The building of a major new building for the Czech National Library looks set to be one of the most important architectural projects in Prague this decade. Financing has just been approved by the Czech parliament, which has also agreed to fund extensive renovations to the National Library's current home in the city-centre Clementinum complex.
The new 80-million dollar building will be at the Prague Castle end of Letna Plain, on a site currently occupied by a small bus and tram station. It should be completed in four years' time.
I discussed the project with the National Library's Dr Bohdana Stoklasova in her office at the Clementinum, which is in Prague's Old Town and is a stone's throw from Charles Bridge. She is very pleased with the location of the new building.
"We hope that from the top floor, where the restaurant should probably be located, there should be a nice view of Prague Castle and St Vitus' Cathedral. So the location is very good, and we are very happy to have this piece of land."
Why does the National Library need a new building? And what collections will it house?
"The first reason is that in the year 2010 we will have no more space for our new acquisitions. We are afraid of a situation we have already faced at the beginning of the '90s, when there was no more space in the Clementinum. That was before we opened our repository in Hostivar. It was a very sad picture because our new books were not on the shelves, we couldn't give them to our users, we couldn't even catalogue them.
"And there is another reason that in this historical building, which is beautiful, the library is very limited in the sense of serving as a modern library."
What collections will it house?
"It will house collections from the 19th century and younger. For us it is called the 'new' collection, but of course for some countries the 19th century is the historical part of the collection. But our collections are very old, so the 19th century is the new part of the collection."
Now we're sitting in the National Library's current home, the Clementinum, which has been here since I think the 16th century. It also needs renovations - what kind of renovations?
"This building needs complete renovation and it cannot be done unless we have here some space to put the majority of the documents. The building needs renovation because there was no renovation for many, many years. Which will be nice - after the new collections will be moved, there will be more spaces here that can be opened to the public.
"Today it is a pity that this historical, beautiful...area is mostly closed and occupied by collections, or even by offices for employees. So there is a plan to open this area as a Baroque treasure in the centre of the city."