Prague has obviously changed enormously over the last 30 years. But what have been the city’s most, and least, impressive construction projects since the Velvet Revolution? After the Dancing House, why did interest in audacious projects seem to cool? And how has Wenceslas Square fared? Who better to answer those questions than architect Jan Kasl, who is president of the Czech Chamber of Architects and served as mayor of Prague from 1998 to 2002. We chatted recently on Na příkopě St., in the very heart of the city centre.
Prague has a new attraction in the form of 17 circular units – with enormous glass doors – in the walls of riverside embankments on both sides of the Palacký Bridge. The cool spaces will open fully next month and are set to house cafés, galleries and other facilities. At a public presentation of the project on Wednesday I discussed it with architecture critic Adam Gebrian.
A modern building ends the last row of houses at the bottom of Wenceslas Square. This is the ‘Euro Palace’ which neighbours two important functionalist buildings – the Astra Palace and the Bata department store. Originally a historical three story corner house stood on the spot, but it was demolished in the 1970s during the construction of the Prague metro.
One hundred years ago the new state of Czechoslovakia was already establishing its institutions. While celebrations were still going on in Prague, about 70,000 Czechs and Slovaks were fighting thousands of kilometers from home in Siberia, attempting to gain control over the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Among them was my great-granduncle.
Along with the birth of independent Czechoslovakia, there was a movement to create a distinct national style of architecture. The Legiobanka building on Prague’s Na Poříčí high street, designed by Josef Gočár, became the prototype and determined the direction of so-called Rondocubism. It literally took the edge off of Cubism, softening and rounding its cubes and pyramids in the spirit of the Slavic tradition.
A mobile museum on rails is criss-crossing the Czech Republic is a bid to recreate the exploits of Czech soldiers serving in allied armies during WWI. The main focus is on the so-called Czechoslovak legionnaires in Russia, when they started out fighting against Austro-Hungarian and German armies and eventually found themselves battling the new Bolshevik regime in an epic struggle along around 5,000 kilometres of the Trans-Siberian railway.
Prague City council’s executive committee has backed demolishing the city’s historic Libeň Bridge, a 1928 construction with Cubist elements, rather than opt for renovation. If the plan goes ahead, a new bridge will be built in its place. Proponents argue that saving the original would be almost costly as building a new bridge and will require less maintenance moving forward.