Having been inspired by Gottfried Semper` s ideas and concepts, the School of Decorative Arts in Prague was founded in 1885. At that time it represented the first and only state school in Czech lands. The school itself was built between 1882 and 1885 according to the project designed by Františěk Schmoranz junior and Jan Machytka.
Originally, the School of Decorative Arts used the only wing facing Alšovo quay whereas the part facing the square and Rudolfinum was occupied by the Painting Academy. Although the architecture design and lay-out drew inspiration from Italian High and Late Renaissance palaces, the role of immediate models was played by Fine Arts Academies in Paris and Vienna. The purpose of the building can be seen not only in the large studio windows but also in the sculpture work applied. On the front of the academy one can read names of significant Renaissance and Baroque artists and find copies of Antique and Renaissance sculptures (Medici Venus, Urania Venus, Dancing Satyrs as well as Michelangelo´s Dawn and Twilight) placed in the important parts of the facade. The original wall painting and decoration has been partly preserved in the school gallery and in some parts of the school corridor.
"To train new work forces for art industry, and to train teacher forces for the purposes of education on the fields of arts and crafts and for the purposes of teaching drawing at high schools" was the aim of the School of Decorative Arts declared by the Founding Charter. In spite of the fact that it was not a university, it did not fit the contemporary system of secondary education: it was subordinate directly to the Ministry of Culture and Education and from its beginnings promoted the tolerant and creative approach of its teachers and professors.
The school of Decorative Arts was originally divided into two levels: students could study for three years at a general school and then follow up for three or five years at a professional or specialized school (focused on architecture, sculpture, drawing, painting, metal work, wood carving, flower painting, and textile). The body of professors was selected from the prominent and leading artistic personalities of that time, representing Czech culture. The first director was František Schmoranz, a Czech architect, and the contemporary staff also included: František Ženíšek (1885-1896), Josef Václav Myslbek (1885-1896), Jakub Schikaneder (1885-1923), Celda Klouček (1887-1917), Felix Jenewein (1890-1902), Bedřich Ohmann (1888-1898), etc. The art history lectures were given by significant Czech art historians, i.e. Otakar Hostinský (1885-1893) or Karel B. Mádl (1886-1916). Among the very first graduates who had had a great influence on the history of Czech fine art, there were Jan Preisler, Stanislav Sucharda, Josef Mařatka, Vojtěch Preissig, František Kobliha, Bohumil Kafka and Julius Mařák.
After nationalization of the Academy of Fine Arts in 1896, the School of Decorative Arts not only lost its prominent position but also part of the elite teaching staff. Under the new director and architect Jiří Stibral (1886-1920), the School focused predominantly on applied arts disciplines. The staff of teachers was enriched in Stanislav Sucharda, Jan Preisler, Karel V. Mašek, Alois Dryák, Ladislav Šaloun and mainly Jan Kotěra who largely influenced the school direction and profile by promoting the unity of fine arts culture and modern style. At the turn of the 19th century the school departed from the hitherto historicism style and became an important center of Art Nouveau movement. In 1900 the School of Decorative Arts represented Czech art at the World Exhibition in Paris where it was awarded a prestigious Grand Prix price. Some of those who started studying at the School of Decorative Arts at the beginning of the new 20th century represented the forthcoming significant personalities of Czech Cubism and shaping inter-war avant-garde generation - Josef Čapek, Václav Beneš, Josef Gočár, František Kysela, Bohumil Kubišta, Otakar Novotný, Linka Procházková, Jan Zrzavý, Václav Špála, Josef Šíma, Emilie Paličková, Jaroslav Rössler or Pravoslav Kotík.
After founding Czechoslovakia in 1918 there was a radical reform at the School of Decorative Arts. The institution failed to gain the status of "Academy of Decorative Arts" for which it had striven, nevertheless, it confirmed its autonomy and organizational structure. From 1920 the school was headed by a rector and the inter-war period staff of teachers was dominated by new artistic personalities including Pavel Janák, František Kysela, Jaroslav Horejc, Vratislav H. Brunner, Helena Johnová and art historians such as Antonín Matějček, Václav V. Štech and Jaromír Pečírka. It was also them who largely influenced the school profile. During the first years of the First Republic, the School of Decorative Arts modified its Modern Art style orientation and pursued a new national style creation, based on ornamental patterns. Many of its students and teachers arrived at a specific version of art deco style. In 1925, the School of Decorative Arts represented Czechoslovakia at the International Exposition of Decorative Art in Paris where it was spoken highly of and at the same harshly criticized by avant-garde advocates.
By the end of the 1920´s the School departed from its decorative tendencies and started to focus on constructivism and functionalism. The German Bauhaus model was chiefly mediated and promoted by Otakar Novotný. The inter-war graduates included the following prominent artists: Jan Bauch, Cyril Bouda, Karel Černý, Toyen, František Foltýn, Ľudovít Fulla, Mikuláš Galanda, František Gross, František Hudeček, Josef Kaplický, Antonín Kybal, Zdeněk Sklenář, Karel Souček, Ladislav Sutnar, Karel Svolinský, Jiří Trnka and Ladislav Zívr.
After the Czech universities and colleges were closed by the Nazis in 1939, the School of Decorative Arts took over the role of the Academy during the war period. In concordance with Act from 1946 it finally acquired a new status and subsequently a new title Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design (AAAD). In 1947 the study length was prolonged to five years and the studios were grouped in the following departments: applied architecture, applied painting, applied graphic design, textile and clothing industry, applied stone sculpture, glass processing, porcelain and ceramics.
Following the communist putsch in February 1948, the academy organization and orientation was substantially transformed. The dogmatic emphasis on ideology and political aspects prevailed over artistic demands and the need to train and educate open-minded and independent artists. A number of new teachers unconditionally conformed and adapted the social realism and the only studios which preserved their independence were the technical ones (textile, glass, metal, ceramics). However, there were some remarkable and significant personalities in the academy staff during the 1950s, e.g. Adolf Hoffmeister or Arsén Pohribný. At that time, the academy graduates included prominent artist such as Věra Janoušková, Hermína Melicharová, Čestmír Kafka, Milan Grygar, Stanislav Kolíbal, Stanislav Libenský, Zdeněk Palcr, Adriena Šimotová, sestry Válovy, Jiří John, Eva Kmentová, Květa Pacovská, Olbram Zoubek, Vladimír Kopecký, Jiří Balcar or René Roubíček. An award in Brussels Expo '58 for the Czech Pavilion was also a great success for the academy.
In the 1960`s the structure of AAAD was changed and settled again. The length of the AAAD study was prolonged to six years and artistic training pursued creative abilities development and freer or more independent artistic expression. Chiefly the arts and crafts fields experienced a remarkable development and a new department of product design was established (the former School of Art in Zlín which was joint to AAAD in 1959).
So called "consolidation" in the early 1970` s implied a deep crisis for the Academy. A big number of remarkable personalities - on whom the quality and high level of AAAD depended - left the university: František Muzika, Adolf Hoffmeister, Antonín Kybal, Karel Svolinský and Jiří Trnka. The "normalization AAAD" was managed by conforming party officials. Under the leadership of Jan Simota, who held the position of the AAAD rector from 1973 to 1985, the university was characteristic of lack of invention, uncreative formalism and a program based on dogmatic rhetoric and propaganda. In this spirit the AAAD celebrated its 100th anniversary of the school`s existence in 1985 by proclaiming to adhere to the cultural- political program of the communist party and never ending struggle for progress. Such a tendency was maintained even by the following rector Jan Mikula.
After November 1989 a number of teachers were made redundant and the organization of AAAD departments and study system was changed. Under the then-rectors Josef Hlaváček, who took up his position in 1994, Zdeněk Ziegler, Jiří Pelcl, Boris Jirků, Pavel Liška and the current rector Jindřich Smetana the AAAD is acquiring a completely new face. Nowadays, the university has joined several important international projects, enriched the educational system in additional fine and applied arts disciplines, and last but not least, focused on publishing books on art and organizing school exhibitions. AAAD consists of twenty four studios which are grouped within five departments: architecture, design, fine art, applied arts and graphics. The sixth department provides lectures on art history and aesthetics.