Plans to revamp Prague’s Wenceslas Square have received final approval after 12 years of debate.
The project, by award winning Prague architect Jakub Cigler, envisages a traffic-free zone with more greenery, more space for pedestrians and a wider promenade, while trams currently cutting through the square will be rerouted and car traffic will be severely restricted.
I spoke to architectural historian Zdeněk Lukeš, asking him his opinion of the project which is expected to begin next year.
“The competition was developed more than 12 years ago and the winning entry by Cigler and Marani was perfect – and still is. This is simply put, an attempt to recreate the space, because above all it is St Wenceslas SQUARE, yet today it has the characteristics of a boulevard or avenue.
“Of course there are many questions about the top of the square, especially the problem of the magistrala highway which cuts right through the top of it, but work on the lower part can begin to create more space for pedestrians, underground garages for cars – some experts don’t like the ideas of ramps being introduced to allow access to underground parking but I don’t see any other way that could be done…
“And of course, the double rows of plane and linden trees is very striking and is a good move because those were there at the end of the 19th century and the square then looked much better than today.”
Much attention is being paid to the fact that Wenceslas Square has changed a lot… many people no longer remember that there used to be trams that went up the length of the square and didn’t just crisscross it at Vodičkova and Jindřišská as is the case now…
“Certainly the trams are not missed now because of the metro line. But if anyone wanted them to return in the future, I don’t that that it would be a problem.”
To me as an observer, Wenceslas Square, despite architectural improvements or certain development and additions, seemed to have been getting worse. There was a certain neglect it seemed or that it was a problem that wasn’t being dealt with. Would you agree with that assessment? How do you see the situation until now?
“I think that the situation is maybe the same as 20 years ago but one factor contributing to that problem is that many buildings on the square are still facing or are in the process of revitalization. I think that the situation there will be different in five years.
“But of course, of course there are details and elements which need to be improved. The space is not in perfect condition: paving, decorations, the location of kiosks, insufficient lighting or lack of better illumination of the space.
“There are many problems that need to be tackled in the revitalization process and I think will be over the first phase of the project in the next five years.”