Cool new spaces aim to keep Prague embankments lively all year round

Photo: Ian Willoughby

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.

Photo: Ian Willoughby

“It was a space which was designed as stores, so it was never meant to be accessible by the public and it was never meant to be used during the wintertime.

“I think the idea was to change that. Because this was a super busy and popular space [Rašínovo nábřeží, popularly known as Náplavka] – you know about it, so you know how frenzied it was.

“So I think the idea was, It’s perfect during the summer, but during the winter nobody’s here – and maybe it’s a pity, because it’s a nice space.

“The thinking was, Maybe during the wintertime you can open up the spaces which are here, which are actually pretty big and pretty nice.

“Since then it has been quite a technical adventure – what to do so you can use it during the winter?

Adam Gebrian,  photo: Barbora Linková / Czech Radio
“I think the main idea was, It’s really beautiful here, there is a river, there is a view, there is West, so the sun comes – and let’s bring light inside.

“Because previously there was basically no natural light.

“If you go on the other side of the river, you’re going to see spaces which are pretty nice but have limited sources of light – and you’re going to see the difference.

“So I think the idea was, Let’s open it to the maximum level possible.

“And then of course it has a lot of technical consequences.”

Technically, how was it done? These glass doors are huge and they swivel in some complicated way.

“It’s polyacrylate, seven centimetres thick, created in Thailand, brought by boat and put together here in a metal frame.

“They kind of rotate, so it’s quite complicated.

“The frame and window itself, all together, is like two and a half tonnes.

“And all that is kind of the price for the fact that you would like to have a maximum connection of inside and outside.

“Also anyone could ask, So what about heating? What about access, and so on and so on.

“It’s not going to be super easy, but on the other hand there’s this connection that never existed before.”

Photo: Jiří Šeda / Czech Radio

When it’s really cold, won’t the fact the doors are so big mean a lot of heat will be lost when they’re opened?

“Yes. A lot of the heat will be lost.

“But on the other hand, the window is big, but once you look at the rest of the envelope, that’s much bigger.

“And it’s surrounded by a huge thermal mass of stone and so on.

“Once the sun shines on that and it accumulates the heat and then during the night it radiates upwards, so I think once you open it…

“By the way, opening it depends on you – if it’s just a metre or two metres, you can really play with that.

“But I don’t think the heat is going to be gone like that.

“So I think it’s going to have a certain continuity.

“But let’s see. I don’t know – it’s estimation.”

There’s also work going on now on the Negrelli Viaduct and I guess the arches there will be used for something similar. Is this part of a trend in Prague, would you say?

This is how the glass doors were installed. Photo: Kristýna Nevanová / Czech Radio
“I’m not so sure it’s a trend.

“I think it’s much more about the initiatives of individuals.

“Behind each of these projects you can find one or two people – never more.

“If they are stubborn enough and they talk and they work and they speak about possible reserves with the city and ways to use spaces which have kind of been wasted before, I think very often people would, like, step out and say, OK, do it.

“But it’s not so much that it would be easy or would happen normally.”

What do you think this project brings to Náplavka, and to the embankments area in general?

“I think even more, it shows to the whole of Prague that city money can be spent on something which has pretty high aesthetic value.

“That sounds normal, but I don’t think it’s normal at all.

“We can see a lot of examples where you see an attitude of, OK, it must be practical but how does it look? Actually, I don’t care very much.

“But if you look at this, the walls which created this embankment, which was built more than 100 years ago, it was not made in this cheapest, simplest, easiest way.

“It’s a pretty big thing. And I kind of like that the new layer is a bit similar in that way.

“It kind of shows, OK, it’s an important public space, it’s going to be visited by many – let’s make sure that it’s pretty good.

“And that to me is important.

“But if it fails – everyone kind of says, OK, it’s nice, but it seems like there will be a loss of heat and so on, it’s a really bad project, don’t do it – that’s also going to say something about our society.

“So let’s see.”