‘Anastomosis’: urban hook-ups in Prague

Czech Position

Dox show highlights efforts to connect Prague; ‘Anastomosis’ presents 65 designs for regenerating urban structures in four districts

Standing in front of Prague’s market in Holešovice, if you had a really strong arm, you could throw a rock across the Vltava River and hit Karlín. If you want to get there, however, it’s a rather arduous journey via public transport, on foot or by car. Why? There should be an easy link to connect these two up-and-coming neighborhoods. Considering new and innovative ways of urban planning is the theme of an exhibition called Anastomosis: Connected City, now on at Dox Centre for Contemporary Art.

Interestingly, those considering the problems and offering some creative solutions aren’t yet architects but students — Petr Hájek and Jaroslav Hulín from the Faculty of Architecture at the Technical University in Prague. Architect and consultant Adam Gebrian assisted with curating the show and believes the fact that it is students’ work makes it all that much better.

“The biggest advantage for students is they don’t have to think about many of the issues surrounding a project. All the projects here are viable in economic terms, but can’t be done because of other constraints — but maybe people will start to questions why,” Gebrian told Czech Position. “It’s not about creativity or ideas, but other limitations that might be discovered through students’ work. Through the projects, all the students are saying ‘we want to live here, make it more pleasant, let’s get it done.’”

The project came about almost as a creative avoidance of cleaning out their office. Hájek and Hulín had been teaching together a few semesters and had begun to accumulate students’ projects. When they had to move offices, they were reluctant to throw away all their students’ hard work. Hence, an exhibition.

“The themes we were working on all had something in common; it was this anastomosis, a common thing connecting two areas or city quarters that are somehow separated, by urbanistic means,” Hulín told Czech Position. “With one precise input you can start regeneration for both areas.”

The exhibition covers two floors and four “problems:” three in Prague and one in Karlovy Vary, the spa town that hosts and the country’s most famous international film festival. With between 12 and 20 projects looking at each problem, the imagination is quite impressive. Each project has a physical model, plus a mini-screen showing a slide show with artistic and photographic renderings and blue prints of the student’s idea.

Resourcefully considering the city

The projects in Prague consider the long dark tunnel through Vítkov hill that connects Karlín and Žižkov; connecting Holešovice and Karlín and the space under the former Stalin monument in Letná. In Karlovy Vary, students looked at a concrete gulley, originally built, but never used, for a funicular to connect the city with the surrounding hills.

“What the projects here are saying is; here is this and here is this and you can put them together to create a bigger project,” said Mr. Gebrian. “How can we make it more pleasant through architecture? There are millions of ways to connect things, but why not make it pleasurable, nice and easy?”

In the Vítkov tunnel display the projects vary widely. Hulín points out a shopping arcade designed by Andrea Kubná. “I think it’s the only project of a shopping arcade I’ve seen at our faculty, an arcade is a tunnel, it’s a mix of private and public, it increases safety and looks better,” he said. “Also, the virtual street (by Magdalena Nováková), it’s intelligent space that could play with you; a virtual street is projected onto the walls of the tunnel.”

As both men pointed out, the projects on display are cost-effectively feasible and fill an obvious need. “The most successful ones (projects) are with minor changes that have a significant impact,” Gebrian said. “It doesn’t do much, the space is the same, but the result is completely different.”

Connecting Holešovice and Karlín also produced some interesting suggestions – from a simple ski lift across the river to floating cubes that double as restaurants and modes of transport. “Here, you are making an improvement to the city but still making the connection; and making it an experience to remember,” he said.

A destination, not just a connection

Letná is a lovely centrally located park. But to get there from the Old Town, you have to go across an unpleasant bridge, negotiate a busy road, and then climb a fairly big hill. Why not add an extra dimension to the hill that makes it more attractive? Students considered, among other possibilities, putting in a gallery to hold Alfonse Mucha’s Slav Epic, a Monument to the Victims of Communism and a new National Library.

“The exhibition also shows places where things could be built, there are incredible reserves which could be used wisely,” Gebrian said. “Here you can see the extremes from extravagant to something very cheap – you can decide which you would prefer.”

In Karlovy Vary, the unused gully was transformed into a cemetery, open air cinema and even a spa. Hulín believes it would not take much money to improve the gully, and in turn, both sides of the city it connects. “I think it was someone famous who said ‘when you design a bridge, don’t think about the bridge, think about the banks,’” he said. “The qualities are all there, but they aren’t accessible.”

The final semi-exhibition is a display of works in progress by Hájek and Hulín’s current students who are looking at improving the use of the Vltava River. Both Gebrian and Hulín hope that by viewing the numerous possibilities out there for improving Prague in simple yet useful ways, people will start questioning why projects like these aren’t being done.

“I think people are starting to have a major awareness of something being wrong with public space in Prague – it is brutal, uninviting,” Gebrian said. “In this exhibit these problems are materialized in architecture, but the problems shouldn’t be here. In recent history we try to solve these issues with big investments but the majority of these (projects) are relatively small. Maybe it’s not about big investments but better use of what we already have.”