The modernist Funeral Hall was built in 1983. The hall has a distinguishable Scandinavian style, set in a pleasant forest environment, the Židenice forest park. The building was designed by the influential Brno Architect Ivan Ruller along with fifteen other fine artists. This collaboration produced work of outstanding architectural and artistic quality.
The building is divided into two different parts. The first part is the entrance hall, an area to facilitate the ceremony and the mourners, which represents the world of the living. The second northern part is designed as the operational background – representing the world of the deceased. The funeral hall was put into operation in 1983, and after 24 years, in 2007, was closed for poor condition.
Despite its undeniable cultural and architectural value, the ceremonial hall does not have the official status of a monument. For buildings less than fifty years old, there are no precise nomenclatures to define their cultural value, therefore no protocol to treat them as real monuments. According to the plans of the Židenice Town Hall, the reconstruction of the mourning hall could start at the beginning of 2020.
Text by Barbora Slavíčková
1983Funeral Hall – public programme
1983 City of Brno
2018 City of Brno
Form of government
1983 Socialist Federative Republic
2018 Parliamentary Republic
Spatial Planning Agency
Type of heritage and protection
Interview with Jakub
JH: Hello, yes, I know it from my own experience. I roamed at the Židenice cemetery on walks, when I had a new born son, so I took him there in a pram in order to make him sleep. I didn’t know that there was a building there until I wandered there one day. Because the whole Židenice cemetery is mostly composed of old tombstones and is set in an environment, where the former village Židenice actually ended, it is under the hill in Vinohrady, where there is a panel housing estate. There remain the original buildings from the village Židenice and there are still some last remnants and the ruins of those original houses. In fact, the Židenice cemetery seems as if is growing out of it. The fence of the cemetery ends somewhere on a sandy, dusty road towards the old houses, and the Židenice mourning hall, by the architect Ruller, is actually a bit sideways, at the newer part of the cemetery. I hadn’t really noticed it until I came to the end of the old cemetery that there was something new there, and I had no idea that there was such a thing. This is my first encounter with that building.
BS: And what do you think of it?
JH: The first time I encountered it, because I come from a family of architects, I immediately started asking questions. I went to take a closer look because the building is not completely accessible, there is an access car park in front of the building and the building itself is separated by a fence, I feel that it was also somehow artistically conceived. However, I never got directly into the building, but I always looked at it as closely as possible over the fence, even with binoculars, and I googled it in various ways. I later found out that it was from Mr. Ruller, which lead me to find some more information about it on Wikipedia. As a matter of fact, I had never experienced it in any operational state.
BS: So you were fascinated by what it looks like?
JH: I was fascinated by it, because it actually seemed inappropriate. Actually, the whole neighborhood is like this. There are some apartment buildings from the fifties, then suddenly there appears this structure, as if of a larger character. The site is a ghost of the original village, which nowadays the prior Židenice can barely be found there. Instead a suddenly singular, you could say monument, growing that does not fit there, that seems to be part of some wider territory. I thought that if there was a mourning farewell, I would not mind, but there are various glass parts of the facade, where a person does not necessarily focus only on the ceremony, but can also perceive the permeation with nature. Thanks to the construction.
BS: It's very interesting how you describe it. In that case, what do you think about the building not being used, especially in the bad condition it is in currently?
JH: Well, I think that's a bit of a consequence of some central management. I don't know how it is in terms of property relations, whether it's still under the administration of the Brno-Židenice district or part of the Central Cemetery administration or the funeral service? I don't know how it is with the funeral home.
BS: I think the owner is Brno, but it's in the administration of the Brno City Cemetery Administration, if I'm not mistaken.
JH: So, due to the fact that it's in a state of disrepair, I don't know why. If something changed during the eighties, because they built it, I'd bet it around 1983, it doesn't matter. However, after the revolution, it probably wasn't used much anymore, I don't know. The object, I feel, is falling into disrepair.
BS: Yeah, that's right. In 2007, I know that they definitely closed the building. But even that is actually 15 years.
JH: I actually went there for the first time in 2009, because my son was born in 2009, so I started driving him there in that pram… And actually, thanks to that, I never even had a chance to visit it in operation.
BS: Okay, so thank you very much.
Interview with Markéta Žáčková
Art and architecture historian and theorist
MŽ: We first met the Židenice funeral hall sometime around 2010, because it actually had such a peculiar fate. Architect Ruller designed it between 1977-1983 and the hall itself was in operation for a very short time, only 24 years, from 1984 to 2007. When, then, was the reason (I would say intentionally) neglected maintenance by the Administration of Cemeteries of the City of Brno so degraded, so damaged that it had to be closed. Architect Ruller, as the author of the building, then tried to save the building from 2007, because in 2011 even the Brno City Council approved the demolition of the funeral hall. He was very active and eventually, together with students from the Faculty of Architecture and the Faculty of Fine Arts of the Brno University of Technology, we created a team, including the then Dean of the Faculty of Architecture Josef Chybík. Chybík, who was a great friend of the architect Ruller, and I decided to write a book together - a monograph that will deal with the funeral hall and which it will, as Professor Ruller said, serve as a weapon that he will set up and use in the appropriate places responsible for the eventual demolishing of the hall. Or, conversely, it doesn't. So it was kind of a, "book as a weapon", with the intention to save this building, which is of great value, because the architect Ruller invited many visual artists to collaborate; such as Valér Kováč, Jindřich Kumpošt Jr., Ida Vaculková, Josef Fusek, and of course Olbram Zoubek, whose sculpture is located in front of the funeral hall. So, it would be a shame not to keep it also because it was the so-called, ‘socialist gesamkunstwerk’.
BS: Sure, sure. And I'm just going to ask, what do you attribute to how the funeral hall got into this unenviable position at all? Why did this happen? Why did it stop being used and gradually fall into disrepair? What do you think led to it?
MŽ: That's very strange. Because there are, of course, more cemeteries in Brno, as it is a relatively large city, and the Židenice cemetery is the second largest after the Central Cemetery. And to be honest, Professor Ruller often explained that the, "funeral business", was behind it. Since the operator, the one to whom the hall was entrusted for use, which were technical services and the Public Greenery of the City of Brno, invested all their resources only in the Central Cemetery… Because those funerals are probably quite a deal. So they wanted all the funerals to take place in the Central Cemetery and not in the cemetery in Židenice, because there is no crematorium, only the funeral ceremony hall, which is a certain operational complication for them. In the sense that the bereaved have to move differently, by bus from place A to place B.
BS: I understand.
MŽ: Actually, the whole thing doesn't happen, including the ceremony, in one place… So they perceived the Židenice mourning hall as such a burden and let it gradually degrade. Then there was such another thing, and that was the so-called, "Action Z", the construction. And that's always the problem, such construction. Under socialism, this was an action that was said to be built, "for free" (zdarma in Czech), which of course was partly true, but in reality, "Z", is an acronym for, "improve" (zvelebit in Czech). Which means that people were invited to so-called, "civic assistance", which meant that they had to go compulsorily. So, it was built by various clerks who, for example, didn’t know how to slater something with stone or other similar crafts. Which means that the hall wasn't built very well, precisely because it was so, "Action Z".
BS: I understand, I understand, it's strange. And, do you have any idea what should happen now? Where is it at the moment?
MŽ: I know exactly what the situation is. Professor Ruller connected with a certain engineer, Mr. Kunc, who was originally a civic activist, who later became a politician, and is currently the deputy mayor of the Brno-Židenice district, who really likes the architecture… And a really personal commitment, he has fought for it for 14 years and on … And finally he succeeded in 2020, in the fall, if I'm not mistaken, or maybe it was in the spring of this year. Anyway, the Brno City Council approved a budget of 29 million for the overall reconstruction of the building. The first phase of the project released 2 million crowns to create project documentation for the entire reconstruction. So this is actually a story with a good ending. And maybe we contributed to that with our book, a little bit, who knows.
BS: Well, I think that's a great conclusion! So yeah, thank you!
MŽ: It's okay
Interview with Martin Šolc
MŠ: In more detail, it wasn’t until sometime around 2017/ 2018, when I started doing research for the project Architecture of the 60's and 70's, when we documented architecture from this period in the South Moravian Region. It was one of the funeral halls that we visited in the South Moravian Region at the time and began to document it in some way.
BS: And what's so interesting about it? Why this building?
MŠ: For buildings of this nature, funeral halls from the 60's and 70's, such a modest monumentality is what intrigues me, which Ivan Ruller conceived very interestingly here. The inner symbolism and inner charge of the funeral hall, where you actually have to come to say goodbye to your dead, is expressed in its architectural forms. After several years of studying it, the project has so many unique parts that it is hard for me to express it all.
BS: Never mind, so I'll ask differently. What would you say is the value of that funeral hall to the public?
MŠ: For the public, the mourning hall is always important in that you go there to say goodbye to your loved ones. Within the original concept that Ivan Ruller proposed for the location of the Židenice cemetery, it was actually a focal point - a symbolic point between the world of the living and the world of the dead. As Ivan Ruller himself mentioned, the centrepiece within the whole cemetery concept.
BS: And what do you think about the fact that the funeral hall hasn't actually worked since around the year 2007, that it is systematically decaying? Do you have any opinion on this?
MŠ: In a sense, it can be understood for me that certain buildings lose their purpose, due to the fact that they are not used as much or not used as they should be. There will certainly be other funeral halls within Brno, the operations of which will be used much more intensively, but within the Židenice cemetery, it is certainly a great loss; because it's good for people to say goodbye in the same spaces where their dead will rest.
BS: Which doesn't work now, if I understood correctly?
MŠ: Which does not work now, and the building is in a desolate state. It was gradually destroyed and degraded. Although it has been preserved in its basic forms to this day, it is not used for its purpose at all. It is not used at all for the purpose for which it was created.
BS: Do you have any idea what could happen to it in the future?
MŠ: When I look at how carefully it was designed and how Ivan Ruller - which was usual for him - connected architecture with works of art, thanks to which he created the architectural hall as a dignified space for saying goodbye to the dead. He restored its original purpose so that the living could say goodbye to their dead again.
BS: Okay, so thank you very much for your answers.