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Café society, Czech-style

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Valeria Carullo

The work of Ladislav Machoň an applicant to RIBA’s 1930s Refugee Committee

Restaurant ‘Cerny Pivovar’ 
Prague, 1934

Following a sharp rise in the late 1930s in the number of central European architects seeking admission to Britain, in January 1939 the RIBA set up a special Refugee Committee, which was tasked to strike a very difficult balance between giving assistance to foreign architects who could no longer find work in their native countries (and were, in some cases, also in physical danger) and safeguarding job opportunities for local architects in a period of economic uncertainty. Among the numerous Czech applicants was Ladislav Machoň (1888-1973), a prolific architect who had worked on a great variety of projects, from housing to government buildings.

The photograph shows one of his restaurants in Prague, where he also designed the very popular Automat Koruna, a modern type of self-service buffet. Interestingly, Machoň also designed an automat in London’s Regent Street in 1938, but it is unclear whether he ever managed to leave his country before the outbreak of World War Two. He was, however, still practising in the late 1940s – one of the fortunate aspiring émigrés who succeeded in surviving the Nazi era.