Hotel Thermal

Věra Machoninová and Vladimir Machonin’s important brutalist building


brutalist hotel thermal


Back in 2019 Greyscape interviewed British filmmaker Sophie May. She’d come across Hotel Thermal in Bohemia by chance when she attended the Karlovy Vary International Film Fest (KVIFF) in the hotel. When she learnt about its history and the then imminent threat to it, she knew she couldn’t simply let this spectacular building slip away. Greyscape shares her admiration of Czech architects Věra Machoninová and Vladimir Machonin, we know this building matters.

This is the interview we conducted then when the hotel’s future was uncertain and we’ll be sharing our updated findings shortly having visited the hotel in 2023

We asked Sophie all about it in 2019;

How did you discover Hotel Thermal? 

I attended the KVIFF, which has been hosted in the hotel since 1977, actually the hotel was built for the festival, in the heart of the communist era. It was even vying at one stage with the Moscow Film Festival.

Greyscape note: The film festival wasn’t simply a local cultural showpiece it was a jewel in the communist crown, which led to complications about how to re-imagine it after the Velvet Revolution.

What were your first impressions? 

I didn’t even know that the building existed until I arrived and immediately it made an impression on me. By chance I heard that the grandchildren of the architects who designed the building were giving tours throughout the festival week, so I went along!


Hotel Thermal Red Room Vera and Vladimir Machonin
Why is it at risk? 
Ordinarily, the building would have been labelled as a National Heritage Site. However, due to the era in which the building was constructed, it is predominantly associated with the communist period rather than as an innovative piece of architecture in its own right. Consequently, since the end of the communist era in 1989 buildings all over Eastern Europe such as this have been tastelessly reconstructed or demolished and many continue to face this threat.
What the government’s proposed reconstruction will be is unclear right now. There are various options, one is that they keep the main structure but demolish things such as the thermal pool and building surrounding it (which was one of the most prominent parts of the design. There is a diagonal elevator that would take guests from the hotel up the hill to the pool building where they could then swim into the pool from inside to the outside! This was because the pool could be used all year round, using natural hot spring water that is abundant in the area.) This land would then be sold and it is very valuable. The main building will likely be refaced hiding the original design beneath and making it look less brutalist.
building of hotel thermal Karlovy Vary
What do you know about the architects?
Hotel Thermal was designed by husband and wife architecture team Věra Machoninová and Vladimir Machonin and was completed in 1977.  The architects made many other poignant buildings throughout the Czech Republic and Europe including the Czech Embassy in Berlin, the DBK building Prague and the Kotva in Prague city centre. These buildings also face uncertain futures but not to the extent that Hotel Thermal does.
Kotva department store Věra Machoninová and Vladimir Machonin.

Kotva Department Store Prague © Photo Respekt Madam

Machonin architecture

Czech Embassy in Berlin Image Jörg Zägel CC BY SA 3.0

They worked as a team as well as being married. Vera was mainly in charge of the actual architectural designs and Vladimir was the one that dealt with clients and logistics, from my understanding. Most architectural commissions in the country at that time were done through competitions, so almost all the jobs they did were the result of winning these competitions.
As they became more well-known and respected, they were able to exercise their rights to a few more ‘perks’ and managed to persuade those in power to allow them to travel to the West on a few sort of field trips for their work. This was a huge privilege and allowed them to keep up to date with the advance in architecture in the 60s in places like the UK where Brutalism was very much having its hay day.
This freedom was quite short-lived and after the Prague Spring {the 1968 Soviet repression of the liberalising government of Alexander Dubcek] they were again quite restricted and their work was more regulated, as was the way with all areas of the arts at this time. So it is important to note that even though Hotel Thermal was completed in the ’70s the initial design was actually put forward and signed off in the early ’60s and so a sort of time lag appears with the dates on this point.
Věra and Vladimír Machonin czech architects

Věra and Vladimír Machonin and Pier Luigi Nervi in the middle: Image Respekt Madam ©


Since 1989 and the Velvet Revolution the architect, Věra, born in 1928, (her husband and architectural partner has long passed away) has fought a battle for the survival of Hotel Thermal whose fate lies in the hands of the Ministry of Culture and Finance. It has come close to being sold off and reconstructed or demolished several times and these threats continue. The building’s future is still in a state of flux and now the Machonin’s grandchildren have taken over the battle. They run a campaign “Respekt Madame” which primarily aims to get the building declared a National Heritage Site and enable a respectful restoration. Now tasteless reconstruction plans loom over it against the wishes of the architect and her family. We hope that the Brutal Neglect film will act a reminder of its significance and maybe sway opinions in order to change its fate.
Following the end of communism, the agenda then became keeping these buildings that had been so innovative and challenging important in the public eye and retaining it as an important point of cultural interest rather than a relic of the communist times. So Věra started the fight to stop the reconstruction and demolition plans that were in the air.
inside the dining room hotel thermal


What needs to be acknowledged is the cultural heritage before it faces looming reconstruction, despite the strong opposition of the original architect to the proposed plans. Raising awareness will help sway public opinion.

ceiling within hotel thermal Věra and Vladimír Machonin


Here’s a clip from Sophie’s film
All photos are Copyright of Marie Kordovska

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