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Česka Cena za Architekturu

03 of March '21

We drive our blue karosa along Moravian roads, winding like a night return from a drinking binge. We pass neat villages, old, untouched by either war or the plastic luck of sajding. Farm buildings spill out picturesquely, the bus and the road dodge brick barns at the last minute, and we, the esteemed jury of the 2017 Czech Architecture Award, wheel around the interior, grabbing at the bent tubes of the handholds and squealing like children.

Fellow Závodný decks himself on me, I on him, depending on how the karosa turns. Lubomir is Slovakian, he likes to design churches and it works well for him. With us aboard the Czech technical wonder are still Doris Wälchli from Switzerland, Jiří Oplatek, also from Switzerland, but only since the sixty-eighth, when as a student at VUT in Brno he went on a trip abroad from which he did not return when they said on the radio that the brotherly armies had crossed the borders of Czechoslovakia to restore freedom in the country. Opposite me sits Marianne Loof, a Dutch woman, co-owner of a large commercial office, next to Eelco Hooftman, also a Dutchman, who moved to Scotland because it was empty there, and he likes landscapes, as he is a landscape architect, by the way. In front of me is Matija Bevk, a darting Slovenian, accompanied by a TV producer, as members of the TV crew also cradle the interior of the karosa with us. Also riding along are two more ladies from the Czech Chamber of Architects, occasional journalists and familiar architects jumping into the coach. The second day we're already riding like this in a merry bunch. We started in Prague and will finish in Prague, taking a tour of all of Bohemia. Cities, villages and towns blend into one impression of Czech resourcefulness. It doesn't matter if it's Pardubice, Brno, Kutná Hora, or Moravian Sazovice, where a carriage with squealing tires has just been stopped by a resourceful driver. Outside the window is a small, winding like a snail church with a piece of minimalist square, where a group of ladies of at least mature age and a few, as if to make up for it, men move about. We spill out of the bus, the swarthy ladies show us around the slick reinforced concrete church, and finally give us dark chocolate bars on which the same church is printed. The Dutch woman asks perversely if this is bribery, to which the most daring of the ladies says no, that it's a form of encouraging people to go to their church, for which they contributed three hundred people, and of which they are terribly proud. They tinkered it themselves with the architect, built part of it themselves. A priest visits them on Sundays, shuttling between villages, a Pole, of course, because there are no Czech priests. "And why is this chocolate bitter?", asks I, who does not like bitter. "Oh, because faith is bitter!", replies the lady resolutely. We move on, the ladies wave. On the bus a discussion. The temple has workmanship errors, the local team and enthusiastic locals were not able to evenly guide the snazzy line of the wall designed by Marek Štěpán, there are breakages, it's very "stabbing to the eye", as Závodný repeats. "Well, all right, but what an example of direct involvement, of causality, of architecture truly arising from context!" - argues Oplatek. I nod at him, because I remember from my childhood with what difficulty parishioners in Warsaw's Ursynów built their church and, until my first communion, my church as well. Then my parents asked if I was still interested in the faith, and I said that I had already received a wigry 3 for communion, so all in all it made no further sense.

The next day we find ourselves at a lake shore hidden in the woods and a micro-house beautifully designed by FAM Architekti standing almost in the water. Oplatek grins: "It's immediately obvious that the client must be the child of a former party apparatchik!". He explains that in the Czech Republic you can't build next to the lake itself, that like nothing there must have been some "friendship" scams with someone from the State Forestry. Here the usually discreet Doris with a gleam in her eye asks: "Jura, well, then when and where does the consideration of context end? Yesterday you were justifying the social context of the church, today you're taking a bad look at this charming hut, because the owner is definitely connected to the previous system."

In Prague, we end up on the site of a former machine factory, home to the largest private gallery in Eastern Europe. DOX was founded by entrepreneurial dreamer Leoš Válka, who returned to his homeland after making a fortune building skyscrapers in Sydney. Dressed in a demobilized military jacket, Leoš leads us to the roof of the former factory. He and his architect friend Martin Rajniš came up with the idea of building a reading hall here in the form of a huge quasi-Zeppelin that looks like it's just taking off from the roof to fly. It's all like an airship: a bent wooden structure clad in some kind of translucent plastic, steel lashings, ladders, traps. "We wanted people to feel light when writers read their books to them," Leoš's head states matter-of-factly, sticking out of a cuboidal M65 jacket. In the evening, there is an argument in the inn. "This is not architecture, but scenery!", Marianne states. Yura and Lubomir echo her. Matija ironically glares at me, because she knows what I'm designing. Marianne stands up, all of us having already had a few beers, so she has to lean heavily against a heavy wooden table, and asks, hanging her head: "Then why don't we establish what architecture is?". "Architecture has to be permanent, because if it's not permanent, we can't even judge it!" exclaims Jura, who didn't consider the black wood-fired solitude hanging under the bridge in Pardubice worthy of being called architecture, nor the poetic bridge made of a single piece of granite commemorating the late Czech mountaineer who liked to sit by the White Stream. He didn't acknowledge the solitary house because they dismantled it, and the bridge because it's not a cubic object. "Maybe it's art more?", he and Lubomir wondered over a beer, and were already close to saying that yes, like nothing, it is art, but Eelco stuck a stick into an anthill, asking with a silly frant: "And Isamu Noguchi, was he a sculptor, a designer or a landscape designer? And those legendary playgrounds of his were what?". The faces behind the table clouded over. Someone called out for another round.

In the morning we circulate through the suburbs of Prague, look at the lamella-clad sports hall in Líbeznice, and then drive into the fields. There, somewhere between the cornfields and trees, is a soccer field, with a contested grandstand next to it. We ram through a steel gate, carrying an exultant Marianne in a summer dress on my back. The marshy meadow turns out to be a pitch. There is a grandstand. Dirty and happy we sit down on the benches, it starts to drizzle. Matija shoots: "And how is it, Yura, do you like this ARCHITECTURE? Simple this stand. Cleverly conceived, even as if too cleverly, and quite alien in this cleverness to the field, the forest and the shabby buildings of the nearby pig farm. Rain begins to hit the polycarbonate roof. A full-on downpour is coming. "This is the ideal of architecture," Jura begins loudly, "There is legibility, the means correspond to the purpose, there is also some sublimation in this simplicity and the fact that this is for ordinary people, not for some rich or gourmet!" "I agree with you!", shouts a sound engineer from the TV crew over the sound drop. There is nothing to do, because it is impossible to record anything in such rain. "My parents used to leave me here at my aunt's in the summer and I used to go to Sokol Záryba matches. I guarantee you that when it rained, it wasn't as pleasant as it is for us now! This is the best architecture possible!".

In the evening, in the beer hall, after long disputes over so-called fundamental issues, standing behind a large table Marianne, the jury chairwoman, uncurled the fingers of her left hand and began to calculate: "Let's summarize, and I advise that we agree...," here she glares at Jura and me. "Architecture is buildings and non-structural structures that are not simply technical responses to physical problems or scenographic styling. Architecture is objects that contribute something more to our lives intellectually and/or spiritually, even if they have strictly rudimentary reasons for their creation, and even if they are created only for a moment." He slowly closes more fingers of his left hand with the index finger of his right. "Architecture, willy-nilly, we must judge on the basis of how well it works for people, the built and natural environment, whether it is aesthetically pleasing in response to that functionality, and not for the sake of being attractive. We must also take into account the broader context, such as the country's economy or its culture, but, heck, we shouldn't care who the owner voted for, or who his wife is sleeping with!" (laughter is heard). "And, again willy-nilly, we also have to keep in mind what the users of the architecture, I mean the architecture, not the wife, think of it, even if they are not professionals. Only then can we talk about the consistency of our assessment and its depth!". Surprisingly, everyone agrees. "Here's to depth!", "Here's to consistency!", the assembled cheers. Up go the arms with mugs of beer and glasses of wine. Moments later, their contents are explored in depth, producing a coherent effect of general merriment. The camera pulls away into the darkness of a Prague street through a cellar window. The bustle of the beer hall quiets. Cut.


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