Osvald Polívka studied at the Czech and German University of Technology under Josef Zítek and Achille Wolf, whom he later helped build the Mortgage Bank in Senovážné náměstí Square in Prague. Zítek inspired this talented architect to use the features of the so-called Czech Renaissance. Polívka’s first significant project in this spirit was the Municipal Savings Bank in Prague, built between 1892 and 1894; it was designed in collaboration with Antonín Wiehl. The building was Polívka’s breakthrough success that started his career as an architect of representative palaces of various financial institutions – banks, savings banks and insurance companies – and other public buildings. In Prague, he designed the Provincial Bank of the Czech Kingdom (1897) and the Trade Bank (1901) in Na Příkopě Street. The Municipal Insurance Company in Old Town Square, built in 1900, is an example of another attitude of the architect who took over the role of a representative of the Prague Baroque. He had thorough knowledge of historical morphology and aimed at dynamic creative expression. These two factors also inspired his interest in Art Nouveau. Major examples of his effort to use some of the contemporary modern trends include the large complex of Prague’s New Town Hall in Mariánské náměstí Square with the resulting Art Noveau appearance dating back to 1908, the Praha insurance bank in Národní třída Street, and the water tower in Nymburk.
Polívka then confirmed his reputation in conservative circles by his project of the Credit Union palace in Velké náměstí Square (now the Gallery of Modern Art) in Hradec Králové. The bank bought the site from the General Credit Union, but did not use the winning design by Viktorin Šulc. Its new owner then organized another competition at the beginning of 1911, and asked Jan Kotěra, Osvald Polívka and Oldřich Liska to take part in it. The jury eventually awarded the project to Polívka whose design took surprisingly precedence over the empathic, yet inventive design by Kotěra. The verdict could be explained by pragmatic agreement between the bank representatives and the Central Commission for Maintaining Art and Historical Sites in Vienna “in the matter of the style of the new building of the Credit Union building”(Ed. Ratibor XXVIII, 1911, n. 18, 29. 4., 9.). After general criticism of the previous designs of the General Credit Union and Špalek’s department store across the square, which irritated the public mainly by their height, the commission preferred Polívka’s moderate Modernist building with the elevated ground floor, three-storey mass, and four-storey corner tower. No loud protests were organized against this version, and the city councillors probably acknowledged the project relieved. The portal on the main façade is decorated with two allegorical bronze statues representing Trade and Harvest. They were created by Ladislav Šaloun who collaborated with Polívka also on bank palaces in Prague or in Trieste. Polívka was widely known for his interest in cooperation with other visual artists, prominent sculptors, and painters.
His victory over Kotěra, however, only confirmed the negative opinion of him held by members of the Mánes Union of Fine Art and the Architects Association, including, for example, Josef Gočár, Pavel Janák, Otakar Novotný, and František Roith. These architects vigorously opposed the so-called reactionary or seemingly progressive tendencies in architecture, manifested by increasing pragmatism and undisguised emancipation in the work of many artists. Progressive artists also strongly opposed several new high-profile buildings, namely the Municipal House in Prague, designed by Osvald Polívka and Antonín Balšánek and completed in 1912. According to many contemporary comments close to the Association, this eclectically designed object literally embodied their worst ideas of decadent variations of Modernism or attempts to imitate this style. Polívka kept his creative position of a conservative, reliable architect also in the 1920s when his projects were characterized by plain classicism.
Prague Municipal Savings Bank, Prague, 536 Rytířská Street (with A. Wiehl)
Landesbank, Prague, 858 Na Příkopě Street
Prague Municipal Insurance Company, Prague, 932 Old Town Square
Water tower, Nymburk, Vodárenská a Jízdecká Streets
Novák’s department store in Prague, 699 Vodičkova Street
Topič Publishing House, Prague, 1010 Národní Street
Praha Insurance Company, Prague, 1011 Národní Street
Farm buildings at the Karlova Koruna Chateau, Chlumec nad Cidlinou
New Town Hall, Prague, 2 Mariánské Square
Municipal House in Prague, Republiky Square (with A. Balšánek)
Trade Bank branch, Trieste, 122 Via Mazzini
Czech Bank, Prague, 791 Wenceslas Square (with J. Sakař)
House of the Czech Trading Company, Ústí nad Labem, 20 Hrnčířská Street
Dunaj Palace, Praha, 138 Národní Street (with A. Foehr)
Pavel Vlček (ed.), Encyklopedie architektů, stavitelů, zedníků a kameníků v Čechách, Praha 2004, s. 513–514
Zdeněk Lukeš; Rudolf Pošva, Neznámý Osvald Polívka. Pokus o rehabilitaci díla pražského architekta přelomu století, Staletá Praha, 1988, č. XVIII, s. 193–207
Marie Benešová, Česká architektura v proměnách dvou století, Praha 1984, s. 222–223
Rostislav Švácha, Od moderny k funkcionalismu, Praha 1994