Head of National Library sacked over ‘Blob’ dispute

Vlastimil Ježek, photo: CTK

The dispute over the design of the new National Library building by renowned Czech-born architect Jan Kaplický came to a head on Tuesday, when the minister of culture, Václav Jehlička sacked the head of the National Library and the new design’s fierce supporter Vlastimil Ježek. He confirmed that the move was connected with the dispute over the new library building.

Vlastimil Ježek,  photo: CTK
The minister of culture, Václav Jehlička, said that the construction of the new National Library building, which was to stand on Prague’s Letná Plain, was at variance with the law and it was clear it would not start at the time and place originally proposed. He also ruled out the possibility of continuing preparations for Kaplický’s project.

The design for the new National Library building was chosen as the winner of an international architectural competition. The futuristic green-and-purple design, nicknamed the Octopus or the Blob, was controversial from the very beginning. Politicians argued over its eye-catching design and the competition rules that enabled Mr Kaplický to win.

Kaplický's project of the National Library
Earlier this year, the European Commission concluded that the competition for the new library building was not in keeping with the law on public tenders. Vlastimil Ježek refused to annul the tender, saying such a move could lead to an arbitration dispute. He continued to search for a new location for the new building, arguing that the capacity and conditions of its original home, the historical Klementinum, no longer meet the demands. He was sacked just a day after he announced that he had found the new location.

Speaking at a news conference to announce his candidacy for the Senate, he said he hoped this fact was not related to his dismissal:

“I hope it was just a coincidence. But it’s true that it was the only information about the library that was published over the past five days. The Minister of Culture did not specify the reasons for my dismissal. He only expressed his thanks for the work I did during the four years in office, but I don’t agree with the reasons stated in the ministry's press release.”

Despite his dismissal, Mr Ježek says he will cooperate with Pavel Hazuka, director of the National Literature Museum, who has replaced him as the head of the National Library. He will also continue to support Kaplický's project:

“I will continue to express my opinions concerning the unique design for the national Library building, not as an architect, but as a librarian. And I will comment on what other people say about the library. I would actually say that in this respect, I have more freedom now than I had yesterday.”

Vlastimil Ježek is also convinced that in spite of the latest events Prague will eventually see a new National ibrary building.

“I don’t know what it will look like or where it will be built. Four years ago no one knew that there was a need to have more space for books. I would say that even those who were against the project and against the architectural competition don’t doubt today that there is a need to build a new National Library building.”