Plans to build modern "blob" building on Letna Plain meet resistance from Prague politicians

The project of the National Library on Letna Plain

One of the most controversial construction projects in the modern history of the Czech Republic has evidently come undone. The National Library had planned to build a large green-and-violet building, nicknamed the Blob, on Letna Plain, not far from Prague Castle. But city politicians are reportedly ready to scupper that idea, and it now seems that plans will have to be toned down - or the project moved out of the centre of the city completely.

Today a little tram depo stands in the corner of Letna Plain between Sparta football stadium and Hradcanska metro station, just a stone's throw from Prague Castle. Prague Town Hall last year agreed to sell this land to the National Library. But that was before city politicians saw the winning design by Czech-born London-based architect Jan Kaplicky; massive, green and violet, and often compared to an octopus, it has stirred great controversy.

Among the Blob's opponents is President Vaclav Klaus, who went so far as to say he would block construction with his own body. His party, the Civic Democrats, control Prague Town Hall - and they are now reported to be refusing to sell the site to the National Library, unless plans are significantly changed.

Prague Mayor Pavel Bem had this to say on Czech Television on Thursday:

Pavel Bem
"In terms of its height and size it's very unlikely to suit this location. It would suit Prosek or Pankrac, where it would make the area more attractive. Some not particularly attractive district would become another of the city's jewels."

Mayor Bem is among those who believe the nine-story construction would stick out like a sore thumb on the city's historical skyline.

"Why should such an interesting building stand practically in the middle of Prague's historical monument reservation? The area doesn't need this building - and that's the kernel of the debate. But at the moment this isn't a political issue - it's an issue of architectural expertise."

Some Czech architects are opposed to the plans for the National Library building. Indeed, the Czech Chamber of Architects say Jan Kaplicky's design did not meet original tender. But, speaking on Thursday from the offices of his company Future Systems in London, Mr Kaplicky said the furore does have a political aspect:

"From this morning on it's an entirely political discussion and architects should stay on the side of it...It's strange and sad that this is happening. It's also partially a very Czech problem, but that's a very different discussion.

Vlastimil Jezek,  photo: CTK
"I can't comment on the comments of political people. I'm an architect, not a politician. But they didn't state any reason why it shouldn't happen - why shouldn't it happen? Not a single reason, they should give us some reason.

"This was happening in Prague before under a different regime. It's very dangerous when just one party can dictate what buildings are built and what buildings aren't built."

The question now is, what next? The director of the Czech National Library, Vlastimil Jezek, says the institution is ready to consider making changes to its plans, either by amending the design of the Blob, or building elsewhere. But that depends on the accord of Jan Kaplicky, and for now the world renowned architect is not saying if he will allow changes to the only project of his ever accepted in the country of his birth.