In 1908 he graduated from the Jičín Grammar School. In the years 1908–1913 he continued his education in Prague at the School of Architecture and Civil Engineering at the Czech Technical University. After the First World War he returned to Jičín, first working as a municipal civil engineer (1920–1923), before opening his own design office here in 1923. Gradually he became an influential regional architect and urbanist. On multiple occasions he attempted to make his mark in Prague, but thwarted by a lack of success in the capital he resolved to pour his energies and talent into projects for Jičín, which over the course of 20 years he fundamentally transformed. During these years he also played a prominent role in public life and established a family.
The context of his work is urbanism – the attempt to understand the town as a whole, to furnish its development with a concept, expressed in rules to determine its fabric, height, principal directions and overall style. In his second plan, Musil the architect sets about resolving the form of specific buildings – public buildings and the homes of private investors; He also engages – as did many other leading figures in the field – with interior design, and was a capable set designer and artist. Čeněk Musil lived to see a vast quantity of his projects come to fruition. His most productive period came in the 1930s, when he designed dozens of private and public buildings, and drew up the Regulatory Plan (Regulační plán města Jičína). He continued working during World War II (Municipal Park, secondary vocational school, and the District Authority building on Havlíčkova Street), until all building works were halted under the Protectorate. At the end of his life he was a co-founder of the East-Bohemian Construction Enterprise (Stavoprojekt).
Within his field, Musil enjoyed a virtually unassailable position in Jičín, with the town awarding him almost every large public contract (sometimes without any form of tendering), while for the vast majority of private builders he was their first port of call. Musil was not an original architect: his uniqueness rested in his ability to adapt and apply contemporary styles within a small-town environment. We can recognise three basic stages in his work. Up until the mid-1920s he was creating under the influence of the early modernist and Neoclassical output of Jan Kotěra (hospital complex, especially the morgue from 1922, Agricultural College, Student House – today’s library, College of Housewifery – today’s dorms for the Secondary Vocational School). His next phase inclined towards the morphology of so-called Czech Purism (numerous detached houses and apartment buildings, in particular the so-called Villa “Florea” in Denisova Street, District Economic Credit Union (Okresní hospodářská záložna) – today’s Municipal Authority building on Žižkovo Square, and the Hušek Hotel), and after 1930 became a functionalist. This is shown in several of Musil’s realisations (furniture market on Husova Avenue, today’s largely reconstructed Agricultural Insurance (Zemědělská pojišťovna) building on the corner of Bolzanova and Smetanova streets, the District Authority building, and above all the Masaryk Business Academy, which reflects the inspiration drawn from Kotěra’s museum in Hradec Králové and buildings designed for Mladá Boleslav and Benátky nad Jizerou by Jiří Kroha) as well as passages from the text that accompanied the Regulatory Plan (Regulační plán města Jičína). Some of Musil’s façades were rendered, others were finished in the “modern” manner with fair faced brickwork; often the two were combined. Frequently his buildings are stylistically very hard to categorise. One example being the restaurant at the Jičín Lido from 1936, in which Musil oscillated between functionalism and Purism.
Musil’s work includes a wide range of buildings: both individually designed and standardised detached house (for the Čeřovka villa quarter he designed standardised detached and semi-detached houses), blocks of flats (including standardised designs for workers’ families, e.g. Barákova Street), public buildings (schools, Sokol sports halls, financial institutions, local authority buildings etc.) and commercial buildings. He also designed various modifications and extensions (façades, verandas, shop fronts etc.) as well as minor buildings with a practical, commemorative or purely decorative character – a columbarium, memorials, and gravestones in Jičín cemetery etc.). One exceptional realisation among his religious buildings is the cemetery chapel in Slavhostice. Nor did he avoid designing ephemeral architecture and decorations for various occasions (exhibition fairs in Jičín, visit of President Beneš).
In the mid-1930s Musil presented to Jičín council one of his most significant achievements: the Regulatory Plan (Regulační plán města Jičína), which included on the one hand drawings, on the other an accompanying report illustrated with views of selected public spaces in their new form. The plan was approved in 1938, thereby culminating a ten-year struggle by Jičín’s councillors to bring order to the town’s development. Marking the beginning of this process was the General Proposal for a Plan to Modify the Town of Jičín (Generální návrh upravovacího plánu města Jičína), a document commissioned from Vladimír Zákrejs by the town in 1928. Musil drew directly upon this document, as well as building upon Zákrejs’s theoretical work. In Musil’s work we find obvious influences of monument care as conceived by Zdeněk Wirth, with whom he shared a friendship. He thus rehabilitated and emphasised the importance of the historic centre in the area of today’s Valdštejnovo Square. With his modifications to public spaces in the historic centre and the erstwhile ramparts, he intended to open up attractive views of the town centre and its prominent buildings.
Musil respected Zákrejs’s plan in terms of transport solutions and the siting of the town’s industrial zones. Both agreed that Jičín would benefit from a ring-road – drawing traffic away from the main square and simultaneously creating space for new public buildings. Gočár’s Hradec Králové offered a suitable model close by. On his “Jičín Ringstraße”, neighbouring the theatre on today’s 17 November Street, Musil located his Commercial College, his finest architectural work, and beside the neo-Renaissance building of the Grammar School should have been the Regional Court building (never realised). He formulated his vision not only in the floor-plans of the drawings in the Regulatory Plan (Regulační plán města Jičína), but also in the form of thirteen visualisations of key areas along the former ramparts (i.e. along the ring-road), so that the town’s new quarters were seamlessly connected to protected panorama of the town’s historic centre.
As already alluded to, public spaces were an important topic for Musil. He intended to insert squares of varying importance – distinguished by size and level of treatment – into the entire body of the town, in particular into its new quarters. These would then accommodate additional public buildings. Important crossroads would be exposed to greater light, these would open into smaller squares, where horseshoe-shaped corners would often be employed. This favoured period element was repeatedly used by Josef Gočár, for example, in Hradec Králové. In Jičín they were supposed to have been realised on Komenského Square, for instance. Finally, one such corner did appear at the intersection of today’s Denisova and Fügnerova streets, in the building of the Hušek Hotel (later the Slávie).
Industry was to have been focused in the area bordering the railway station, where tracks branched off the line serving the public passenger station and formed sidings heading to the Knotek factory and a new station (originally Turnov Railways), and the section between the Svatováclavský Stream and the Knotek plant, within whose area the old road to Popovice was gradually swallowed up.
Recreational zones were represented by the Municipal Park (the upper two parterres of the originally private garden adjoining the “chateau” on the square), which was rebuilt according to Musil’s plan in the years 1937–1941), Čeřovka Hill, where on the highest “central” part was allocated space for a woodland park and a sports area was drafted lower on the south-western slope (with a smaller sports area enlisted for the Cidlina meadow, in the area of the so-called Matějkova parade grounds) and in the immediate vicinity of Jičín’s waterways. At the beginning of the 1930s, a swimming pool had already been developed beside the Kníže Pond. The Cidlina River and smaller watercourses were to become green corridors, which would thread together the entire town (in the case of the Cidlina, the idea was completed in the 2010s, when the area surrounding the Kníže Pond was linked via a foot and cycle path to the area around the bus station). Last but not least, Musil saw the entire area around the town as offering recreational possibilities, access to which would be afforded by town’s lime-tree alley, among other routes. The town was not intended to feely spill into the countryside in the sense of urban sprawl, but in the sense of open, free passages linking, at a human scale, the compactly built town with the surrounding countryside. Musil realised various types of development in his plan. In places where it was necessary to build upon existing streets he would work with housing in blocks (this was the concept adopted for the Pod Lipami quarter, where villas were combined with multi-storey apartment buildings). He also designed modern estates arranged in rows, in answer to the contemporary demand for mass housing (the unrealised na Vrchách quarter) His greatest success, of course, came with his application of the garden city concept (Čeřovka).
Čeněk Musil was engaged in the public life of the town from an early age. In 1906, during his secondary education at the Grammar School, he played a major role in organising an exhibition that for the first time in Jičín presented the work of Vlastislav Hofman, Otakar Kubín and Václav Špála. In the 1920s and 1930s he collaborated with one of the town’s most active associations – the Academic Readers’ Union (Akademická čtenářská jednota). He participated in the theatrical performances of the local amateur dramatic society, not only as a set designer, but also as director and poster designer.
The majority of Musil’s realisations are situated in and around Jičín. The exception is the savings bank in Humpolec.