Prague today
Pavel Fuchs
Still standing: 100 years with Karel Prager.

Karel Prager would be 100 years old in 2023. His buildings continue to divide opinion to this day. But what condition are they in? And are we taking good care of them? Some are awaiting carefully prepared reconstruction; elsewhere, tiles are falling off the facades, and it doesn't look like a turn for the better is near. Why does IPR Prague want to open up the roof of CAMP to the public? How will the hall of the New Stage of the National Theater change? Did you know that Karl Prager's work was supported by Otto Wichterle, the inventor of contact lenses? Why did they go to the glassworks together, and how was their joint work saved at the end of the 1990s? In addition to designing his own buildings, Prager was also involved in the renovation of several cultural monuments. Do you know which ones they are?

Prager's cubes anew

When visiting CAMP, you may have noticed some wear and tear across the building. After 50 years of use, the Emmaus complex is awaiting a well-deserved reconstruction. The renovation design was a challenge for the IXA studio, as the cubes floating above the park served as a laboratory for Karel Prager's team for new technical solutions. Thus, a number of prototypes that were not conventional construction products need replacing.

The public knows the area mainly through exhibitions and discussions, but a large part of the building is occupied by administrative space. Offices were created very soon after construction, even in places that Prager had planned to be open to the public. The renovation will make better use of the upper floors of the cubes, so the individual offices will be better located. But most importantly, the creators' original plan will finally come to fruition—the roof over the CAMP halls will be open to all, and a restaurant will be built there. By the way, we also have food elevators in the building for this purpose, which have never been used; we were supposed to transport food to the rooftop terrace.

After the reconstruction, you will also be able to reach CAMP’s roof, which is now accessible only by ladder.

Author: BoysPlayNice

Otto Wichterle as a client

Prager also intervened in the preparations for the reconstruction of the Institute of Macromolecular Chemistry in Petřiny. The building was crucial for him, as it was here that he first experimented with a glass-suspended facade in 1960. Prager's proposal was supported by the director of the institute, Otto Wichterle, and his sister Hana. As a sculptor, she didn't want the building to be heavily influenced by socialist realism.

By the end of the 1990s, the dilapidated cladding failed to meet thermal and safety requirements. The Academy of Sciences had planned to line the reinforced concrete skeleton with blocks or even use wooden cladding due to a lack of money. However, it was not only Prager who opposed this and the building became a cultural monument quite quickly in 2000. The reconstruction successfully replicates the original greenish glass facade. However, it is not lost on the observant viewer that some of the boards are larger than before and there are fewer dividers on the building as a result. However, this solution adheres to the architect's original idea, because glassworks in the 1960s were not yet able to produce similarly large panels, and so creators had to make do with smaller pieces.

The first director of the Institute of Macromolecular Chemistry was Professor Otto Wichterle. He, therefore, collaborated with Karel Prager on the construction of the institution's headquarters.

Author: Jan Malý , Source: IPR Praha

You won't sit in Prager's chairs anymore

The New Stage of the National Theater is also due for reconstruction. The hall, where the investor requires modifiable space, is going to be transformed. Due to the reconstruction, however, many of the elements of the original design, such as the massive leather chairs in the auditorium, will disappear.

The National Theater is now also taking care of another Prager building. The premises of the Federal Assembly in the upper part of Wenceslas Square also contain the State Opera's operating building with rehearsal rooms, workshops and warehouses. This smaller part has already been recently reconstructed; the rest of the complex has had several functions since the Velvet Revolution and has not been completely renovated yet.

The Federal Assembly complex, which Prager completed in 1973. Today it houses the National Museum.

Author: Jan Malý , Source: IPR Praha

At first it was a meeting place for MPs, later replaced by Radio Free Europe. After the 2001 terrorist attacks, editors were protected by concrete barriers and soldiers in armored vehicles. In 2009, the National Museum took over the building and recently opened a new exhibition dedicated specifically to children. You can reach it from the historic building through a tunnel with a spectacular projection called Moments of History. The surface above it has also undergone a transformation; the so-called Museum Oasis, a reconstruction project from IPR Prague, is now a pleasant place, especially for pedestrians, and sections of tram tracks for the extension of the line through Wenceslas Square are ready and waiting in the new pavement.

The pylon standing next to the arterial road, which Prager dedicated to the memory of Jan Palach as a repudiation of the regime, has been completed. However, the sculpture by Miroslav Chlupáč, Flame, was not placed on the steel column until 2018, as its production had been banned by normalization officials. The pair worked together for a long time, for example on the sculptural decoration of the entrance to the Emmaus grounds.

The safe in Smíchov is empty

The fate of the bank in Prague's Smíchov district remains unclear. The impenetrable-looking branch, originally designed in 1977 for the State Bank of Czechoslovakia, was actually built as a safe for money to be delivered to businesses in the area. The project took fifteen long years to complete, and construction was not finished until 1992. The building fell into the hands of Komerční banka, which left the branch at the beginning of 2023. There is speculation about a sale, but the owner does not want to comment on the next steps. According to Prager, the bank's solidity was supposed to be supported by the stone cladding typical of financial institutions, but in the end, the ubiquitous tiles from Břas prevailed. Fallen pieces of brown pottery are already beginning to litter the surrounding pavements.

The bank in Smíchov has been closed for several months, and its fate is unclear.

Author: Jan Malý , Source: IPR Praha

The bank was part of an unimplemented plan for a major redevelopment of Smíchov. A similar fragment is the futuristic boiler house of the General University Hospital in Sokolská, which was to follow the construction of other buildings for patients. The boilers inside have been replaced, and the number of staff has been significantly reduced, but otherwise, the boiler house still supplies heat to the surrounding buildings.

You pass the central boiler room of the General University Hospital on your way along the arterial road from the center. The boilers inside have been replaced, but the building still serves its purpose today.

Author: Jan Malý , Source: IPR Praha

Invisible Prager and reconstruction

Towards the end of his life, Prager was also the author of several sensitive reconstructions of historical buildings. He participated in the reopening of the cubist house U Černé Matky Boží (The House of the Black Madonna) and the renovation of Rudolfinum. After a major renovation in the 1990s, however, the philharmonic headquarters deserved further operational changes. The newly designed entrances by architect Lenka Míková are considered extremely sensitive because they work with the legacy of Karel Prager.

But Karel Prager didn't just focus on the much-scrutinized city center. The Jinonice complex U Kříže combines apartments and a university campus. Charles University has recently expanded its campus, and more students from the Faculty of Social Sciences are heading there. In Hostivař, Prager was involved in the construction of a shopping center, which was only the second one completed in the post-revolutionary Czech Republic. Beneath the flood of advertising is a rather complex body with distinctive glass staircases.

The Jinonice complex U Kříže combines apartments and a university campus.

Author: Jan Malý , Source: IPR Praha

Although Prager is often criticized for insensitive urbanism, people enjoy spending time in many of his buildings. They are buildings that their owners can nurture and fill with an interesting agenda. The architect always said that his projects are versatile because they involve many generations with different views on life. However, whether we manage to make the most of Prager's buildings is up to us.


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