Culture versus politics. War rages over Prague blob

Bronislav Pavlík Bronislav Pavlík
12. 10. 2007 14:50
Fate of Jan Kaplický´s futuristic library uncertain
The Eye above Prague. Not above politics
The Eye above Prague. Not above politics | Foto: NK

Prague - It was meant to be the Czech capital's ticket to the 21st century. Now it seems that the power and attitude of Czech politicians, not expert's views, will decide the fate of what is possibly the largest public architecture project in the history of the Czech Republic.

The majority of Prague city councilors for the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) are against the construction of the new National Library building in Prague's Letná Park.

The winning project of an international architecture competition has been designed by London-based, Czech-born architect Jan Kaplický and his world-renowned Future Systems studio.

A showcase example of organic shaped modern architecture, sometimes also referred to as blobitecture, it has been instantly nicknamed "Octopus" by the public, although Kaplický himself calls it The Eye above Prague.

Too close to the Castle

The reason of the project's sudden fall from grace is quite simple: the Civic Democrats just do not like the idea of controversial Kaplický's library towering over Letná Plain, not far from the dominating Prague Castle.

Mr. Misunderstood (Jan Kaplický)
Mr. Misunderstood (Jan Kaplický) | Foto: Ondřej Besperát

Speaking to Lidové noviny, the city hall´s party faction leader Pavel Žďárský went so far as to say he would do anything to stop the construction of Kaplický's building on Letná. "Three quarters of the faction members share a similar view," he added.

The councilor and Mayor of Prague 13, David Vodrážka, is one of them. He can picture the Octopus building outside the Stodůlky metro station in Prague suburbs.

He had already proposed this particular place as a site for a future national football stadium, but to no avail: "It would be a very suitable place since it is in the vicinity of the airport and metro and there are no traffic jams, which you have in downtown and Letná," Vodrážka said in an interview for Radio Impuls.

Support from ODS crucial

The current director of the National Library, Vlastimil Ježek, said the negative attitude of the Civic Democrats was going to have effect on the fate of the new library since it cannot be built without the city councilors´ support.

Octopus's garden above Prague
Octopus's garden above Prague | Foto: Ondřej Besperát

Architect Kaplický rejects the idea of another location.  "To think that it can be simply built somewhere else is somewhat naïve," he said.

Vlastimil Ježek says it was the former Deputy Mayor and now Civic Democrat MP Jan Bürgermeister who first agreed to build the new library on Letná Plain.

"We were looking for a place for a library that would fulfill three criteria," Ježek recalls the time of searching for a suitable place for the new library. "It had to be high above Vltava River, reachable from the city center and close to the metro station," he added.

When they came across the western part of Letná Park, Ježek discussed the idea with Bürgermeister who then he agreed. "It was long before the competition for a library design was to be held," Ježek added.

Badly politicized

Jan Kaplický himself complained in an interview for Lidové noviny daily and Czech Television that what is supposed to be a cultural matter has been badly politicized.

Media Centre of Lord's Cricket Ground, Kaplický's multi-awarded 1999 piece in London
Media Centre of Lord's Cricket Ground, Kaplický's multi-awarded 1999 piece in London | Foto: Future Systems

The National Library representatives take the same view, stating that Kaplický, as a world renowned architect, carefully considered the place where the new library is to stand. For that reason Vlastimil Ježek indicated re-localization of the new library may have a legal impact.

The National Library's Bohdana Stoklasová from the Modern Funds and Service Office points out nothing has changed about Kaplický's model being the only one still considered as the new library building.

The green color, for example, which some people find repulsive, has been used only to serve the purpose of the architecture contest, she added.

The contest has also met criticism from the International Association of Architects, which argued in its report that Kaplický's winning design violated the rules that were set for the competition, placing some of the book storage rooms under the ground level.


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