Archive for the ‘Prague’ Category

New Prague library = Kafka’s Metamorphosis?


One morning, as Prague was waking up from anxious communist nightmares, the people discovered that their library had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug.

-A paraphrase of the opening of Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,”

The Guardian covers the controversy here.

The site is an historic part of Prague, just across the Vltava river from Kafka’s old Jewish quarter. The library would offer great views of the city’s famous bridges.

The designer, the Anglified Czech Jan Kaplicky, says his inspirations include aerospace and high technology. The Guardian says, “it is irresistible to see in his consistent infatuation with the slick lustre of machinery a neo-erotic yearning for the shiny, material things so cruelly denied him in his austere Soviet-era youth.”

Kaplicky says, ‘This building couldn’t even be conceived in a dicatorship.’

Former Czech President and man of letters Vaclav Havel likes the project: ‘I had the feeling that the eye of the library, blinking over the green of the park… could stand like an embodiment of the past centuries.’ … A bigger threat, Havel wisely says, and this applies to most cities, is that ‘averageness and banality [will] triumph again’.

The director of Prague’s National Gallery says the library’s form is too ‘strong’ for the delicate grain and texture of the historic quarter.The President of the Czech Republic dislikes it too. So does the Mayor of Prague dislikes this design. But , get this, in October, the mayor debated the architect on Czech television! I love that. Could Daley or Bloomberg debate an architect on live TV? I think so, and I’d like to see it. Anyway, the architect seems to have won the debate. More than 12,000 people signed a petition to insist the library gets built.

The National Library’s enemies have called Kaplicky’s design an ‘octopus’.

I like this line from the Guardian story,

“In some ways, the act of building a National Library in the age of the podcast is as quaint as wanting to preserve the colour-washed cottages and pantile roofs of old Prague.”

But I’m glad that great new libraries, like art museums, are used by city leaders to mark and market who they are. Think Seattle, Paris, Salt Lake City, Alexandria! Chicago?

I end with this line from the story,

In the Czech language, we are told, the word ‘Praha’ is feminine… like love, death and night.

Kafka would understand.

Update: Prague, Feb 6, 2008 (CTK) – The International Union of Architects (UIA) has again upheld the results of the international architecture competition for the new National Library (NK) building in Prague and thus definitively refuted all doubts about the contest’s regular course….
The winning design, submitted by the studio of Czech-born British architect Jan Kaplicky, has divided the public as well as artists and politicians into the camps of its supporters and opponents.


What goes up must come down.

Lee Bey has a nice post on the photos of Charles W. Cushman, taken around the country between about 1938 and 1969. Lee likes this photo, he says it’s Dali-esque.

The swooping lines and the corner bay window immediately reminded me of

Fred and Ginger, by Frank Gehry, in Prague. Interesting what happens when architects portray a challenge to gravity.

And when you see the above, it’s always interesting to see a photo of the other Fred and Ginger, also light as two feathers,

Happy Holidays! And check out Lee’s blog, The Urban Observer. It’s been superb lately. With his own fantastic photographs.

And if Fred and Ginger, either in building or in blood, didn’t warm you up, here are two more shots of summer from Charles W. Cushman.