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Architecture for nature, architecture for people

08 of February '23

Chronobiological architecture and lifestyles expressed in designs are two themes of recently opened exhibitions in Prague, Czech Republic. The exhibition prepared by Centrala at the Vi Per Gallery talks about the weaving of buildings into the rhythm of nature. Architecture for all, on the other hand, is the slogan behind a new permanent exhibition at the National Gallery Prague.

The Czech Vi Per Gallery is an important point in the international network of architectural discussions and knowledge exchange. From mid-December to February 18, 2023, an exhibition prepared by Centrala (Malgorzata Kuciewicz, Simone De Iacobis) and curator Aleksandra Kedzorek can be seen there. The exhibition, titled Weathering: Chronobiological Architecture and Handing Over Control, talks about the ability of buildings to register atmospheric phenomena, the resilience of architecture to changing conditions, the illusory durability and sterility of modern building materials.

Vi Per Vi Per

Photo by Peter Fabo, Vi Per

giving back control

Centrala proposes an architecture based on the coexistence of building matter and weather phenomena, on allowing the existence of cracks, pores and blisters, the accumulation of matter applied by rain and wind. It is in these rough spaces that greenery can spontaneously appear, and with it animals that form microhabitats. Using mock-ups, three-dimensional mobiles and material samples, architects creates a vision of buildings that are not subject to human control, which excludes the presence of natural elements.

Vi Per

Photo by Peter Fabo, Vi Per

architecture for all

The focus of the creators of the new permanent architecture exhibition at Veletržní palác—the National Gallery Prague—is completely different. Entitled 1956-1989: Architektura všem (Architecture for All), the exhibition focuses on themes related to changes in lifestyles, habitation and recreation that were reflected in modernist and postmodernist Czech architecture. The exhibition, prepared by curator Helena Huber-Doudova, is based primarily on the Gallery's architecture collection, presenting the most interesting elements of a collection that has been accumulating for several decades.

Wystawa NGP

Photo by Peter Fabo, National Gallery Prague, 2023

According to Helena Huber-Doudova, by focusing on lifestyle, the authors of the exhibition attempted to detach it from the political, which often becomes the main context for interpreting postwar modernism. The curator focused on the everyday utilitarian dimension of the buildings, which, while being illustrations of broader phenomena and social changes, are still outstanding works of Czech architecture. The everyday life and life of the buildings in the exhibition is shown primarily through rich multimedia material, mainly film excerpts and documentation of world exhibitions. The Expo was the place where new ideas for architecture, urban planning and interiors materialized, which were later reflected in the design of everyday spaces. The exhibition features photographs, recordings and drawings of pavilions and expositions from Czechoslovakia's three presentations at the World's Fair in 1958, 1967 and 1970.

Dům ČKD na Můstku

Dům ČKD na Můstku, A. Šrámková, J. Šrámek, 1976-1983

Photo: Kamil Wartha / NGP

everyday life of block housing

A large part of the exhibition is the presentation of modernist housing estates. Among them are the model Invalidovna estate in Prague, which has been compared to Berlin's Hans Viertel, the Scandinavian-like Lesna estate in Brno and one of the country's largest apartment blocks, Jižní Město II. While the exhibition doesn't focus on technological themes—typification, prefabrication or the pace of construction—there are examples of interesting realizations that humanize block housing, including infographic systems to facilitate navigation in space or a modular system of openwork walls, reproduced in the exhibition space.

Wystawa NGP

photo by Peter Fabo, National Gallery Prague, 2023

icons of leisure time

When thinking about the icons of Czech socialist modernism, it is difficult to omit hotel and leisure facilities. We will find quite a few of them in the exhibition. The most spectacular of these are the hotel and TV transmitter on Mount Ještěd and the two decades younger TV tower on Žižkov. Using reproductions of drawings, photographs and descriptions, including biographies of the architects, the exhibition also takes a closer look at the history of the Thermal hotel complex in Karlovy Vary, the meteorological radar in Ondřejovice and the unrealized Czech Lodge, which was to stand adjacent to the Polish observatory on Sněžka.

Wieża nadajnikowa Transgas

Photo by Peter Fabo, National Gallery Prague, 2023

Unfortunately, in the Czech Republic, too, not all the most valuable examples of postwar architecture have been preserved. The exhibition recalls the losing battle to preserve the Transgas building complex in Prague and the Constructivist department store Ještěd in Liberec. Although the exhibition is about Czech architecture, the selection of projects is quite pragocentric, even though located outside the capital, most were designed by architects from Prague. However, this may be explained by the structure of the NGP collection itself, with which the team preparing the exhibition worked. Those from Poland may be particularly surprised by the absence of Silesia.

Transgas

The demolished Transgas building, I. Loos, J. Malátek, V. Aulický, J. Eisenreich, J. Fišer, J. Kozák, 1969-79

photo: Kamil Wartha / NGP

critical architecture

Particularly interesting is the last part of the exhibition devoted to the transformations that took place in the architectural environment since the mid-1980s. Experimental concepts and design studies, manifestos, exhibitions and protests are mentioned here. The history of, among others, the Urbanita 86 exhibitions and its 1988 continuation, the activities of the Středotlací group, and the establishment of the Studio of Most Modern Architects (Dílny nejmodernějších architektů) is brought up. The action against the redevelopment of Žižkov, animated by Petr Krajčý and Ivan Vavřík, is recalled, as well as the famous protest of the Prague Mothers, who took to the streets in May 1989 to draw attention to air pollution. The history of Czech women architects is also marked throughout the exhibition.

For more information about the exhibitions:

1956-1989: Architecture for All, National Gallery in Prague

Central—Weathering: Chronobiological Architecture and Handing Over Control, Vi Per.

Wystawa NGP

photo by Peter Fabo, National Gallery Prague, 2023

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