Prague scraps library project admired abroad

17. 12. 2008 8:00
Bold project by Jan Kaplický is shelved by right-wing town hall
A cafe on top floor was to overlook the city centre.
A cafe on top floor was to overlook the city centre. | Foto: Future Systems

Praha - While many Prague officials fiercely oppose Czech-born architect Jan Kaplický's blob design for a new National Library and give it derogatory nicknames such as "sputum" or "phlegm", abroad it is receiving admiration and envy.

"It is a beautiful, progressive and innovative project. I hope you will support it," wrote Richard Rogers, a prominent British architect, to Prague Mayor Pavel Bém, one of the project's opponents.

"A fantastic project," said another admirer, French architect Dominique Perrault, while signing a petition to support the realization of the project.

Bohdana Stoklasová, one of the National Library directors and a major supporter of Kaplický's design, says she has recently visited a number of libraries around the world to give a speech about the project.

Yet, Prague Assembly, dominated by the right-wing Civic Democrats (ODS) last week voted to shelve what was to be the single most important gem of modern architecture in the Czech Republic.

Czech critics stay on surface

"While domestic discussion has been almost exclusively about the building's external appearance and whether someone likes it or not, what sparked a huge interest abroad was mainly its internal arrangement and functionality," says Stoklasová.

The collections would be located underground and in stacks accessible from study rooms on several floors. Kaplický designed the library in a way that a street would be cutting through the its ground level and there would be a cafe on the top floor overlooking Prague's panorama.

"The so-called sandwich construction would make it easy to adapt the layout to any future changes in collection sizes by downsizing or expanding individual zones of the library," says Stoklasová.

A planned library in Edinburgh was to be built according to a similar principle. "At a recent conference the library director kept telling me that it [Kaplický's design] is a miracle. He totally fell for it," says Stoklasová.

She has received requests to come and lecture about Kaplický's project from cities that want to modernise their libraries, including Canberra. The National Library design was also well received at a librarians' congress in Quebec.

"When I look at the design of your library, I feel the architect paid a good attention to what a library needs. All those things that a library should inside," said Deborah Jacobs, director of a unique library in Seattle.

Wait for next elections

Kaplický himself has no intentions to build his library in another city. He has designed it specifically for its intended location, Prague's Letná park. He still believes that his vision will materialize.

"The library will stand in Letná, I only don't know when. The Czech Republic is a free country and there will be elections," Kaplický has recently said in an interview for Aktuálně.cz.

Current politicians show little will to build the new National Library in Prague. Opposition Social Democrat leader Jiří Paroubek plans to use the stalled project as a campaign topic before the next general elections.


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