If there is a common lament among Czech architects, it is the seeming lack of architectural vision amongst the public. While the quality and ingenuity of architects here is high, an unwillingness to experiment by homeowners tends to frustrate most working architects.
“There’s still a lack of risk taking,” says Gabriela Kaprálová, managing director of ASGK architecture and design. “The public is very conservative and it’s difficult for any creator, not just an architect.”
In a previous interview on this site, London-based Czech architect Eva Jiřičná cited another challenge to refreshing the Czech landscape: really bad developers. “[They] tried to introduce this very strong commercial context which can spoil any architect, which I think is very unfortunate.”
These notable architects are managing to refresh the landscape while preserving the unique character of Czech design and the integrity of the natural terrain. Here, some of our favorite design trends for the Czech homes of the not-so-distant future.
Focusing on Sustainable Materials
“If an architect doesn’t try something out him or herself it’s not a true experience,” says Kaprálová.
That experiment for Kaprálová is her gorgeous weekend home, an engergy-efficient cottage called Zilvar, which recently won an Honorable Mention in the family house category in the Grand Prix of Architects 2014.
Playing with shape, eco-friendly materials, and honoring the lay of the land has given her a unique open space in which to relax with her family.
The cottage looks sculptural and compact. The team experimented with shape, playing with two sloped roofs. The southern part is slopped one way because of a 100-year-old oak tree on the property. The northern part is slopped the opposite way so more sunlight lands in the garden.
Inside, a fireplace and raised platform booth add functionality (there’s storage space under the platform) and attractiveness.
“The ground floor is the main area; kitchen, living and dining rooms are integrated together,” she says. “Families aren’t always together in their daily lives so this keeps everyone together.”
Industrial details throughout the cottage are an excellent example of the architect’s style: simple, but always thinking about form and daylight. Kaprálová says ASGK likes to source locally and find a balance between materials, wood, glass, and metal. Her team also won the Grand Prix of Architects 2009 in the category of refurbishment for Palac Rytířská for Česká spořitelna.
Zilvar is a life-size model of their passion; wooden, sustainable houses built using natural materials, recycled materials and smart technologies for lower electric bills.
Transforming Exisiting Homes
“People don’t want to buy a plot of land, they prefer to be in a village so are buying old houses, usually because of place or piece of land,” says Ondřej Kopečný of KOOArchitekti.
“The question is: What’s the ideal level of reconstruction, or is it better to demolish?” he said. “Often it’s better to demolish and rebuild, even if the shape is the same, but from a technical point of view it’s better, safer, and sometimes more cost efficient.”
He shared an example of a house his team is reconstructing in Suchdol in which, when finished, will essentially be an add-on to the existing house.
Kopečný worked for, and still cooperates with, the well-known design studio Olgoj Chorchoj. He started KOOArchitekti to focus on small family homes. He puts a lot of emphasis on interior and exterior spaces with feeling.
“There are different kinds of openness or intimacy if you have a closed exterior space which is private, compared to an open exterior space where people can see you,” he explained. The space though is most important – he designed one house in Černošice with five terraces.
“If the space is great, simple details are okay,” he believes. “Focus on the space experience, feeling and atmosphere.”
Bringing Purpose, Beauty to Urban Areas
As architect Milan Balůsek from MYNYMY architects explains, every new building doesn’t have to be a landmark, but it has to have some extra value. Which means anything from a logical layout that is comfortable to use to a unique view of the surroundings.
He shares an example of a small block of flats MYNYMY is building in Prague. A north facing sloped terrain was the main challenge but Balůsek believes they have designed a building that not only fits its surroundings but will also be a joy to live in.
The nine flats will all be different; some of them will have views over the valley that stretches in front of the building while some will have terrace and access to the garden. The top floor is one big flat with a large sundeck on the roof. Everything that doesn’t need light and could be hidden (parking, storage) is concealed under the terrain.
“People form architecture and we believe that architecture forms people. Better architecture means better life for people,” he says.
Respectfully Contemporizing the Countryside
Founded by Lenka Křemenová and David Maštálka, award-winning A1 architects are known for their visually stunning interiors including stationery store Papelote, Gallery 66 for Botas Studio, and the newly openend Tea Mountain in Karlín.
“At first glance insignificant details shape the uniqueness of our life. And we, in our work, look for the magic of these little things in ordinary things around us and in things that inspire us,” Křemenová and Maštálka say on their website.
One of their most fascinating architectural projects to date is a small family house in Beroun that gives the Czech country farmhouse a contemporary twist.
“This modest house was designed on a tight budget and also [in keeping with] the character of the nearby village. Its architecture follows the simple archetype of common countryside houses with a gabled roof.”
They also note that “Even the small garden takes advantage of the grand view, creating the effect of [its] being endless.”
Adding Eco-friendly Touches Inside and Out
Kaprálová specifically mentions her use of green materials and technologies in the homes she designs. But you can add some eco-chic details to your interior as well.
Monsterra design studio was started by an architect with a penchant for hanging plants. They design conservatories, balconies and terraces but can also bring some life, literally, to any room in your home. Their specialties are the flying orchid and flying jungle in which specially designed pots are able to be hung upside down from your ceiling – with a plant attached.
In addition to advising on interiors, they have their own studio in which to buy ceramic flowerpots, special flowerpots for herbs and self-watering planters, all based on Czech glass principals and designed in-house.
For those who like the industrial look, check out Paletky. They specialize in creating new furniture from wooden pallets. Both interior and exterior furniture is designed, ranging from beds, chairs, desks, and tables to garden benches, café tables, and more. They also ensure the pallets used have not been chemically treated. Especially cool are their tables and beds, both with a simultaneous rustic yet modern vibe that would seamlessly fit in many decors.
Balůsek is optimistic that Czech homeowners will adapt to these trends.
“People are still not used to using architectural services when they rebuild or build their houses. After 40 years of communism they have learned to do everything on their own,” he says.
“We wish Czech people would be less conservative and open to unusual concepts. But the situation is getting better because some people are starting to realize that perhaps somebody can do it better than they can.”