July 30: architecture as weapon
2012/07/30 § Leave a comment
On this day in 1419 Hussites threw seven members of the Prague city council through the windows of the City Hall.
The event, which became known as the First Defenestration of Prague (yes, they thought that murder-by-window was legit enough to revisit it) was a response of radical Hussites to the arrest of some of their brethren. One of their most charismatic priests, Jan Želivský, stirred up his flock and led them on a march to the New Town Hall (1348-1456) where they demanded the release of the prisoners. When their demands were not met, rather than pitch a fit (or a tent) the mob stormed the tower and shoved the burgomaster, two councillors and several burghers from the windows. The men all died from the fall (or rather, the landing) (oftentimes on lances prepared for their descent) or, if they survived, were dispatched quickly thereafter in the square below.
The Defenestration was the start of the Hussite Wars, which lasted until the mid-1430s. It’s also a rare (although not unique) instance of architecture being turned to murderous use. Plenty of folks have been shoved from rooftops and balconies; a cathedral spire was put to dastardly use in a gruesome scene from one of the Muse’s favorite Simon Pegg films (here’s the clip, NOT for the faint of heart); no one can match the scale of the Aztecs, who not only used the top of their pyramids, but the whole long stepped incline to draw blood out of their victims to appease the gods. Still, there is something elegant–creepily so, we admit, yet elegant, nonetheless–about the word defenestration, with its tiny prefix turning the delicate root fenestra (“opening” or “window”) into a murderous activity at an architectural scale. And there is also something very funny about architects and architecture majors who tend to wear vocabulary that is too big for them, and mistake the variations of “fenestration” when pitching a project, and end up, unwittingly, threatening their critics.
image: the New Town Hall (from this source)