Row continues over Kaplicky's "Octopus" design for National Library


The row continues over plans to build a new home for Prague's National Library. The priceless collection of books and manuscripts is set to move from the baroque Klementinum building by Charles Bridge to a new location on Prague's Letna plain. But the winning design - by Czech-born architect Jan Kaplicky - is attracting no small measure of controversy.

Jan Kaplicky is one of the world's most innovative architects, and his Future Systems studio has produced some extraordinary futuristic buildings, such as Birmingham's Selfridges and the Media Centre at Lords Cricket Ground in London.

His winning design for the new Czech National Library - chosen by an international jury in March - is no exception. Best described as a huge green and purple blob, the nine-storey building - which has already been nicknamed 'the Octopus' by Czechs - will house as many as 10 million books. Jan Kaplicky had this to say after the winning entry was announced in March:

"It's easy to talk. It's easy to criticise. It's more difficult to build, to design. They can judge on the day it will be finished. That will be the judgment day."

But Jan Kaplicky probably hadn't anticipated the storm of criticism that has greeted the plan. The campaign against the Octopus has attracted some high-profile opponents, including the country's conservative president Vaclav Klaus. In a long opinion piece in Wednesday's Mlada Fronta Dnes, President Klaus pours scorn on what he says is an ugly piece of architecture that will disrupt Prague's historic panorama. Mr Klaus has won allies from unlikely quarters, including the Prague-born literary legend Ivan Klima:

Vaclav Klaus
"I think the main objection that I have - as a layman - is that I don't think it would fit in with the panorama of Prague. Another thing is that books are the fundamental cornerstone of culture, and I would therefore expect that the building will be based on some tradition and not just reflect the originality of its creator."

President Klaus was recently overheard saying that he would be willing to prevent the building going ahead with his own body, a comment that was seized upon by the media. Mr Klaus's spokesman stressed it was an off-hand remark and not meant to be taken seriously. But Eva Jiricna, the Czech-born architect who presided over the international jury, says the president should concentrate on more pressing matters:

"There are a lot of very important issues which the president should be concerned with - war and peace, people starving, people being well-fed. This is only a building, you know, and I think he should put his life in the path for more important issues than one single building at Letna."