Czech heritage preservation officials launch new website to assess the changing face of Prague

The Dancing House, photo: CzechTourism

Czech heritage preservation officials have launched a new website in the hope of sparking a broad debate on the changing face of Prague. The project’s initiator, art historian Richard Biegel, says that it is time to learn from the city’s mistakes in the past twenty years:

“The aim is to find good and bad examples of architecture in the historical contest, to compile a résumé of the last twenty years and think about what was good and bad and to try to educate ourselves in the sense of not repeating past mistakes.”

Would you say that there is a lack of vision – that what we are seeing is simply a market economy at work with individual interests molding the Prague skyline – is that what is happing?

“That’s totally true. We have no real vision, there is no regulation. In the beginning of the nineties there existed some form of regulation which said how tall a building could be in the city centre, how you could change the skyline of the city, now you have nothing, there is no chief architect of Prague, so everything depends on the political will and on the power of money and I think that is very dangerous for a city like Prague.”

What would you say are the biggest mistakes made over the past twenty years?

Hotel Metropol
“In the centre of Prague it is commercial centres such as Palladium or Myslbeck or the Prague Office Centre and the main problem is not just mediocre architecture, but also that they took very representative places in the heart of the city- like Naměstí Republiky square, or the street Na Prikopě. It was a big mistake to build something like this in the heart of Prague when the sheer size of these constructions, their need for parking space destroys the social and architectural structure of the city.”

I believe that your web page also mentions some examples of good coexistence?

“Of course, our intention was to find good examples rather than to criticize. The aim was to find the way in which the old and new could coexist without conflict, because new architecture belongs in historical city centres. We found many such examples –for instance Hotel Metropol in Národní street, or the Orangery by Eva Jiřičná. You can find about thirty good examples, but most of them are not in the city centre, because there the power of money wins out over good architecture.”

The Dancing House, photo: CzechTourism
Many people know the Dancing House, also known as Ginger and Fred, how do you feel about that?

“I think it is one of the good examples. It sparked plenty of debate in the 1990s and I think it was a very good thing to have such a debate. In my opinion this is one of the buildings that could be judged – 20 years on – as being very inventive and something that respects the genius loci of the place. And the example of Jan Kaplický’s library which could have been in the city centre and is not there shows us how the discussion about architecture was overshadowed by politics and personal interests.”

Would you yourself welcome Mr. Kaplický’s Blob –as it is called – in Prague?

“You know, I personally would not. But it could be very important in bringing about a renaissance of open debate on architecture in Czech society.”

About your web page – is it your intention to educate and present your views or to spark a debate?

“It is an educational discussion. For me it is just the beginning. I hope we are at the outset of a great dialogue which could bring together good architects and art historians which could prove very useful and important for finding quality and suppressing the kind of commercial projects which are destroying the centre of Prague. “

The web page on the coexistence of old and new architecture in Prague is on the website of the National Heritage Institute – unfortunately still only in Czech.