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Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Crafts

Kaunas, Lithuania
1 of 25
L. Mykolaicio nuotrauka, 2018 m.

Although Laisvės Avenue was and remained the main representative street of Kaunas, its level of formality in the interwar period was not matched by another equally important artery of the city - the parallel Donelaičio Street. One after another, new buildings were planned, or the most important representative subjects of the state - the Ministry of Justice, the Bank of Lithuania, the country's leading museums, the Cabinet of Ministers, etc. - were established in the already existing buildings.

However, the most important public space of the street was covered by the museum complex, with the garden of the Military Museum becoming the main "mecca" of statehood symbols. For this reason, in 1937, it was planned to supplement the existing complex with the new Chamber of Commerce, Industry, and Crafts (hereinafter - the Chamber of Commerce, Industry, and Crafts). This idea was viewed with great sensitivity.

The architects' attention to the development of this type of site is evidenced by the number of projects submitted for the competition, which included as many as 28 designs. Vytautas Landsbergis-Zemkalnius was entrusted with the implementation of the project, which was awarded the second prize[1]. It is possible that the architect's experience influenced this decision, as he had previously designed the unrealized building of the National Conservatory in this space. Unfortunately, due to a long-lasting dispute in the City Council, the PPA Chamber was also not destined to appear in this plot.

The choice of another, much less binding location at the beginning of Donelaičio Street made it unnecessary to adapt the building to a very sensitive location in the cityscape, and the self-evident task of fitting into the existing complexity was eliminated. The architect's decision to make almost no changes to the design, but to mirror the palace and adapt it to the situation of the new site, was interesting. Thus, the palace, which was initially designed as an "architectural backdrop"[5] for the Karo Museum and was intended to become a kind of link between the latter and the equally important Bank of Lithuania, was destined to become the most important landmark of the stretch of Donelaičis Street between Parodos Kalno and Žemaičių Street.

Comparing the architecture of the latter building with the research laboratory palace designed by V. Landsbergis-Zemkalnis five years earlier, we can see that much more of the rules of classical architecture was still applied to the official administrative buildings. Therefore, it is probably most appropriate to compare the work of this architect with the county municipal palace, which was also erected five years ago in the vicinity and was of a similar scale. Although both buildings have been significantly rationalized, the half-columns on the main façade and the arched entrances on either side of the central part of the façade represent a kind of "step back" towards classical architectural forms. However, it should not be forgotten that these solutions are inherited from the planned location of the first palace - the half-columns and arched elements were probably intended to link the building to the nearby Bank of Lithuania Palace and the arcade of the War Museum.

In the second half of the 1930s, the search for a "national style", manifested in the interpretation of folk ornaments on the exterior of the buildings, had already given way to new architectural winds, but, as the example of the PPA Palace shows, a different trend emerged - the use of pure folk motifs in the interiors and their elements, created from traditional materials, was widespread. The unique interior of the building, which has survived to this day, was consistently designed by V. Landsbergis-Zemkalnis himself. Both the exterior and the interior of the building were decorated with works by the most famous Lithuanian artists of the time, such as bas-reliefs by Bronis Pundzius, stained-glass windows by Stasys Ušinskas, and frescoes by Petras Kalpoks.

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