Prague Masaryk train station project under fire by conservationists

Masaryk train station project, source: Jakub Cigler Architekti

The National Heritage Institute is seeking to annul a zoning decision allowing for a massive mixed-use building complex around Masarykovo nádraží, Prague’s oldest functioning railway station. Hundreds have joined a petition launched by conservationists to reverse the decision, which they argue gives Czech-Slovak project developer Penta too much space to change the skyline.

Masaryk train station project,  source: Jakub Cigler Architekti

Masaryk Station,  photo: Sophie Eberhardt
The Masaryk Station revitalization and business district project was designed by British architect Zaha Hadid, winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize – the profession’s highest honour. Penta argues it is in harmony with existing developments in the vicinity and fully respects the history of the Prague districts the 100,000 square metre complex will span, including parts of Florenc and Karlín.

The petition initiators – the conservationist Club for Old Prague, the pro-cycling group AutoMat, and environmental association Arnika – say the zoning decision goes against city centre development principles. What’s more, they allege, Penta got the zoning without always duly informing the public along the way. It was issued a day after members of the former Prague 1 district coalition, which opposed it, lost power.

Petr Palička,  photo: Penta Investments
Penta Investments managing director Petr Palička argues that experts from the public and private sectors have had ample opportunity to comment on the 10 billion crown project – and will continue to do so. What’s more, he told Czech Radio, the overwhelming response has been positive.

“There has been some opposition since the beginning of the project, but also many supporters. As usual, the dissenting, negative voices tend to be louder…

“The whole project has been evolving for about seven years. During that time, there were hundreds of discussions, meetings with experts, the public or politicians. It has undergone the standard process for any such complex project.

“This resulted in a zoning decision after years, during which about 50 of the bodies concerned, which also have other advisory bodies, commented on it. The National Heritage Institute was one of them.”

Last spring, a team of UNESCO experts expressed serious reservations to existing and planned high-rise buildings in Prague, as well as to the new Building Act, which does not take into account conservationists’ views.

Source: Penta Investments
UNESCO was positive about the first part of the Penta project, in the heart of the so-called Prague Monument Reserve area. But the UN mission did not assess the Penta project’s eastern part, which would created a “central business district” newly connecting parts of Prague 1, 3 and 8 through the rail yard roofing.

Penta would welcome UNESCO’s opinion on the western part of the project as well, Petr Palička says, adding that the developer sent out 7,000 leaflets to area post boxes, inviting people to visit the its website and physical information centre at Masarykovo nádraží.

“In the next project phase, on the Karlín side of the highway, there will be a complete change in concept and in zoning plan. A new architectural competition will be announced, where representatives of Prague and the professional public can weigh in.”

However, conservationists note that while the Masarykovo nádraží–central business district project has indeed planned for over a decade, it has changed extensively in the past year.

They further charge that the project contradicts central Prague development principles, among other things aimed at reducing car traffic and limiting the height of building, and that Penta has not always notified the public as required about procedures.