In the mid-1960s, the Brno architects Ivan Ruller and Zdeněk Řihák began working on a possible design for a ‘new Brno centre’ under the auspices of the Department of the Chief Architect of the City of Brno and the State Design Institute for Trade in Brno. It was seen as a potential substitute for the historical centre of the city, which was no longer adequate for the modern commercial needs and was increasingly congested with traffic. In collaboration with Milan Záhorský, Stanislav Prokeš and Jan Říha, the architects drew up plans to extend the existing city centre southwards and for a new urban structure that was to grow up on the site of the former freight railway station in front of the Grand Hotel and across the railway lines towards the former Friedrich Wannieck factory (which is now Vaňkovka shopping mall).
In the late 1960s, the Department of the Chief Architect of the City of Brno and the State Design Institute for Trade in Brno were granted permission to realize this bold vision for the new part of the city. However, after the arrival of occupying troops in 1968, plans to build a twenty-two storey building for commerce and other services and two Prior department stores were shelved. Nevertheless, Zdeněk Řihák and his younger colleague Zdeněk Sklepek did manage to succeed in extending the centre to the south. They elaborated a more modest variant of the previous design, from which only the Prior department store eventually materialized. The building was situated near the main railway station and the choice of site was purely utilitarian. Moving the station away from the city centre had been discussed for a long time and urban planning competitions had been organized to this effect. When the Prior department store was finally built, it created an obstacle that prevented long sets of railway carriages from lining up on the curved track. Thus, this gave the city council a utilitarian reason to move the station to the south at some future point in time. In 1974, Řihák’s Studio 01 of the State Design Institute for Trade (SPÚO) in Brno created the design for the building, which was forecast to cost 270 million Czecchslovak crowns (CSK). Construction did not begin until 1980, and on 30 November 1984 (just in time for Christmas), the new Prior department store was officially opened.
In the 1970s, the need for a new Prior department store was more urgent, as the retail spaces of that time were no longer adequate for the modern needs of companies. The department store was designed to allow for the concentration of as wide a range of goods as possible in one place, to provide a clear layout with the option of varying the interior space for promotions, and also to facilitate the strict separation of public and internal operations. This architecturally very progressive building was enhanced by its accessibility to shoppers by car. Pedestrians coming from the city centre were easily able to reach the department store via an underpass running under the railway station (by the architect Otakar Maděra), the budget for which was CSK 164 million.
The Brutalist style building was originally meant to have a large subterranean floor of 5,957 m², but the building plot, which was on a filled in section of a conduit of the river Svratka, thwarted this intention due to the presence of groundwater. The structure of the building was made from cast-in-situ concrete in two types of modules, with dimensions of 9 × 9 m and 9 × 6 cm and consisted of a flat waffle slab cantilevered around the perimeter. The flush column heads were mounted on columns, i.e., ‘rocking columns’. The structural height of the floors was 480 cm and 520 cm. In terms of its type, the Prior building corresponded to the contemporary need for an extensive retail area, which was approximately 15,000 m². This area was supplemented by another 10,000 m² of warehouse space that was built in Brno-Horní Heršpice at the same time as the Prior department store. The ground floor was the designated part of the building for receiving and handling of goods and also housed a supermarket and other spaces covering an area of 1,163 m². The location of the store allowed for an easy flow of supplies from the yard area and did not obstruct customers entering from the street. The first, second and third floors were originally intended for various retail operations. The first floor had a total area of 6,550 m² and was also accessible to visitors via a wide terrace connected to escalators leading from the railway underpass. Since it was built, the terrace has been modified and a footbridge has been added connecting it to the new Vaňkovka shopping mall.
On the third floor, there was originally a restaurant and canteen for employees and workshop apprentices. The building was visually separated at the level of the fourth floor, consisting of concrete cells delineated by wide chamfered U-shapes in the corners, where Zdeněk Řihák situated offices and operations rooms. The sculptural texture of the upper floors formed a striking motif and accentuated the main volume of the building. The top floor had an area of 1,579 m² and was home to the management of the department store. It was supported along its sides by slender steel columns, which significantly lightened its monolithic appearance. This unusually distinctive expression was further enhanced by the roughly plastered side structures with vertical strips of windows. The mass of the building was also optically separated by two types of ceramic cladding and translucent profiled glass, bringing daylight to not only the stairways, but the retail sector, whose facade repeated the wide U-shape motifs in profiled glass blocks. The building’s tasteful concrete cladding was designed by the sculptor Milan Buříval.
The present appearance of the Prior department store stems from a reconstruction from the 1990s combining the ideas of the architect Jan Melichar and the original third version of the reworked design by Zdeněk Řihák and Zdeněk Sklepek from 1975. The Prior department store was not designed for the demands of today’s consumer society and is not in a position to compete with the neighbouring shopping mall. This means the building faces the threat of being demolished in spite of its unquestionable architectural quality.