The new concert hall promises to change the Czech capital for the better. Not because it will make him “more worldly”, but because it will make him more livable and more fun. And above all, it will offer people the opportunity to become more themselves.
The new century demands new monuments, and after 2000 Prague experienced several attempts to install “world” and “modern” architecture. The last time it was several years ago was the intention to build a building for the National Gallery in Dejvice, Prague. “A magnificent, from a great architect to whom the whole world would go for art,” promised Andrej Babiš. Today, it’s hard to say whether it was just his personal fad or a marketing move, but there was nothing left of him than silence on the path.
The project of the new headquarters of the National Library from 2007, which in the form of a “blob” was proposed by Jan Kaplický to be located near Prague Castle, made considerable progress. Although his idea was rather embarrassing among the general public, in intellectual circles convinced that such a building would finally make the capital properly cosmopolitan, it gained considerable popularity.
The current project of the Vltava Philharmonic Orchestra from the originally Danish studio BIG then perfectly illustrates what works are gaining ground in the global competition of architectural companies today. The studio has gained a world-renowned building, which with its simple but surprising geometry calls into question the established notions of spatial relations in the city. He succeeded not only in residential buildings such as 8 House in the Orestad district of Copenhagen (2010) or VIA 57 West in Manhattan (2016). But also, for example, in the case of the Copenhagen incinerator Amager Bakke (2019), which carries a ski slope on its roof.
Therefore, the fact that BIG in Prague won its design is not embarrassing, rather the whole competition. Not that it was poorly organized or the world’s leading brands did not participate. More precisely because the really best competed in it – and so it is quite a representative image of contemporary “big” architecture.
In the end, the look at the projects failed, which looks like some companies are more interested in demonstrating their aesthetics than in a serious proposal. They have a full right to it. The construction of a concert hall between the main road and the train line, moreover above the metro station, is an extremely difficult technical and logistical challenge. However, some of the submitted works suggested the idea that it was nothing complicated – the main thing is to design an interesting hood, and under it it somehow folds. This is trivializing the architecture to an easy-to-remember image.
Music in the heart of the forest
However, the winning studio prepared a compact and well-adapted variation of one of its central architectural themes for Prague – a building with a sharply drawn geometry, which allows usable – in this case also public – space to transfer to the roof of the building. It is then strong as a whole, but not aggressive or self-centered. With surprising ease, it holds the elevation of the surrounding buildings and gives the hitherto unattractive space controlled by the movement of cars, trams and trains a completely new, livable character.
However, due to the informative lack of information in the published images, we cannot be completely sure in this case how everything needed will actually fit under the presented shell, especially if the interior is to be completely isolated from vibrations and noise from the surrounding stormy traffic.
In addition, for a similar project, we will always ask ourselves how you actually present the music and how it relates to the country where it will stand. We will ask it, even if we say to ourselves a hundred times that it is impossible for architecture to thematize music and also to express Czechness. We will ask it with the knowledge that we do not live in the 19th century with its hierarchical and typological thinking. We will ask it ourselves, because we never only raise the innermost and most burning questions, but also the heart. We will keep it, because the building of the Vltava Philharmonic should never be just another self-service for the global crowd, but above all a place where our everyday existence changes in the moment of real existence.
From such a point of view, it must be acknowledged that the ascent to the top of the building is not very similar to the journey to the sources of the Vltava. On the other hand, it can be believed that when the halls pass through large inner corridors under Šumava wood ceilings to finally sit in the main concert as in the sound cavity of a large wooden instrument, they will still have a chance to experience a shared feeling of crossing the boundaries between the realms of life.
Prague I will change for the better. Not because it will be “more worldly”, but because it will be more fun and livable. Not because we will become different through the new building, but because it will offer us the opportunity to become ourselves in it.
The author, art historian and professor at the Faculty of Architecture of the Czech Technical University, wrote the book Deep cityin which he focuses on the faces of modern metropolises.
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