Prague’s islands, flood-damaged districts, focus of Architecture Week 2009

Prague may be famed for its fine old baroque architecture, but what about its newer structures? To mark International Architecture Week, a number of walking tours, open days and lectures have been organized to shine the spotlight on modern architecture in the Czech capital. Petr Soukup is one of the organizers of the festival, which is now in its third year.

“When we started, we wanted just to show to the general public, to normal people, that architecture is everywhere around you, and so you don’t have to be worried about architecture and the environment that you live in. We wanted to show that architecture is something for you. And you should take an interest in it, and you should look around you, and then you will find out that the people who are developing the city, and the urban planners, they are doing the best that they can do.”

Am I right in thinking that you have a special focus this year which is water? Can I ask why you would chose water as a theme for a festival which celebrates big concrete constructions?

“It is a bit picturesque, because when we first did Architecture Week, we were lucky to be in an old palace in Hradčany. And we were looking down to the river and said to ourselves ‘ah, that would be marvelous to be sitting in Mánes’ – which is a very nice building in Prague, connecting an old water station with new, progressive architecture. So, we are there now, and we are on the water.

“So then we thought, ‘what else?’. ‘Okay, it could be about the water’, we said. And finally, this theme is so wide, because, you know, cities and, in fact, all places for living have always been created alongside rivers and on islands and things like that. Cities benefit from water, but they are also flooded by water, cities have to be able to deal with water. And so water is the life of cities.”

And I suppose that within the framework of the theme that you have chosen – this water theme – you have organized several walks, I suppose, as you have said, to show people that architecture is all around them. I know that you are doing walking tours of some of Prague’s islands and of the Karlín district, which is along the water. Can you tell me a bit more about these walking tours that you have organized this week?

“We would like to take people in a group on a walk through the city and show them ‘this is new, this is new, this is not very nice, but there is somebody who is going to do something with it’. And we would like to encourage people to raise their eyes up and look at what kind of nice things are being developed.”

So what sort of nice and less-nice constructions will you be showing people over the coming week, in such tours and also in lectures that you will be staging in Prague’s Mánes?

“First of all, we would like to show the typical architectural periods here in Prague. That is Czech cubism - that is one great period - and then we would like to show, for example, Karlín, because Karlín was totally flooded in 2002. And I, as a person who lives in Karlín and works in Karlín, have only benefited from the flood now, I must say. So, we would like to show people the new Karlín, the old Karlín. There is a very nice building called Invalidovna, and I must say this is a disaster what is happening to that building, and what has been happening for a long, long time. And we would like to show people Rohanský Ostrov, which is set for development, and already some of the buildings have been done, and they are very nice.”

Petr Soukup and the other organizers of Architecture Week here in Prague have so much planned that the festival actually runs for almost a fortnight, until October 4. For a full list of events, visit the festival’s website: www.architectureweek.cz.