Three Czech buildings nominated for prestigious European prize
Noted for their environmental friendliness and their ability to merge the old with the new and blend into their surroundings, three Czech buildings have been nominated for the prestigious European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture – the Mies van der Rohe Award.
The Czech Chamber of Architects nominated the Slucákov Centre for Environmental Education in Horka nad Moravou, the new CSOB bank building in Prague 5 and the capital’s Metropol Hotel in the city center.
“We believe these buildings are on a level to be recognized internationally,” says Dalibor Borák, president of the Czech Chamber of Architects. “These buildings will demonstrate that Czech architects are informed of the latest developments in the field and are able to compete with other European architects.”
These projects are no strangers to winning awards. Slucákov won the Grand Prix of the Czech Architects’ Community last year and has also received the Czech Environment Minister’s Prize. The CSOB building was named 2007’s Czech Building of the Year and received the Czech Architects’ Community Grand Prix for 2008, and the Metropol Hotel was honored in the Czech Building of the Year competition in 2008.
The goal of the Mies van der Rohe Award, named for the functionalist German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, is to support quality contemporary architecture and to show the important role it plays in the creation of European society and culture. The award is jointly organized by the European Commission and the Fundació Mies van der Rohe in Barcelona.
Borák believes awards such as these can only heighten international awareness of Czech architects.
“It’s important for all activity fields to share information about themselves. This is marketing for us to export our architects and architecture,” he says. “We want to show Europe that we have capable architects — not only for the Czech Republic, but also for the rest of Europe.”
Marek Chalupa, of Chalupa Architekti, which designed the Metropol Hotel, agrees.
“It’s a great opportunity to confront the best we have here with the best from the rest of Europe,” he says. “Honestly, what seems outstanding at the local level often turns out to be just a ‘well-done building’ instead of ‘world-class architecture’ when compared to the best European architectural production. Such awards simply help push the local limits.”
In their nomination of the Metropol, the Chamber applauded the interior renovation of the building. The design, the chamber noted, took into consideration the historical context of the neighborhood while adding contemporary elements to the structure.
Chalupa feels it was the facade of the building that won the nomination.
“Anyone looking at the building will undoubtedly perceive it as a clearly contemporary piece of work, but, in fact, all the elements that support this impression are used and treated in a way to make the house perfectly fit the historical and social context of Národní trída, [where the hotel is located],” he explains. “As a result, the building is widely appreciated by both experts on monument preservation as well as modern architecture lovers and even by ordinary passers-by who come to drink their cup of coffee.”
The environmental impact and qualities of buildings figured high on the chamber’s list of criteria when it came to picking their choices. Borák says it’s an important message, because sustainability from a cultural point of view is currently a hot European topic.
“To create a sustainable machine isn’t too difficult, but to do it within a cultural concept with a holistic view and an architecture aspect, that is the key to the future,” he says.
When you are designing something considered a “center for environmental education,” you had better be thinking pretty green. A lack of such buildings in the Czech Republic means members of the team at Projektil Architekti had their work cut out for them when they started working on the Slucákov Centre.
“There was little experience with such architecture in the Czech Republic,” says Ondrej Hofmeister, partner and authorized engineer at Projektil Architekti. “We had to study international examples and tried to accommodate what we learned to the local conditions.”
Hofmeister says their goal was to make a low-tech ecological house using standard technologies, natural materials and an environmentally sensitive design. Oh, and it had to look cool, too.
“The architecture of the ecological center is rather unique in the Czech context,” he says.
The CSOB building, designed by AP Atelier Praha, was also noted for its environmental friendliness.
Josef Pleskot, the chief architect for the project, says it is an honor to be nominated for the Mies van der Rohe Award. The size of the CSOB building was challenging, he admits, but the end result was successful.
“I am pleased that experts in the field of architecture are [becoming] more interested in the social relationships of office buildings,” he says. “CSOB has put an extraordinary emphasis on these relationships.”
The CSOB building is the only building in Europe that has a LEED gold certificate. LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a program of the U.S. Green Building Council that encourages the building industry to conform to nationally recognized standards for sustainable design and construction.
The Mies van der Rohe Award comes with a cash prize of 50,000 euros ($63,500/1.2 million Kc). The date hasn’t been finalized when the award will be announced, but Borák is certain that participation in events like these will be beneficial to the Czech architect community.
“I believe that more and more people in Europe will know what’s happening here, and I think, in the upcoming years, we will have plenty of work,” he says. “But I also believe we will be exporting more architects to Europe, because Czech architects have a useful mix of knowledge and sense of improvisation.”
Hofmeister believes looking at Czech architecture from an international point of view is important as well.
“Czech architects mostly work within the borders of the Czech Republic. We don’t have famous names like in Great Britain, the Netherlands or Switzerland,” he says. “We are used to getting inspiration from other architects no matter where they come from or where they place their buildings. Architecture, however, reflects the state of culture and society.”