The review Bulletin of The Association for Old Prague (independent civic association founded in 1900) sums up experience in the protection of Prague heritage over the past fifteen years, that is since the change of political regime in Czechoslovakia in 1989. It focuses on the reflection of the most burning problems of heritage protection in Prague and points out the negative phenomena that can no longer be considered an accidental mistake or an accidental failure, but a dangerous trend. The Association turns to the friends and admirers of old Prague in the Czech Republic and all over the world with this appeal:
“The historical core of Prague, that is an urban and architectural whole of exceptional qualities and at the same time one of the greatest cultural values of the civilised world, must be neither a toy in the hands of community politicians, a subject to irreversible consumption by tourist industry and development business activities, nor a test plantation of experimenting architects or transport engineers. Protect Prague along with us!”
SYSTEM OF NATIONAL HERITAGE PROTECTION AND ITS PROBLEMS IN PRAGUE
(article here, author Richard Biegel)
The early 1990s were a period that abounded in euphoria and hope that the new regime will avoid political interference and mistakes known from other European cities. Unfortunately, the effort to change the system of national heritage protection, to launch a new law on national heritage and to avert the impact of ties between large investors and city representatives has failed. At the same time no set of binding regulations that would contain the size and character of new buildings or the vehemence of reconstruction plans has been drafted and adopted, so the approval of a construction intent usually depends only on the self-assurance of the investor and his ability to push through his project.
The most painful moment of the whole system of heritage protection is the double-track character of the approving process. The National Heritage Institute, a state institution that is directed by the Culture Ministry, does issue its expert opinion on every construction intent, but the executive approving body, that is the Department of Culture, Heritage Protection and Tourism of the City Hall of the Capital of Prague, is not obliged to take the opinion into consideration when making its own binding decision.
Another weak point of the Prague system was the inclusion of the institution of the former Office of the Chief Architect , whose task is not only to work out zoning plans but also to see to it that projects that greatly interfere in the city shape be appropriate and that they be well thought-out, into the structure of the Prague City Hall under the name Department for the Development of the City, and the most recently, the transformation of this institution into a formally independent organisation that is in fact subordinate to the City Hall.
The difficult to understand double-track system of heritage care often results in confrontational situations, where the City Hall´s department as the executive body does not respect the opinion of the heritage institute as an expert body and bases its decisions on the conflicting opinions of “independent” experts who are often hired right by the construction project investor. In this atmosphere the Association for Old Prague very often acts as a defender of the opinion of the heritage institute, both with written interventions and in the media.
To solve the current situation it is necessary to make the following systemic changes as soon as possible:
1. To approve a study regulating the Prague Preservation Area that will set clear rules for new buildings and reconstruction projects (it has been drafted and updated in 2000 for the last time, but it has never been declared binding).
2. To cope with the consequences of the existing double-track character of the process of approval (for instance, the duty to respect the opinion of the expert body in decision-making).
3. To raise the status of the Office for the Development of the City to the level of an independent organisation that would be capable of guaranteeing a well thought-out urban and architectural development of the city.
All three points can be summed up in one sentence: it is necessary to create such rules of the protection of monuments and the architectural development of Prague that would ensure that all decisions would be made after well thought-out long-term considerations, and not under the immediate financial, political and other pressures. All cases of radical and insensitive alterations are irreversible and they harm the face of the city for ever. The protection of Prague heritage must not be restricted to the repair of facades that is attractive from the tourist point of view, but it must protect the real physical essence of particular historical buildings.
1. Construction activities in the historical core of the city must be subordinated to the strictest possible regulations. Panorama of the Lesser Town and Hradcany. Photo J. Středa, March 2003
2. Heritage protection must not be reduced to the upkeep of facades, it must protect the physical essence of the building. A view of a house with land- registry number 514 in Kampa in the immediate vicinity of Charles Bridge, that was threatened with loft conversion in the past. Photo M.Micka, 2002
3. The Prague “roofscape” is one of the priorities of heritage protection in Prague. View from the tower of St Nicholas Church. Photo K. Beckova, 2004
4. A large number of observation points in Prague offer not only unusual views of the city, but also continuous control of the suitability of construction and reconstruction projects. View from St Nicholas Church towards Prague Castle. Photo K. Bečková, 2004
CITY HALL IS NOT A GOOD GUARDIAN OF NATIONAL HERITAGE PROTECTION INTERESTS
(article here, author Kateřina Bečková)
The article describes the inappropriate state of heritage protection in Prague where the executive body of heritage protection, that is the respective department of the City Hall of the Capital of Prague, often does not respect the expert opinions of the heritage institute directed by the Culture Ministry and where a decision is often made that is at variance with the expert opinion. The valid law on national heritage protection (No 20/1987, Digest of Laws) does not explicitly order the executive body to abide by the opinion of the expert body, but at the same time it supposes that the binding decision will be made in the interest of national heritage whose unchallengeable guarantor is just the expert heritage institute. The cause of the described problematic situation is the natural conflict of interests, namely a conflict between the interest of national heritage protection and the interest of pragmatic-minded community politicians and the City Hall clerks who obediently fulfill their will. If the city has an obvious financial interest in the construction plan of an influential foreign investor, a transnational company to be carried out, or if it itself co-finances the action, its own department will hardly put up fundamental resistance, not even in cases where it would know that it betrays its mission of a defender of the interests of national heritage protection.
The implemented decisions of the City Hall on the territory of the listed area show the harmful trend that rests in the false illusion that construction activities the pedestrian cannot see from the street or from an observation point do not damage the city. In this spirit a great number of cases of the conversion of lofts with historical trusses and of other radical internal alterations of historical buildings have been permitted. This reflects the reduction of the sense of preservation of the authentic values of the historical city to a mere external aesthetic and tourist presentation.
The City Hall has appropriated and amply coins the thesis that architects, designers and investors usually use to defend their plans: development cannot be halted and the city cannot be conserved, every period has its right to leave its own construction imprint on it. To take over this idea and to implement it in the environment of an area that is protected as national heritage would amount to gradually completely change the city and to give up for ever the values for which it is protected now. On the other hand, it is not possible to accuse workers of heritage institutes of trying to prevent any changes, including necessary modernisation of buildings without which living in them and using them would stagnate on the level of the 19th century, or of preventing new buildings from being built on the vacant sites where houses used to stand in the past. The sole meaningful solution to the clash between the two extreme trends, namely changing as little as possible on the one hand and boldly applying modern architectural and technical elements on the other hand, is finding a balance between the necessary practical demands of modern times and the justified demands of national heritage protection. Where the preference of utility values that forces concessions to the principles of heritage protection prevails, the city is consumed up from the point of view of national heritage, in the opposite case, an equally undesirable phenomenon can develop – the city is turned into a museum. Looking for a conciliatory solution is therefore not an effort at finding a cowardly compromise, but the sole really reasonable solution to the dispute.
1. St Michael Church in the Old Town. The National Heritage Institute considers construction adjustments of the church interior for the purposes of a multimedia show to be degrading, while the City Hall, for its part, asserts that the reconstruction has distinctly appreciated the building, Photo M. Micka, 2002
2. Lesser Town embankment with a view of Hradcany. The National Heritage Institute as well as the Association for Old Prague are convinced, unlike the City Hall´s heritage protection department, that a new building cannot be added to a world famous and listed panorama. The dispute over the construction of a new apartment house on the river embankment has as yet been solved by the decision of the Culture Ministry that has rejected the construction of a new building. Photo K. Bečková, 2004
3. Dormer windows that have emerged in an unnatural number, size and shape are the result of the City Hall´s benevolence towards the conversion of lofts with historical trusses. Photo M. Micka, 2002
4. Some examples of loft conversion as if illustrated the false illusion that anything can be allowed where eyes can hardly see it. View of the outer gallery above the aisle of St Nicholas Church in the Lesser Town. Photo M. Solař, 2005
5. Old Town roofs abused for commercial social and gastronomic purposes. View from the gallery of the Old Town Hall Tower. Photo K. Bečková, 2005
6. A unique truss of the riding school in the Joseph barracks in Na Poříčí Street, a listed complex, has been removed with the explanation that this is necessary with regard for its restoration. In fact it stood in the way of massive construction works within the building and its immediate vicinity. Photo K. Bečková, 2005
(article here, author Richard Biegel)
The year 1989 that brought a fundamental political change was seen as a milestone in the sphere of architecture. The previous two decades of the totalitarian regime were accompanied by a deep decline of architectural creation. Though the previous regime prided itself in the protection of city wholes, it unscrupulously brought modern architecture into the historical cores of towns and cities and cultivated people´s resentment and mistrust of the new buildings. One of the few successful entries of new architecture into the historical environment is the CKD House in Prague´s Mustek area ((Alena Šrámková, Jan Šrámek, 1976–83).
The situation is no better after 15 years. The arrogance of power has been replaced by the diktat of money and the intentional inability of city representatives to create such rules that would generally regulate modern construction changes in the centre. The many emotional discussions in the early 1990s showed that such rules are necessary, yet the urban study of the Prague listed area that was drafted then has not been approved to date. The organisation Office of the Chief Architect that was the sole guarantor of city development has been transformed and its functions have been weakened. In 1997 the city decree that set rules to construction activities in the listed area was abolished.
An administrative centre was built up on the valuable plot of the neo-baroque Spacek house in the Petr neighbourhood that had been pulled down. An insensitive approach to the historical environment, the kitsch facade and excessive dimensions characterise the new building of the Myslbek Centre between Na Přikopě Street and Ovocný trh square, that is on the most valuable vacant site that was available in Prague then. The disagreement of both the public and experts with the originally proposed volume reduced and positively influenced the appearance of the new building of Hotel Four Season on the Old Town embankment.
Another sad example of a non-systemic attitude to valuable plots in the centre of the city is the Square of the Republic. In 1996 the inexpressive building of Hypobanka bank was built there and another problematic step is the project of reconstruction of the barracks from the mid-19th century that also counts with new massive construction on the extensive plot.
In 2001–02, on the corner plot in Charles Square, an administrative centre was built whose large dimensions and commonplace appearance destructively changed the architectonic layout of the whole square. The otherwise relatively cultivated building of Longin Business Center that was completed on a plot in the close neighbourhood of the St Longin Romanesque rotunda is an example of an unnecessarily wasted opportunity since it marred the possibility of rehabilitating the valuable space of one of the oldest settlement localities on the territory of the New Town. The theme of high-rises was opened by the proposal to fill the corner plot in Wenceslas Square where a glass tower was to be built. However, under the pressure of public discussion the plan was reworked and the result is one of the most successful buildings in post-revolution Prague.
Positive examples of modern buildings are the Dancing House by V. Milunič and F. Gehry (completed in 1996) and the sensitive addition to the Langhans Palace in Vodickova Street by architect L. Labus.
In 1990-2005 Prague experienced a construction boom that produced many rather mediocre buildings. That its urban structure was not harmed is due to a happy improvisation rather than to a well thought-out plan. Investors are more and more self-assured and political support to large construction projects is more and more open. Almost all vacant plots in the historical centre have been filled, and further buildings could only be built if the older ones were demolished. The above examples have produced many experiences that could be generalised and on the basis of which binding rules could be formulated. Unfortunately, the city is not interested in writing such rules.
1. Old Town. The ČKD building at Mustek from 1976- 83 is one of few successful modern construction projects in the historical environment that originated under the previous regime. Photo J. Bečka, 2005
2. New Town. The main facade of the neo-baroque Špaček House, land-registry number 1216, pulled down in 1993, in Klimentská Street. Photo 1993
3. New Town. The main facade of the neo-baroque Špaček House, land-registry number 1216, pulled down in 1993, from Lodecká Street. Photo around 19xx
4. New Town. The main facade of the new building built on the site of the Špaček House in Klimentská Street. The kitsch architecture tries to cover up its exaggerated volume with a massive cornice and “picturesque” corner towers. Photo K.Bečková, 2006
5. New Town. The facade of the new building on the site of the Špaček House on the side of Petrská Street at the bell-tower and Church of St Peter. Photo M. Micka, 2005
6. Old Town. A historical photo of the southern part of Ovocný trh square five of whose ancient houses, including the whole complex of buildings that spread as far as Na Příkopě Street, was pulled down in 1929. This most valuable vacant plot in Prague remained empty for the next 65 years.
7. Old Town. Ovocný trh square with the new building of Myslbek Palace from the mid-1990s. Photo M. Micka, 2002
8. Old Town. A bird´s eye view of Ovocný trh square together with Myslbek Palace is illustrative of the inappropriately gigantic proportions of the building in relation to its surroundings. Photo J. Středa, 2003
9. Old Town. The facade of Myslbek Palace from Na Příkopě Street. Photo K. Bečková, 2006
10. Old Town. Hotel Four Seasons off the Vltava embankment, to reach the necessary capacity, used several historical buildings in its immediate vicinity, but only facades have been preserved. Photo K. Bečková, 2004
11. New Town. The Šáleks House, land-registry number 310, at the corner of Charles Square and Resslova Street. The house with a Renaissance core was pulled down in 1939. The plot remained vacant for the following 60 years.
12. New Town. The new building Charles Square Center seen from Resslova Street. In the background the St Ignatius Church in Charles Square. Photo M. Micka, 2002
13. New Town. The new building of Charles Square Center at the corner of Charles Square and Resslova Street. Photo K. Bečková, 2006
14. New Town. The new building of Charles Square Center with its huge volume and common architectural expression has unfortunately changed the architectural layout of the whole of Charles Square. Photo J. Středa, 2003
15. New Town. St Longin Rotunda in Na Rybníčku Street in the immediate vicinity of the new building of Longin Business Center. Photo M. Micka, 2002
16. New Town. Na Rybníčku Street, with the new building of Longin Business Center. Photo K. Bečková, 2006
17. New Town. One of the most inventive new buildings of the last decade of the 20th century in the Czech Republic is the Dancing House on Rašín Embankment. Photo M. Micka, 2002
18. New Town. The new building of Euro Palace in the lower part of Wenceslas Square is one of few praised new buildings in the historical core of the city as it successfully follows up the volume layout of the square shaped in the 19th and 20th centuries. Photo M. Micka, 2002
19. New Town. Completion of Langhans Palace between Vodičkova Street and the Franciscan Garden has become an example of a solution that does not lack creative courage and yet it has remained sensitive to its surroundings. Photo K. Bečková, 2006
(article here, author Jan Veselý)
Building industry in the Czech Republic still suffers from the legacy of the previous regime, namely indifference and carelessness in craft as well as brutality in handling the existing elements. It is true that in construction and in design work the appearance of many buildings is dictated by suppliers and the limited assortment of standardised products. The standardisation and producers´ massive advertising campaigns have resulted in the generally implemented practice of changing completely all construction equipment of buildings though often only a slight and easy to repair part has been damaged. A fundamental role in the reconstruction of buildings, not only in Prague, is played by financially strong investors who prefer a quick pace, easy solutions and low prices of construction works. The cultural values of the building concerned usually stand on the margin of their interest.
The post-revolution period inherited a few uncompleted construction projects that were started in the 1980s. These include the reconstruction of Jánsk vršek in the Lesser Town, the reconstruction of the houses in Ungelt and the houses of Czech Technical University in the Old Town. The reconstruction always started with drastic clearance works during which all original doors and windows, floors, the roofing in many cases as well as a majority of historical plasters disappeared. Wooden ceiling constructions were also widely removed. A great part of the elements left on the spot were wasted away as they were exposed to weather influences for a long time. When the construction works were completed in the first half of the 1990s, the renovation of the buildings was perceived as a very positive signal in spite of the negative impact on their protected historical core. It is typical that the original inhabitants have not returned to the repaired houses. If some of these houses have retained their residential character, the flats in them are luxury ones. Most of them are destined for foreigners.
In the early post-revolution period the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Republic, that was then still part of the joint state of Czechs and Slovaks, started the problematic reconstruction of the whole block of houses that surround its seat in the Lesser Town between the Tomášská and Sněmovní streets and the Lesser Town Square. Particularly the adaptation of the houses in Tomášská Street was very radical and inconsiderate so that only a minimal part of the authentic equipment has been preserved. The way in which the listed buildings were treated could be a bad inspiration for further investors who might think that they do not have to respect much the valid heritage law. The Chamber of Deputies then repeated its arrogant attitude in 1999-2002 when it was adapting the former Kinsky Palace in Nerudova Street into an accommodation facility for deputies. In spite of great protests by the public it built there underground garages for 80 (!) cars at the cost of destruction of the 6-8 metres thick archaeological terrain with a preserved part of the oldest fortification of the Lesser Town from the 13th century. The above-ground parts of the building were also reconstructed very radically. Other palaces in the Lesser Town became the seat of the newly established Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic. In the Wallenstein Palace the heritage values were strictly preserved in the adaptation works, while the expansion of the Senate into the Kolowrat Palace and the Small Fürstenberk Palace was again accompanied by the inconsiderate arrogance of the power apparatus (underground garages, connecting tunnel below the buildings).
One of the most denounced methods of reconstruction of listed buildings is “facadism” where only the street facade is preserved while all the other parts are built anew, most often without any relation to the original building. The most famous examples from the Prague centre: the neo-baroque house Darex in Wenceslas Square, the neo-Renaissance house in Vladislavova Street that is part of a complex of the Česká pojišťovna insurance company, the historical houses included in the complex of Hotel Four Seasons on Alšovo Embankment. The “facadism” trend has of late left its imprints mainly in older Prague neighbourhoods that are situated outside the listed area, that is Karlín, Libeň, Smíchov, Vinohrady and Žižkov where houses from the 19th century predominate. But it has affected even modern houses from the inter-war period.
Broad-minded entrepreneur plans of strong investors and development companies that approached the listed core of adapted buildings absolutely without scruples were no exception in the 1990s. Some of these plans were not even completed to the detriment of the damaged buildings. The most blatant examples are: the Trautmannsdorf Palace in Mariánské Square in the Old Town – liquidation of classicist trusses and ceilings above the first floor. The construction has been halted and it has not been completed to date;
the plan to build a hotel complex by interconnecting five buildings around the Sixts House in the Old Town Square – construction was halted after the first stage, unroofed buildings with disassembled ceilings and the terrain in the yard lowered to the bed have been unstoppably falling into disrepair for many years;
the art nouveau Hotel Central in Hybernská Street has been completed only after the started construction works were interrupted for several years, but water penetrating into the unprotected construction necessitated the additional removal of all wooden elements, including the equipment of the interiors that had been intact until the reconstruction;
the massive classicist U Hybernů House in the Square of the Republic that hid an early baroque church building was unnecessarily damaged during reconstruction into a musical theatre, that has not however been completed and its future use is not yet known.
It happens more and more frequently that investors who reconstruct historical houses implement their plans wittingly without a permit. They prefer risking a fine to their plans being banned by heritage protectors. We can cite three deterring examples from the years 2003-05, unfortunately from the area of the oldest built-up part of the Old Town:
- In the house with land-registry number 478, classicist built-on galleries and a Renaissance toilet risalto in the courtyard have been removed and the yard with a brick Gothic facade was fitted with a ceiling construction of steel girders.
- In the house with land-registry number 234 between Jilská and Jalovcová streets unauthorised works were done within a permitted reconstruction into a hotel – all historic (Gothic) plasters including the fragments of wall paintings have been removed just as all inner (baroque and classicist) doors and walls. It showed only then that the damaged building was one of the best preserved impressive Gothic houses in the Old Town.
- Within the preparation of two palace buildings with land-registry numbers 202 and 203 in Rytířská Street for reconstruction into a hotel first-class classicist and baroque elements of the interior as well as many Renaissance constructions including a part of architecturally rich early Gothic merchant´s houses were removed without a permit under the pretext of clearance works.
The review of devastating reconstruction projects is not of course complete, but even so is it obvious that the situation of the Prague listed area is rather gloomy while City Hall clerks say something else.
1. Lesser Town. The Infant Jesus House in Tržiště Street in winter 1992.The preparation of the building for a planned reconstruction liquidated most of the authentic equipment of the house – windows, doors, floors, ceilings, etc.
2. Taxidermist´s attitude to cultural heritage. The view of the reverse side of the facade of a listed building after all other constructions have been removed is of a great didactic value. No wonder that it has been included in the textbooks of the Faculty of Architecture of Czech Technical University (ČVUT).
3. Old Town. Trautmannsdorf Palace, land-registry number 159 in Mariánské Square today. The concrete cornice and the cambered roof that make an unnatural and hard impression have resulted from an uncompleted reconstruction.
4. New Town. U Hybernů Palace in the Square of the Republic hides in its mass an early-baroque church one quarter of whose nave has been pulled down for the benefit of the construction of a musical theatre. Photo M. Patrný, 1999
5. New Town. U Hybernů Palace in the Square of the Republic, the pulled down part of the church shown on a historical photograph.
6. New Town. U Hybernů Palace in the Square of the Republic, reconstruction of a former church into a musical theatre. New dormer windows can be seen on a brand-new roof. Photo J. Veselý, 2005
7. Old Town. A passer-by would not guess that there is a severely-damaged building with removed interiors behind the facade of the Sixts House, land-registry number 553, in Celetná Street. Photo R. Biegel, 2003
8. Old Town. The severely damaged Sixts House will loose much more before it welcomes the first hotel guests. Photo J. Veselý, 2005
9. Old Town. The courtyard of the house with land- registry number 478 in the Old Town Square hides besides a superb Gothic brick facade and remnants of sgrafitto plasters also evidence of an unusual barbarism of its owner. In the forefront steel girders of a new ceiling in the yard.
10. Old Town. House with land-registry number 234 between Jilská and Jalovcová streets. Who would expect to find behind the charming sgrafitto facade one of the biggest tragedies of post-revolution heritage care in Prague? Photo J. Veselý, 2005
11. Old Town. House with land-registry number 234 between Jilská and Jalovcová streets. The house interior after historical plasters were removed and after other unauthorised works were done. Photo M. Patrný, 2004
12. Old Tow. Hrobcicky and Wimmer palaces in Rytířská Street, land-registry numbers 403 and 402.
13. Old Town. Thanks to the tireless work of construction workers that lasted half a year, the Hrobcicky and Wimmer palaces in Rytířská Street have turned into perfect ruins. The investor did not even need a construction permit… Photo J. Veselý, 2005
14. Old Town. Hrobcicky and Wimmer palaces in Rytířská Street. The piano nobile of both palaces prepared for the start of the construction of a modern addition. Photo J. Veselý, 2005
(article here, author Kateřina Bečková)
In the conditions of a state with valid relevant legislation, demolition as the most radical method of making room for the construction of new buildings no longer threatens the oldest historical buildings most of whom are individually protected by listing as cultural heritage properties. Demolition today threatens mainly buildings from the first two thirds of the 19th century whose historical value is not yet generally obvious and acknowledged. Many of the buildings are now nearing the end of their service life, but yet they form a part of the environment of the historical city that cannot be overlooked.
The present valid Czech legislation (construction order) enables the immediate granting of a demolition permit if an authorised statics expert issues an opinion saying that the condition of a house is not appropriate and tenable even without taking into consideration the opinion of a heritage protecting body and irrespective of whether the building is or is not a listed item. The Association for Old Prague has several times publicly alerted to this fact and the possibility of its abuse, and called on construction offices to hire an independent statics expert, not linked to the initiator of the demolition and investor of the future building, to assess the real condition of the old building before the demolition permit is issued.
Cases of speculative demolitions (carried out as well as intended), where the alleged emergency condition of a building was only a pretext to vacate a plot for the planned new building, have been registered both in the environment of the Prague preservation area and particularly in the former historical suburb of Karlín after the 2002 floods as well as elsewhere on the outskirts of Prague.
1. Old Town. House with land-registry number 973, Narodní třída Street, pulled down in 1994.
2. New Town. House with land-registry number 1277, Vodičkova Street, pulled down in 2001.
3. New Town. House with land-registry number 1325, Školská Street, originally destined for demolition, will be radically reconstructed.
4. Karlín. House with land-registry number 110, corner of Thámova and Sokolovská streets, pulled down in 2003.
5. Karlín. House with land-registry number 110, corner of Thámova and Sokolovská streets, court with built-on galleries resting on stone consoles.
6. Karlín. House with land-registry number 88, Sokolovská Street, threatened with demolition.
7. Karlín. House with land-registry number 88, Sokolovská Street, wooden windlass in the back part of the house that was pulled down in 2004.
8. Karlín. House with land-registry number 88, Sokolovská Street, a view after demolition in the back part of the house, in which a wooden windlass had been installed.
9. Karlín. House with land-registry number 9, Pernerova Street, during demolition in the summer of 2003.
ROOF LANDSCAPE IN THE PRESERVATION AREA
(article here, author Milos Solař)
Roofs are an important part of architectural heritage. Their importance in Prague is particularly strong, not only with regard to the number and exceptional value of Prague sights, but also because of the uneven terrain and the great number of observation points from where the roofs can be seen. This heritage now faces a big danger. It is threatened by loft conversion and additional constructions, the use of new alien materials as well as the decline of traditional crafts needed in the reconstruction of characteristic details, and particularly the perception of the loft as “an unexploited space” or right a vacant “construction plot.”
The roofing material is an expressive element of the appearance of the roofs and preservationists traditionally pay a great attention to it. They aim at preserving the traditional types of roofing. In the past wooden shingles were in great use together with baked roofing, but from the second half of the 19th century, Prague roofs were covered with pantiles and flat tiles.
In the past a more economical approach was applied and only damaged pieces were replaced. It is just the patina that makes the roofs so picturesque. Along with the roofing, details and particular architectural elements that complete the appearance of the roofs, such as chimneys and dormer-windows, are important.
Trusses as a part of the architectural heritage have not for long been appreciated enough. This has greatly changed in the past two decades. Prague is rich in trusses that are valuable from the creative and technological points of view and several medieval trusses have been preserved in the Old Town. There are however mainly baroque, classicist and 19th century trusses in Prague. The loft conversion at the end of the 20th century, however, became a catastrophe for the Prague historical trusses. Hundreds of them fell victim to the new construction activities. Holes were cut in those that were not completely replaced to make space for new rooms. Warming up of houses is also unfavourable to the trusses because it can result in pests attacking the wood or start a rotting process.
Loft conversion also threatens the appearance of the city because the newly created residential space must have a better lighting. A role is played not only by the design of particular buildings, but also by the number, or density of similarly reconstructed roofs along a street. Loft conversion is sometimes defended as a means of keeping residents in the centre of Prague. On the other hand changes in the purpose of originally residential floors or whole houses and house blocs, even in buildings that are community or state owned, are still allowed for.
The Prague 1 district has entrusted selected real estate agencies within the privatisation of houses to push through loft conversion in all community houses that have not yet been rebuilt. In the Lesser Town alone this concerned tens of houses that preservationists had succeeded in protecting before. The Prague Heritage Institute did not agree with a majority of cases, but the City Hall department agreed to almost everything, even in entirely unbelievable cases such as the house with land-registry number 514-III in Kampa in the immediate neighbourhood of Charles Bridge. The Association for Old Prague has as yet succeeded in preventing this conversion, but this is only an isolated success.
1. Lesser Town. House with land-registry number 285, At the White Unicorn, Lázeňská Street, before the reconstruction during which an additional part was built in on the second storey of the attic truss.
2. Old Town. Platýz Palace, land-registry number 416. An example of a typical ventilation dormer window.
3. Lesser Town. The photo illustrates the consequences of a loss of sense of architecture and beauty of construction.
4. Lesser Town. An example of the top of a gable covered by pantiles.
5. Lesser Town. An example of the top of a gable covered by sheet metal. Compared with pantiles, tiles or plaster, the black line of metal sheet makes a hard impression. The beauty of the Lesser Town roofs is gone.
6. Lesser Town. Vrtba Palace, land-registry number 373. An example of one of the types of traditional Prague dormer windows.
7. Hradčany. An example of a utilitarian attitude to a roof dormer window.
8. Lesser Town. House land-registry number 387, Karmelitská Street. An example of typical ventilation dormer windows - before reconstruction.
9. Lesser Town. New utilitarian dormer windows disfigure the appearance of a Lesser Town roof.
10. Lesser Town. An example of the value of the patina of roofing as well as the importance of tiny architectural details.
11. Lesser Town. An example of the impact of the use of lee sheet metal strips in gables.
12. Lesser Town. House land-registry number 514, Na Kampě 9.The Prague 1 district authority un- scrupulously asserted loft conversion even in this type of roof.
13. Lesser Town. Former Lesser Town Hall in the Lesser Town Square. There is a threat of utilitarian loft conversion as reconstruction is planned.
14. Lesser Town. At the White Skittle, land-registry number 66, Míšenská Street, after demolition of the baroque truss during the autumn of 2003.
15. Old Town. At the Black Angel, land-registry number 460, Old Town Square. Two storeys masked with a quasi-historical roof were added during a commercial reconstruction of the house.
16. Lesser Town. Wratislav Palace, land-registry number 366, Tržiště Street. One of the most brutal loft conversions at the end of the 20th century in the Lesser Town.
17. Lesser Town. A view of Trziste Street from Karmelitská Street in the direction of the Glaubic House, whose roof is dotted with new dormer windows after loft conversion.
18. Lesser Town. Windischgrätz Palace, land-registry number 119 with new megalomaniac dormer windows.
19. Lesser Town. An example of a typical roofing over of chimneys, this time of a chimney of Ledebour Palace.
CASES OF INTERFERENCE IN THE PRAGUE UNDERGROUND
(article here, author Kateřina Hanzlíková)
Underground garages have been built in Prague in large numbers of late, particularly under the buildings in the centre that are reconstructed into luxury residential houses and under administrative centres. These garages offer unusual comfort and parking opportunities for several tens of residents and employees, but they complicate the life of other inhabitants and of Prague visitors, and worsen the environment in many respects.
The underground garages bring cars to the centre that would otherwise not ride there, their contribution to the calming of traffic in the centre is practically null. The construction of garages is technically difficult and expensive. To ensure the return of the investment, parking spaces are leased for high fees and so it is still cheaper to park on the ground, which means that the problem of cars in the streets is not solved. The construction of underground garages in the centre is combined with salvage archaeological research and the consequent liquidation of archaeological sights, possibly historical basements. Never before have such extensive and deep underground projects built in Prague. They adversely affect the natural flowing of ground waters in the complex Prague geological underground. The consequences of these activities can in the long run cause static problems in the historical built-up parts of Prague.
The construction of underground garages that was the most actively discussed in public was carried out in 2002 in the very heart of the Lesser Town, in Nerudova Street under the service flats of deputies of the Chamber of Deputies. The garages are situated right in the line of the original medieval fortification of the Lesser Town.
The planned building of underground garages in the former cinema theatre in the U Hradeb house in Mostecká Street in the Lesser Town proves the perverted hierarchy of the values of our era. The originally social centre, that the city built in the 1960s with regard for the historical environment and that comprised besides the premiere cinema also a library, a wine bar, a milk bar and a publicly accessible courtyard with a statue, will now be turned into a private housing complex that will not be open to the public. The garages, accessible by lift from the former atrium, will be placed in the space of the former cinema.
The giant administrative-entertainment complex Palladium, that is emerging in the Square of the Republic where the former barracks are being reconstructed and where the barracks court is being newly built up, will also have several underground storeys. Its garages are to have a capacity of up to 900 cars. A positive archaeological terrain spreading on more than 1.5 hectares, often up to 5 metres thick, has been explored and totally removed with the exception of the geological bottom. The unique results of the research, that uncovered the remnants of a Romanesque palace and several other Romanesque houses and in which no less interesting examples of craftsmanship as well as the foundations of a Capuchin monastery from the 17th century were found, had to physically give way to the construction project.
The protection of the underground of the historical town in Prague is entirely insufficient. The salvage archaeological research unfortunately cannot make for the physical loss of the evidence of the past in situ.
1. Lesser Town, Neruda Street, land-registry number 249. Entrance into underground garages through the ground floor of the MPs accommodation facility in Kinsky Palace. Photo K. Hanzlíková, 2005
2.–3. New Town, Ostrovní Street, land-registry number 125. Entrance into underground garages through an early-baroque portal of a house rebuilt for the purposes of a hotel. Photo M. Mádl, 2003
4. Lesser Town, Mostecká Street. Land-registry number 273. Atrium of the house with the entrance into the former U Hradeb cinema that is to be rebuilt into a garage facility accessible by lift in the house passage-way. Photo K. Bečková, 2005
5.– 6. New Town, Panská Street. Access ramp to the garages under Myslbek Palace. Photo Hanzlíková, 2005
7. New Town. Archaeological research in the court of the former barracks between the Square of the Republic and Na Poříčí and Truhlařská streets before the construction of the Palladium administrative business complex. Photo 2005
8. New Town. One of the unique archaeological find within the former barracks in the Square of the Republic – a remnant of a Romanesque palace. Photo 2005
PROTECTION OF 20TH CENTURY ARCHITECTURE
(article here, author Rostislav Švácha)
At first glance is it obvious that 20th century architecture started to rely on the impression made by the simplest geometrical volumes and the simplest details, such as window partitions or metal frames to fasten glass panes in a transparent facade, instead of the richly broken relief, décor and ornament. The mere placing of the frame in the depth or in the front of the window opening plays a key role here. The appearance of 20th century architecture was fatally dependent on these simple elements. In the frame it suffices to change its profile or material, in the glass facade it suffices to replace the original glass with darker glass or glass with a higher degree of mirroring, and the architectural value of the building as well as its value from the heritage point of view disappears because its expression has been changed.
In the first years after the change of regime in 1989 it seemed that a great attention will be paid to the protection of national heritage because the Culture Ministry readily extended the number of listed buildings. In the course of a few years however it showed that the hope was futile and that efforts to salvage important 20th century buildings are dismissed with nonsensical arguments, in which excessive claims to the “uniqueness” and “unrepeatable character” of buildings mix with equally excessive fears of a loss of their “authenticity.” This disparaging attitude has resulted in cases of devastating reconstruction as well as the disappearance of many buildings that had been proposed for protection or had been worth being protected. At the same time a balanced proportion between the owner´s rights and duties has not been attained. The owners of many valuable buildings thus do with them what they please while preservation bodies oscillate between benevolence and powerlessness.
Particularly destructive is the replacement of wooden or steel window frames by frames made of plastic, that is a material that did not exist at the time of construction.
Right in the first years after November 1989 “Brussels” interiors started to disappear one after another and the busted privatisation of the former restaurant pavilion from EXPO 58 world exhibition in Brussels (the name of the style stream of Czech architecture in this period derives from it) left the building to vandals. The assiduous replica combined with an inappropriate change of use of the building could no longer make up for the Brussels restaurant.
Destructive actions have unfortunately also affected a big majority of important buildings from the late 1950s and the 1960s whose glass coating was founded on the principle of suspended walls. It unfortunately did not occur to most designers reconstructing glass buildings that the thickness of metal catches as well as the variety of colours and the degree of mirroring of glass surfaces should be preserved where the walls have to be replaced. The wave of reconstruction projects has turned the really significant examples of works created by artists enthusiastic about the idea of a modern glass building into a review of banal glass prisms.
When a devotee of Czech 20th century goes through well selling books on the subject of his liking and when he goes out into the streets to look at the buildings by famous Czech architects, he often has the feeling that the psychologist defines as a “moment of disappointed expectation”.
1.–2. Karel Hannauer, Arosa Pension in Prague 5-Košíře, U Kavalírky Street 500/1, 1931. An excellent functionalist building by a leading Prague architect, not listed, extended with an unfitting pseudo-post- modernist attic in the 1990s.
3.–4. Stanislav Franc-Luděk Hanf-Jan Nováček, building of the former publishing house Albatros in Prague 1 - Old Town, Narodní třída Street 342/29. 1965-69. The delicate suspended outer covering of the building was replaced in the 1990s by common slabs. The Culture Ministry marred the attempt to list the building before the reconstruction.
5.–6. Mart Stam, Palička Villa in Prague 6-Dejvice, Na Babě Street 1779/9. 1932. Part of the Baba listed zone. The villa owners unsuitably added an attic to the flat roof in the 1990s. The new owner returned in 2002-03 the original shape to this excellent building, on the basis of a design by Ladislav Lábus and Norbert Schmidt.
HISTORICAL SUBURBS OF PRAGUE
(article here, author Kristýna Kolajová)
Some parts of the capital of Prague are a sad evidence of the unscrupulous approach to the national heritage environment. It is particularly obvious when we focus on regions that are often overlooked – valuable neighbourhoods of the city lying outside the centre that is listed as a preservation area. Unfortunately, it is often true that while investors and developers are ready to accept construction limitations in the oldest core of Prague (that is in the Old Town and in the Lesser Town), the more intensively they try to push through their projects in adjacent localities. This is understandable – plots, residential as well as non-residential areas - are cheaper in these localities, less strict construction rules are applied there than in the centre (and where similar rules apply there, investors know that they can more easily circumvent them) and the centre from these localities is usually very well accessible. This unfortunate situation partially arises from historical circumstances. Under the previous regime the continuity of development of heritage preservation was interrupted and the observance of generally (previously respected) urban principles in the historical parts of the city definitely did not belong to the preferred trends. This also distorted the public´s view of the value of listed wholes. Besides, technical sights were not much valued until recently that has unfortunately very palpably affected certain Prague localities. Typical examples are Karlín and Smíchov, two factory neighbourhoods that were not treated sensitively after nationalisation – industrial complexes were not definitely perceived as places that should be protected. The fifty years of application of an unscrupulous attitude has its consequences, and so a large part of industrial architecture was in a very deplorable condition in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and this situation was easy to abuse. A more abstract, though no less important value – the city panorama – was treated similarly and it has been affected by several destructive projects. The most flagrant is probably the construction of the Zizkov transmission tower and high-rises in the Pankrac neighbourhood.
In the 1990s the investors were able to imagine more quickly than city assemblymen acted and than preservationists could do anything how the localities neighbouring on the historical core of Prague will be developing and how quickly their market price will be rising. Plots were feverishly bought up and the maximum exploitation of their commercial value was planned without the smallest regard and commitment for the principles of national heritage protection. This “plundering” has not in fact stopped to date. The absence of a zoning plan, or the inconsistency of the City Hall in its drafting as well as observing only plays into the hands of such attitudes. It is unfortunately a sad fact that in a situation where employees of the national heritage departments of the City Hall and of particular parts of the city are among the few who can quite easily prevent inconsiderate behaviour, they often make decisions that are more benevolent than what is tolerable from the point of view of heritage preservation.
The consequences of the situation that has not been solved for several years is unfortunate. It is too late to redress with dignity the many radical changes in the historical structure of the city, some valuable and characteristic elements of Prague´s built-up areas have completely disappeared. On the other hand, many negative examples have appeared that should show investors what they should not do.
The struggle for the preservation of the historical value of the city outside the border of the preservation area resembles the famous fighting against windmills. Its result will only be better if the broader public realises how important it is to protect these localities. The old town slowly turns into a dead part of Prague, a place without permanent residents, and unless the course the Prague City Hall as well as the authorities of particular city parts have launched is radically changed, it can happen that further neighbourhoods will become just as dead. The administrative-business capital will push out from them not only sights, but also history, the community spirit and eventually permanent residents. All Prague citizens should take interest in averting this unpleasant vision.
1. Smíchov. A view of the new building Golden Angel in Smíchov by architect Jean Nouvel. The historical character of this place - part of a listed zone - was entirely overlooked in an effort to make the surroundings of the Anděl (Angel) crossroads into a modern centre. Photo M. Micka, 2002
2. Smíchov. A view of the facade of the New Smíchov business centre with a remnant of the facade of Ringhoffer factory. Photo M. Micka, 2002
3. Vinohrady. Former Vihohrady brewery in Korunní Street was partially destroyed by a fire in 2000, then pulled down and apartment blocks are to be built on the site. Photo J. Středa, 2004.
4. Karlín in a panoramic view from Vítkov. The regular urbanism of a classicist town is well visible in the picture. Photo J. Středa, 2002
5. Karlín. A view of the Vltava embankment part with new houses. Photo J.Středa, 2002
6. Žižkov. A panoramic view from Vítkov. The television tower has broken the harmony of the view of the neighbourhood with its natural landmark, the Church of St Procope. Photo J. Středa, 2002
7. Nusle. High-rises in Pankrác. Motokov, an example of the not too much considerate urbanism of the 1960s, is now the cause of many other potential dangers. Photo J. Středa, 2004
8. Holešovice. A view of the Holešovice port on the site of which a luxury residential neighbourhood is to be built. Photo J. Středa, 2000