My Prague – Adam Štěch

Adam Štěch, photo: Ian Willoughby

Adam Štěch writes for the leading Czech design magazine Dolce Vita, as well as high-end international outlets like the website Coolhunting and Mark magazine. He also takes part in projects around Europe as part of the Okolo design collective, which produces an impressive magazine of its own. Our tour of “Adam Štěch’s Prague” begins downtown on the plaza beside the National Theatre and behind the institution’s futuristic New Stage building.

Adam Štěch,  photo: Ian Willoughby

“For me it’s an amazing place in the heart of the city. We have here the historical building of the National Theatre, which is really important for our culture.

“But next to it we have a for many people ugly but for me one of the best buildings from the second half of the last century in the Czech Republic – the New Stage of the National Theatre. It was built by Karel Prager, a really celebrated architect of this period, a modernist…”

Didn’t he also do the Federal Assembly building?

“Yes, he did, and also several less known buildings. For me the New Stage is an amazing volume of architecture.

“He collaborated with the glass maker Stanislav Libenský and his wife Jaroslava Brychtová.They did this façade, which is made out of glass modules. I think it’s really exceptional architecture of the ‘70s and ‘80s.”

It’s like a huge ice cube made of many ice cubes.

“That’s true. Also the interiors are exceptional. There is an amazing glass object going through the staircase, and also many details and furniture are original.

“But there are other reasons why we are here. This is a kind of cult place for the Czech skateboarding and BMX scene, because many years ago there were a lot of people skateboarding and BMXing here. I came here many times to ride my BMX.”

You were doing tricks here a few years ago?

“Some small tricks, yes [laughs]… Also there is a third reason. One street from here, in Voršilská Street, there are student flats and I lived there as a student for five years.

New Stage of the National Theatre,  photo: Khalil Baalbaki

“So this area is really familiar for me – not just the place here by the New Stage, but also the district behind it, where there are some nice places to go, like bars and cafes. It’s really familiar and personal for me, because I was here as a young student.”

I have the impression in recent years that people are now using this plaza in a more organised way to host events.

“Yes, that’s true. I think there have been some activities by the New Stage as well, doing some happenings and some outdoor restaurants or some places like that.

“I think it’s really good because it’s a huge space where there is nothing.”

Also a couple of years ago there was a kind of pop-up sauna here.

“I think there was not just the sauna but also other pop-up theatres… They also collaborated with some nice young architects and for sure it’s a good activity, making it more lively here.”

Our next destination is the home of the Okolo group formed by Adam Štěch and friends with a shared interest in all things connected to design, architecture and fashion. The collective’s street level office and occasional gallery is located in part of the grungy Žižkov district that has seen a number of art venues open in recent years.

“We are at Bořivojova 77. It’s our favourite district, because a lot of our friends also have studios here. We’ve been here for more than one year. Basically it’s our office, we work here together, and we have a small gallery here.”

This area seems to have become a kind of art area. You have Hunt Kastner, who moved to beside here, there was a place up the street, I’m not sure if it’s still here, called City Surfer… Is this a new kind of art strip in Prague?

Okolo interior,  photo: Ian Willoughby

“We hope so. We’ve been familiar with this area for many years, because Jan, one of my colleagues, lived here. I lived for several years close to Parukářka. So we are really close to this area.

“Yes, Bořivojova is a street full of quite nice bars, some pubs, restaurants, and also these creative places, not only galleries like Hunt Kastner or City Surfer – there’s also the studio of our friends Edit Architects.

“So, yes, we like it and we hope it will develop more and more.”

On the door here as well as Okolo it says Pedal Project, and in your front room here there are bicycle frames and bicycles. What is Pedal Project?

“It is another activity of ours. When we set up Okolo, we were also interested in cycling, in urban cycling and the connection with art and design.

“So we established Pedal Project, which is a sister project to Okolo. We publish a magazine once a year about cycling and its connection with the creative world.

“We’ve also done some special projects, like small races or an exhibition focused on urban cycling.”

I know just now you cycled here from central Prague. Isn’t that dangerous? I wouldn’t cycle in the middle of Prague, I have to say.

“Many people say Prague is not so good for cycling. It’s a little bit true. There are cobblestones everywhere, quite steep hills, cars, drivers who really aren’t responsible enough when it comes to watching out for cyclists.

“But I like cycling in Prague, because it’s really a bit of an adventure. I have cycled since my childhood so I am for cycling in Prague, but you should have quite good skills, because you really have to be some kind of pirate on a bike on the streets of Prague [laughs].”

Okolo work space,  photo: Ian Willoughby

It is by bicycle that Štěch, who is 28, arrives at the U parlamentu pub on Valentinská, just around the corner from Staroměstská metro station. Over a half-litre of very good Pilsner Urquell, the design journalist tells me he’s been coming to the classic Czech hostelry for a long time.

“Parlament is a really special place for me. I’ve been coming here regularly for the past five or six years.

“It was also the place which helped start my interest in design and architecture a little, because the first time I was here was during an interview I had with Maxim Velčovský, a famous Czech designer.

“He later became a close friend of mine, and a whole group of designers who came here also became my friends.

“Parlament is really great in the sense that you get a mixture of local people. Mostly there are a lot of artists and creative people from the nearby Academy of Arts and Design and from the nearby Museum of Applied Arts.

“But you also get tourists and foreigners who are passing through, too. So it is a really nice place which connects tradition with a little bit of a new creative point of view.”

Frankly I am surprised that designers come here, because the design of the pub is quite ordinary.

“Yeah, I think maybe that’s why, because of the neutral visuals of the place. I think in many cases a lot of designers like neutral things at the end of the day.”

What other places do you like to go in Prague?

“Sometimes I go to Lokál. Also our studio is in Žižkov so occasionally I go to some places there. For example, now there is this new place called U Kurelů, which was a really old pub but has now been refurbished by some American guys.”

It’s the people who have The Tavern.

U Parlamentu,  photo: Ian Willoughby

“Yes. And now it’s a really nice pub. It’s ordinary, just like Parlament, and I think that that is the goal of a pub – to have a really simple environment but good beer and good people around you.”

What about cafés? What cafés do you particularly like in Prague?

“I don’t drink coffee so much but I like some places such as I Need Coffee, or in Žižkov a sort of half café, half restaurant called Pavlač, which is quite traditional today.”

I have the impression in recent years that there are more and more nice kind of designy cafés, I believe partly because more and more people travel and they go abroad and see what good cafes can look like.

“Yes, I agree. I work at Dolce Vita magazine and every two or three months we have a big article on new places in Prague and there are plenty of cafes and bistros now, while two or three years ago there was nothing in Prague. So it really is a current trend and I think also shows a big influence from the outside.”