Page C1.2 . 17 April 2002                     
ArchitectureWeek - Culture Department
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    Old Prague and New


    Prague is perhaps the only city where Picasso's cubist ideas were applied to architecture. This radical form of expressionism can be seen scattered throughout, mainly in apartment blocks. What is claimed to be the only cubist lamppost in the world is also here. Designed by architect Vlastislav Hofman in 1913, it had been the movement's most overlooked achievement but is now a cultural icon.

    Modern to Present

    In the 1990s the Mayor of Prague, Jan Kasl, himself an architect, formed a council for architecture, planning, and preservation to propose approaches to resolving the conflicting ideas for future developments in modern-day Prague. A comprehensive master plan proposed new commercial cores in the Karlin and Smichov areas, just outside the center.

    Based on this plan, Jean Nouvel built the Andel Center, a mixed-use, glass-faced shopping mall and office complex in the shape of an angel.

    Dutch company ING Real Estate, the same developer who invited Nouvel to design the Andel center, commissioned Frank Gehry to build at the corner of the Jiraskuv Bridge in the mid-1990s. Gehry's Rasin Building, which caused a storm of controversy in Prague, has two cylindrical elements, one of double-layered, flared glass and one solid, supporting a wave-patterned facade. It is nicknamed "Fred and Ginger" because its shape is reminiscent of two people dancing.

    Frank Gehry and his Czech co-architect Vladimir Milunic designed the building to fill a space left empty after World War II bombing. Although contrasting with its historic setting, it is a playful representation of modern-day bohemia.

    Equally controversial is the Myslbek Center, a commercial development just off Wenceslas Square. Designed by French architect Claude Parent, it stands on the former site of the ancient city walls, which are symbolized in the design. However it has blocked the historic sight line to Tyn Church in the Old Town square.

    Prague's unique character is reflected in its abundant architectural heritage. New developments, regardless of style, will inevitably be accommodated among the vast selection already resident there.

    Don Barker is a freelance writer and photographer in London, UK, who has lived and worked in Europe, Australia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, and Singapore. He is a contributing editor to ArchitectureWeek.

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    ArchWeek Image

    The avant-garde Bat'a department store.
    Photo: Don Barker

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    Cubist lamp post.
    Photo: Don Barker

    ArchWeek Image

    The Milan Babuska-designed ARA department store.
    Photo: Don Barker

    ArchWeek Image

    Hotel Praha.
    Photo: Don Barker

    ArchWeek Image

    The Andel Center of Jean Nouvel.
    Photo: Don Barker

    ArchWeek Image

    The "Fred and Ginger" building of Frank Gehry.
    Photo: Don Barker

    ArchWeek Image

    The controversial Myslbek Center designed by French architect Claude Parent.
    Photo: Don Barker


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