Blob highly unlikely on Letná Plain

Проект нового здания Национальной библиотеки

Last year a design for the new national library by architect Jan Kaplický promised to bring an unprecedented architectural edge to the centre of Prague. But almost from day one, the project has been dogged by controversy. After initial support from the city’s mayor, the gelatinous-like structure nicknamed the Blob or the Octopus, to be situated on Prague’s Letná Plain, drew increasing criticism, including sharp words by Václav Klaus. The project was also challenged by architects who argued the project failed to respect prerequisites of the original tender. As a result, a year later the Blob’s future remains increasingly uncertain. Many now doubt it will ever being built.

The Blob or the Octopus: Jan Kaplický’s winning design for the new national library, meant to house hundreds of thousands of library books. Champagne and purple with a large cyclopean window “goggling” the capital, the design captured the imaginations of many last year while infuriating others. One thing most can agree on: this national library would be “different”. But a year after the design was approved by an international jury, its being constructed seems highly unlikely. The head of the anti-monopoly office has not ruled on the original tender; the Culture Ministry has failed to outline a plan, and Prague’s Mayor Pavel Bém has suggested alternatives – none of which would lead to the project’s realisation.

In the meantime, the architect has worked quietly to counter early criticism, including the failure by his original plan failed to respect zoning at Letná Plain. On Tuesday he made clear he had modified the design to fit the allotted plot. That doesn’t mean it’s any more likely to be constructed: the issue has now been so highly politicised and where one problem is solved, new objections seem to crop up. Earlier I went out onto Prague’s streets and asked residents how they felt not only about the Blob design but also about the failure by officials to once and for all decide on its future.

“I find Mr Kaplický’s design very nice: I like it. But I don’t think Letná Plain is a suitable location because it’s too close to Prague Castle. As for the situation? Shameful.”

“Maybe they could build it somewhere else but I don’t know exactly where!”

“Now they’re searching for a site?! That’s a slight against Mr Kaplický, considering the inventiveness he put into the project. I see the problem as one of corruption as well as incapability among city officials. Either they should say outright ‘No, we don’t want it’, or they should respect the original decision.”

“I’m not sorry about the delays: I have to say I’ve disliked the design from the very beginning. A building shaped like an octopus is really an unfortunate design choice for the National Library.”

“I think that the design is very interesting and I think that Prague needs something new and I think that the location on Letná is perfect. The design is organic and Letná is all greenery, it is a park, so I think it would fit in this place. Unfortunately I don’t think it will be built, which is a real pity.”

Until now architect Jan Kaplický has displayed annoyance but also increasing calm and patience. If the Blob ultimately is not built in the Czech capital, observers point out, there is a good chance the design will be snapped up somewhere else.