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.
The narrow pavement running from Prague’s Vinohradská St. to the Main
Train Station is being widened, a spokesperson for City Hall said on
Wednesday. The sidewalk will be expanded from the current 30 cm to 175 cm.
It runs alongside the busy “mainline” road that cuts through the city centre and is known by Praguers as the “pavement of death”, the Czech News Agency said.
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.
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.
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.
The official residence of Czech prime ministers, the Kramář Villa overlooks the Vltava from a wonderful vantage point between Prague Castle and Letná Plain. It was built in the 1910s by Karel Kramář, who himself served as the first prime minister of Czechoslovakia following its foundation a century ago this year. However, the politician had already been extremely well-known prior to 1918, guide Irena Saidlová told me at the Kramář Villa.
Protesters this week braved freezing temperatures to protest the pending demolition of what they regard as one of the best examples of so-called Brutalist architecture from the 1970s in the then Czechoslovakia. They argue that the latest episode is one of many recent ones and epitomises the failure of local and national heritage authorities to properly protect a broad swathe of monuments in Prague and the rest of the country.