Architecture critic: Plan to make freight station cultural hub could work at least in part

Žižkov freight station, photo: Štěpánka Budková

Plans are afoot to turn a former railroad freight station in the Prague district of Žižkov into a new cultural hub. The culture minister signed a memorandum on Tuesday with Czech Railways, the local town hall and a developer under which the largest preserved functionalist industrial building in the city could one day house the National Film Archive and other institutions. But does turning the listed freight station into a cultural centre make sense? That’s a question I put to architecture critic Adam Gebrian.

Žižkov freight station,  photo: Štěpánka Budková
“To be honest it’s hard to tell because it’s a huge structure and I could imagine this thing only working partially. I’m sure that it could work nicely for part of the complex, but definitely not for the whole.

“But they have to start somehow and I think that starting with cultural things and with public money for a thing like this – which is listed, so it’s protected – is the way to start. I think you know this easy idea: that if the public money comes first then the private money will also join.

“It’s definitely a much better version than just knocking it down or replacing it by something else.”

There was a plan a few years ago to build something like 3,000 flats in the complex, only part of which falls under the preservation order. Do you know, are they still planning to build a lot of apartments in the complex?

“The whole complex is much bigger than the train station, or the depot station. There are additional plots next to it and it’s a bit complicated in terms of ownership. I can’t tell you what the situation is right now, because of course there is part which belongs to Czech Railways but there is also a private part.

Adam Gebrian,  photo: Ian Willoughby
“I think the main reason was to build a commercial and housing scheme and the building was supposed to be knocked down because that was the easiest and shortest way to extend the road. Now that’s impossible and it will be a bit more difficult to do the other things.

“I think in the end the apartments will happen. But this is hard to predict, because I don’t think there is such a huge demand for apartments in the situation right now and especially in these places.”

Yesterday the minister of culture, Daniel Herman, signed a memorandum on the future culture hub project, but he also said that funding hadn’t actually been agreed for it. Do you think we will see this project actually happening?

“To be honest, I don’t know. But I think it mainly depends not on the Ministry of Culture but rather on people who would like to be inside of that building and work there.

“One of them is the chief of the National Film Archive and I think he’s deeply interested in being there and working there. So if he were able to do it, which I hope he can, then it would be a good start. If a public institution came and started to use it, and if they were happy with it then it could continue.

Žižkov freight station,  photo: archive of Radio Prague
“That’s a major thing – many cultural institutions, and it doesn’t matter if they are schools or the National Film Archive, always build new buildings. I think this needs to stop.

“We have many structures from the past which are really great and in the majority cases are of better quality than new ones. I think that we should rethink this strategy of building something new and instead use what we have.”