Czechs mourn architect Jan Kaplický

Jan Kaplický, photo: CTK

The world of Czech culture is in mourning following the death of the renowned architect Jan Kaplický, who passed away on Wednesday evening. The loss is not just a major one for the Czech Republic, but a deep personal one for his family – Mr Kaplický died just three hours after his wife gave birth to a daughter in Prague.

Jan Kaplický with his wife Eliška,  photo: CTK
Jan Kaplický died from sudden heart failure during a visit to Prague aged seventy-one, on what his family described as one of the greatest days in his life: he was celebrating the birth of his daughter Johanka – his wife Eliška still in hospital.

Eva Jiřičná is a Czech architect based in London, the city to which Mr Kaplický emigrated in 1968 and where he spent most of his life. A long-time close friend of his, she described what kind of man he had been.

“He was an absolutely extraordinary person. He was a highly unusual and extremely talented architect and he was also an extraordinary and unusual man. There are very few people who you can meet in your life, who can compare with him. It is very rare to come across those kinds of people, and I feel that anybody who has met him is grateful for just having had anything to do with him.”

Jan Kaplický is perhaps best known for the futuristic Media Centre at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London and the Selfridges shopping centre in Birmingham. However, none of the designs he created at his Future Systems office were ever realised in the country of his birth. In 2007, he won an international tender to build a National Library building in Prague, but the design – nicknamed the blob – proved too controversial for the Prague authorities, and it was eventually cancelled. But as Eva Jiřičná reveals, the architect never gave up hope:

Jan Kaplický,  photo: CTK
“In my last conversation with him, which was last Sunday last week, he was so hopeful that he was going to be able to build that building. He was telling me about the foundation which was established to start collecting money and to help him collect money to help him realize his dream. He was full of expectations that in the next year or so, that building was going to be built on the site that it was designed for. So he died with a full belief that he was going to build that building and leave a mark in the Czech Republic.”

However that battle turns out, it appears that Kaplický’s wish may come true in another quarter of the Czech Republic. A design for a proposed two billion crown Congress and Concert Hall Centre in the city of České Budějovice was approved before the architect’s death. Following the architect’s passing, the city authorities say they remain determined to find the money and finally build a Kaplický building in his native Czech Republic.