Jury head on why planned Philharmonic building is ideal for Prague

Visualisation of Prague's Philharmonic building

Prague looks set to get a futuristic new building, designed by internationally renowned Danish studio Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). Representatives of City Hall and the city’s Institute for Planning and Development announced the winner of the international design competition on Tuesday. If all goes to plan, construction on the new seat of Prague’s Philharmonic Orchestra should start in five years’ time. I asked the head of the jury Michal Sedláček why BIG came out as the winner.

“After three days of jury deliberations it became clear that the BIG design was the best overall due to several aspects.

“If we start from the exterior, in terms of public space, the building has a very good connection to the river. There will be no barrier between the building and the river, so it will be possible to come down and touch the water.

“Furthermore, the design creates a large square west of the building, next to Bubenská Street, and a square like this is appropriate for an important public building.

Visualisation of Prague's Philharmonic building | Source: IPR Praha

“It also features a system of terraces that take you from the river to the square, but also continue along the building to the top of the roof. That means that, as you walk there, you will be able to see Prague from many angles. You will see Prague Castle, you’ll see the river, but you will also be able to look inside the building.

“This is a very special and interesting solution, because there is this connection between the interior of the building and the surrounding landscape.

“If we move to the inside of the building, the most important criterion are of course the acoustics and these should be perfect, world class according to the experts.

“The three halls are also really well arranged. There is a large one for 1,800 guests, a small one for 700 and a multifunctional space for 500 people. The back spaces too are really well arranged and they will work really well.

“I also want to mention the interior of the main hall. It’s very large, 1,800 seats, but because of the arrangement and the cladding of the wood it will feel intimate and pleasant. This is very important when it comes to classical music concerts.

“Last but not least, we also evaluated the impact of the building on Prague. We are looking for an iconic building, which this certainly is, but one that will also fit in. So while it will be very noticeable, it will fit into the overall mosaic of Prague architecture.”

Visualisation of Prague's Philharmonic building | Source: IPR Praha

What do you mean by it fitting into the mosaic of Prague architecture? Could you explain this point further?

“What is special about Prague is that you have many architectural styles represented here, whether they be Romance, Renaissance, Baroque, Art Nouveau, or Modernism.

“Each of these is very different, but no building really dominates or sticks out and that is my point – we wanted something iconic, but also not something that would bring too much attention.”

This building was also the favourite of Prague Mayor Zdeněk Hřib. He has been saying for years that he hopes to attract a different, more sophisticated kind of tourist to Prague. Do you think this building will help with that?

Visualisation of Prague's Philharmonic building | Source: IPR Praha

“Absolutely. When you think about the philharmonic building in Hamburg, or that in Los Angeles, what happens is people don’t just come to see a concert, but also to take a tour of the building from inside and outside.

“From my personal experience I can tell you that most of these visitors are not necessarily architects, but just tourists who are interested in modern architecture or new architecture built in the city, so it should definitely work this way.”

The building is estimated to cost CZK 6 billion and plans are for it to be finished by 2032. Do you think this target will be fulfilled?

“I think that the organisers of the competition made it very clear that the CZK 6 billion was an estimate from last year. Since then we have had inflation and the war in Ukraine, so they are working on a new estimate that will be more accurate and it will cost more.

Visualisation of Prague's Philharmonic building | Source: IPR Praha

“However, what I want to say about the organisers of the competition is that they are very serious about it and they are preparing the whole process in great detail and with much professionalism.

“Therefore, while it is likely to cost more [than the original estimate] I think that they will be able to keep it under control.”

What are your hopes for the wider Bubny-Zátory development project, within which the philharmonic building will be situated? Are you satisfied with it? And what kind of neighbourhood would you like to see it become?

“Yes, this is basically already the largest brownfield area in Prague and I think that it will be a mixed-use neighbourhood, a sort of 15 minute city where you can live, work and spend your free time. It will be a type of neighbourhood that already exists in some cities abroad, but not yet in the Czech Republic.

“The philharmonic building will be one of the things that should initiate this transformation. I think that these things go really well together – a new neighbourhood located almost in the centre of Prague which will have its own iconic public building.”