Team of experts to decide on new National Library building

The ongoing controversy over a planned new National Library building in Prague has come to something of a head; the conflicting sides have agreed that an expert team should determine whether the futuristic building should be built on the location that was originally chosen, and if so, whether the design should be modified to fit the historic environment. Within some two or three months, the 'Team National Library' consisting of architects, preservationists and lawyers, is expected to come up with a final proposal for the location of 'the Blob'.

Photo: CTK
Visual artist Jiri Cernicky speaking on behalf of the supporters of a new National Library building rallying outside Prague City Hall on Thursday morning. More than 4,000 architects and other art professionals have supported their petition calling for an expert debate on the controversial design by Czech-born London-based architect Jan Kaplicky. The petitioners claimed that the debate on the Blob, as the new building has come to be known, had been hijacked by politicians; instead, they wanted architects and experts to decide whether or not it should be built on the originally chosen location on Prague's Letna plain.

Pavel Bem and Vlastimil Jezek,  photo: CTK
Later that day, Prague Mayor Pavel Bem and director of the National Library Vlastimil Jezek announced that they had reached an agreement: the answer to the Blob crisis is called 'Team National Library'. This group of architects, conservationists and lawyers should consider every detail of the issue and come up with a conclusion. Prague Mayor Pavel Bem.

"Both of us are at the moment seeking a solution to the fundamental questions: what should happen with the new National Library building, what it should look like, and where it should be. The expert team will also have three working groups; one of the will focus on architecture, the second will deal with monument care and the third with legal issues."

Design of the National Library building in Prague
'Team National Library' will also include Mr Bem, architect Jan Kaplicky as well as director of the National Library Vlastimil Jezek. He maintained that whatever the conclusions of the expert team, there are a few things about the Blob that cannot be forgone.

"It is important for the new National Library not to be pushed out into Prague's periphery; it should also comply with the three basic criteria - it must not be built in any flooded area; it must have good transport accessibility; and should be in the wider city centre."

The optimism is not shared by all. I asked architectural historian Zdenek Lukes if he thought the 'Team National Library' is a good move on the way towards the new National Library building.

"I am afraid not. Everything had been clearly prepared without any problems. In the whole process, there was one very small problem with the building lot because the plan of Letna plain had been prepared before the new tunnel was incorporated in it. That's why they said that the library must be moved a little. But this is not a problem; this is something that's not important, I think; and it could be done without any problems. That's why that new ideas of finding a new location for the building... where? It's very difficult."