Is there a future for new skyscrapers in Prague?

20-01-2006

The development of the Czech capital has been the subject of continued debate for years, not least the future for Prague's Pankrac district. The area is famous for three skyscrapers - including the city's tallest, the so-called City Tower. At 109 metres, it's being redesigned by New York-based architect Richard Meier. Many would like to see the area unified with additional buildings. But, some professionals have complained additional skyscrapers would only compound the problem. And, they're not alone.

The area of Pankrac known as Prague's Manhattan has long been an area for dispute among investors and local residents. The latter group can now perhaps take heart: this week the Czech paper Lidove Noviny noticing that there are signs that those who desire no steel-and-glass structures in their backyards are starting to win. Five years ago, ECM developers came forward with so-called Pentagon, a plan to add an additional five skyscrapers to unify the area, but the plans faced so much public opposition, they were scrapped. One of the most vocal opponents to the original plans was Prague-based architect Vlado Milunic:

"I mean, on principle, Prague is a city of towers - not a city of skyscrapers. On the contrary, I like skyscrapers in New York. We have three skyscrapers that are an urban error. You have to respect context."

But, Mr Milunic is not against skyscrapers throughout Prague entirely. He points out there are some areas off the main skyline where, in his view the structures would be fitting, areas that would benefit. One example, is Jizni Mesto, the South City.

"In the South City of Prague, we must change the ugly condominium area. Maybe the solution there is to introduce [taller structures] - skyscrapers. It's one possible view and if a skyscraper is nicely designed, why not?"

But, in South City too, development of at least one well-publicised project has stopped: Renix developers confirmed for Lidove Noviny that plans to build a new 115 metre tower known as Poutnik - the Pilgrim - have ground to a halt. Initially, the plan had gotten backing from local authorities but public opposition, again, was reportedly too great.

So, is there a future for new skyscrapers in the Czech capital? For the time being, conditions seem less than favourable. Historic sections, under UNESCO, further protected by conservationists, can safely be ruled out, grandiose dreams for a soaring new hotel by Czech-born millionaire Ivana Trump, included.

As for the rest of the city, one thing is certain: ECM developers are continuing to renovate the City Tower, expected to be completed by 2007. The architects on their website described the design as "one of spirited yet restrained and formal vocabulary". We'll have to wait until the project is completed to find out whether nearby residents agree.

20-01-2006