITY DISTRICT.

 

When the city of Pardubice approves the regulatory plan for the area around Automatic Mills in 2016 to control the development of the area, it is clear that there is nothing to wait for. And that it is necessary to start working quickly on a plan that will respect reality and have the ambition to create a new one. Lukáš Smetana teams up with his talented classmate architect Zdenek Balík and together they create an urban vision of the area for the next century. Its basis is radical openness. They are planning a new city district cleverly combining an active parterre, cultural institutions, office noise and pleasant living. Chirp.

 

THE PARDUBICE REGION AND THE CITY OF PARDUBICE ARE JOINING THE PROJECT WITH THEIR PROJECTS. BALÍK AND SMETANA ENGAGE TOP CZECH ARCHITECTS FOR THEM.

 

Sometimes at that moment the architects Josef Pleskot and Ladislav Lábus climb the tower of the Pardubice castle. The castle that Gočár declared to be the opposite of the Mills. They are looking in vain for a solution to the use of the Renaissance building for the needs of the regional Gočár gallery. But there is a beautiful view from the tower. A view of the Automatic Mills. Within a few weeks, the plan is in the world. The regional gallery will move to the mill building. The premises are sufficiently spectacular and the gallery operation is the only one entitled to the necessary construction exemptions when using the internal wooden structures of the mill. The reconstruction will be entrusted to the architect Všeteček, who already has experience, for example, in the reconstruction of the Baťa skyscraper in Zlín. 

The city of Pardubice will soon join the project with its Sphera polytechnic workshop plan, a centre of craft and science workshops for schools from all over the city. And connects them with the search for new spaces for the city gallery GAMPA. Lukáš Smetana and Zdenek Balík assign the urban project to architect Jan Šépka. He will process the distinctive building of Sphera and GAMPA as a reconstruction and extension of the original warehouse of packaged flour. 

Architects Martin Prokš and Marek Přikryl are responsible for the redefinition of the silo building. Zdenek Balík also gets a free hand, closing the campus with ambitious new buildings. The concentration of several top architects in one place creates an unusually specific atmosphere and gives Automatic Mills a solid basis for hope for the future.

 

THE MILLS OPEN TO THE PUBLIC AFTER THE FIRST STAGE OF RECONSTRUCTION. A NEW CENTRE POINT IS EMERGING ON THE CULTURAL MAP OF THE CZECH REPUBLIC AND EUROPE.

 

The city, the Czech Republic and Europe have their new pole. The cultural island of two galleries. The education centre. The new vibrant square. In a few years, shops, cafes or restaurants will also be available. International conferences will take place where the flour workers lived. What was closed is permeable. The periphery is the new centre.

Press contact

WHAT ARE THE AM?
1 Infocentrum

Pardubice city information centre. Starting point of the area.

2 Silo

Multifunctional conference and art space, background for synergies in the area of Automatic Mills.

3 SPHERE

Craft and technology education centre open to schools and the public.

4 GAMPA

A gallery mapping the immediate surroundings and the rest of the world in contemporary artistic language.

5 GOČÁR'S GALLERY

Regional collecting gallery with extensive educational program.

5 4 1 3 2

Pardubické městské informační centrum. Startovní bod areálu.

5 4 1 3 2

Multifunkční konferenční a umělecký prostor, zázemí pro synergie v areálu Automatických mlýnů.

5 4 1 3 2

Řemeslné a technologické vzdělávací centrum otevřené pro školy i veřejnost.

5 4 1 3 2

Galerie mapující bezprostřední okolí i zbytek světa soudobou uměleckou řečí.

5 4 1 3 2

Krajská sbírkotvorná galerie s bohatým vzdělávacím programem.

5 4 1 3 2