The historic heart of Brno retained its medieval character for quite a long time. Fortifications delimited the area of the inner city as early as the 13th century and remained virtually intact until the mid-19th century. The street network reflected the trading routes that ran into Brno through its five main gates. The centre of Brno was situated around the so-called Lower Market (at the site of present-day náměstí Svobody ), surrounded by four municipal districts. Suburbs gradually formed outside the ramparts, at first skirting Brno's waterways – Ponávka Stream and the man-made millraces from the Svratka and Svitava rivers. The suburban areas witnessed intensive growth from the mid-18th century as a result of the industrial boom. In 1839 a railway was built as far as the city's gates, and the fortification system was deemed to be a useless barrier hindering the city's growth. The fortifications were demolished during the 19th century and the suburbs as well as surrounding villages were incorporated into the city of Brno in 1850.
The city expansion regulation plans involved the building of a ring road, the Ringstrasse, to replace the former bulwarks. This created numerous attractive plots on which a number of impressive public buildings grew in the late 19th and early 20th century. The historic centre itself underwent a radical change, as it no longer satisfied hygienic and transport requirements. In 1896 the so-called "Brno redevelopment" resulted in the demolition of 238 older buildings and the creation of new streets (the present-day Rašínova and Květinářská streets). The changes also affected the transport system, for the centre received electric tramway lines in 1900. Brno had acquired the look of a major city by the time the redevelopment projects were completed in 1916. However, it had lost many valuable objects of cultural and historical heritage and thus also a part of its history.
After the formation of independent Czechoslovakia in 1918, Brno was suddenly faced with numerous changes. In 1919 a total of 23 surrounding villages were incorporated into Brno, which two years later became the provincial capital of Moravia, later Moravia-Silesia. The dynamic growth in the number of inhabitants and new institutions determined the key architectural assignments of the post-war period involving adequate residential units and public and administrative buildings. The Building Support Acts of 1921 and 1927 provided investors with direct subsidies or tax deductions and helped tackle the housing issues; the 1920s witnessed a great building boom. The very centre of the city lacked a sufficient number of plots, and architects therefore concentrated on adaptations of historic buildings or used the plots vacated in the course of the previous redevelopment. However, another wave of redevelopment directly in the historic centre turned out to be inevitable. The original houses were replaced by buildings of financial institutions and multi-functional administrative buildings with commercial and residential sections. Several architectural feats also drew on the tradition of the city's cafés, whose design as well as social role made them a true phenomenon of the First Republic.
At first, the building activities in the historic centre took place without any comprehensive urban planning concept. Urban planners always focused on partial areas and failed to deal with the increasing traffic load or links to adjacent industrial and residential zones. Therefore, in 1924 the municipal government announced an competition for the regulation of inner Brno. Though its results did not yield a comprehensive solution, they nevertheless contained important impulses for the city's future development. The ideas suggested completing the ring road by bursting a corridor in the rock below Petrov (the southern part of present-day Husova Street) and moving the passenger railway station (today's main station) south-west, which would enable further expansion of the centre southwards. The follow-up competition for a development project for Brno and its surroundings announced by the municipal authorities in 1926 produced the winning design entitled "Tangenta". Its authors, Bohuslav Fuchs, Josef Peňáz and František Sklenář, relied on the transfer of the railway station and a prolongation of the promenade avenue (present-day Benešova Street), creating sufficient space for the city's further growth. Unlike the regulation of present-day Husova Street, whose prolongation in 1940-41 closed the city's inner ring road, the idea of transferring the railway station was not fulfilled. Although there was another additional competition in 1933 and a detailed transfer plan was drafted two years later, the political and economic situation of the pre-war years thwarted its implementation.
The railway and the railway station thus continued to intersect the centre, making it impossible to establish closer links between the centre and the surrounding districts. The area south and south-east of the historic centre gradually deteriorated and still has numerous vacant plots. This is especially true for the industrial locations along Ponávka Stream and the Svitava and Svratka millraces. The peculiar character of the workers' residences skirting these waterways resulted in the name "Small Venice". Factories were set up mainly by influential Jewish entrepreneurs, for the surroundings of the historic trading route (present-day Křenová Street) gradually became the centre of Brno's Jewish community beginning in the late 17th century. A synagogue and several apartment buildings were erected there in the interwar period. The industrial zones were chosen as the site of Brno's extensive heating plant, built in 1929-30. Yet, the still present railway posed a barrier hindering an intensive urbanisation of this area.
The millraces were filled after World War II and the transport design of the city's ring road from the 1980s created another obstacle to the development of the city's centre. At present, a new urban plan being prepared focuses on an urban solution to the issue of the so-called South Centre. While its concept relies on moving the railway station southwards, the centre expansion plans lag behind the quality of the interwar intentions and is far from making full use of the attractive location adjacent to Brno's historic centre.
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