Heart and Soul

The Prague Post

From banks to homes, ASGK Design does it all

“We want to find and highlight the soul of a building.”

So explains the philosophy of ASGK Design and its founder and owner, Gabriela Kaprálová. Started roughly three years ago, the firm now boasts eight architects and has just finished reconstructing the main Ceská sporitelna building on Rytírská street in Old Town. The project has consumed most of Kaprálová’s life for the past few years. She was first commissioned to only do the outside of the building in 2004 and then, in 2006, was asked to remodel the inside, as well.

“One of the key aims of this project was to get a better use from the building,” Kaprálová explains. “In cooperation with the bank, we wanted it to welcome clients but, at the same time, draw attention to this very valuable building and demonstrate that Ceská sporitelna understands the value of its historical heritage.”

The folks at Ceská sporitelna recognized and appreciated Kaprálová’s dedication.

“I appreciated her responsible approach toward the project. She treated it as if it were her own house she was reconstructing,” says Patricia Bulvasová Plášková, a corporate secretary for the Office of the Managing Board and Supervisory Board at Ceská sporitelna.

Kaprálová “very carefully selected each and every item in order to reach maximum harmony, as well as continuously bore in mind the needs of the users of the building and the respective financial restrictions,” Plášková adds. “That is not always easy.”

Kaprálová knew from a young age that she would be involved in some sort of artistic endeavor. She studied at an arts-and-crafts secondary school in Bratislava and went on to study at the Academy of Fine Arts there, as well.

“I was focused on arts, but then I realized my field is three-dimensional,” she says. “I like to work with space, light, forms. That’s why I decided on architecture.”

She trained abroad in Belgium, France and Greece and had hoped to find a studio abroad. But it was Prague — she moved from Bratislava in 1995 — where she found her footing and decided to stay.

Kaprálová spent three years working on mainly residential projects at the now-defunct Genius Loci studio before moving on to Omicron-K, one of the city’s biggest firms. She helped out on a number of high-profile projects, including the reconstruction of the Hotel Paris and the design a of new national film archives building, which has yet to be realized.

“You have to work on many architectural studies, and not all will continue as real construction,” Kaprálová says. “State institutions sometimes don’t have enough money to build what they planned, or they must wait many years for the money.”

In 2002, along with two colleagues, Kaprálová formed Escadra, a small architect studio that continues to run in Prague 3. Her first “on-her-own” project was a family home in Zbraslav.

“The building was 100 years old with nice proportions, but it was neglected and had been badly reconstructed during communist times,” Kaprálová says. “We studied old photos to get inspiration and did a completely new design that communicated with history.”

Working on a family home versus working on a huge bank building is quite a contrast, but Kaprálová appreciates the finer points of both.

“When you see the hidden value of a building and what it could be, it’s a challenge,” she says. “Reconstruction is specific, because you have to respect what was done in the past. The Ceská sporitelna neo-Renaissance building was smartly done. The Zbraslav house had good proportions, and it was nice discovering how to show off its value.”

Newly built structures are just as interesting to Kaprálová.

“With reconstruction, you have borders, whereas if you build a new house, you have to define limits yourself,” she says. “Especially if you have a piece of land and no neighbors, you can do what you want.”

Leaving Escadra in 2005, Kaprálová founded her own studio. Today, ASGK Design does a little of everything, from new to reconstructed projects in both the residential and commercial markets.

“We would like to create tailor-made architecture — to understand the client’s request, what his dream of a house is and help him create this dream,” Kaprálová explains. “This is our philosophy for private clients, but we want to use it as well on bigger projects, like the bank.”

Kaprálová worked closely with the team at Ceská sporitelna.

“It was exciting to work with Gabriela and her team. It is a young and dynamic team with lots of creative ideas,” says Bulvasová Plášková. “They have managed a very sensitive combination of synergies of classic architecture together with new modern design trends.”

Both parties wanted to ensure they were getting the most out of every usable space in the building. While doing the building analysis, they discovered some rooms didn’t need to keep their current function but would be more productive in a different form.

For example, “an unused adviser’s area is now a coffee lounge in conjunction with a completely new conference hall,” Kaprálová cites. “It was a shame, because this beautiful space, [the conference hall], was [previously] used as an employee coat room. The lounge is the base for catering, so it can be used for events.”

Creating a dialogue between what is there and what can be there is important to Kaprálová. She has a hard time defining her style but feels it is feminine and says she tries to create spaces that have ambience and are comfortable.

“I like materials that get old nicely,” she says. “Some materials, like plastic, don’t age well, but wood — old wood looks nice as well as new wood. It’s the same for metal [and] glass.”

While she prefers natural materials, she appreciates modern technology, as well — especially for things like surfaces.

“We create a dialogue between old and new. That’s our focus on reconstructions,” she says. “We don’t want to make replicas. We use high-quality materials, but the form is recent.”

Again, she looks to the bank building as an example.

“We respected history and implemented new constructions that are transparent, like glass walls and minimalist furniture,” she says.

Now that the Ceská sporitelna building is complete — the ribbon-cutting ceremony took place Dec. 10 — Kaprálová and her team are already tackling the next project.

“We are starting a pharmaceutical factory building,” she says. “This will be a completely different field, but I’m happy, because it will be refreshing for us.”

Office, factory, home — whatever offer comes to Kaprálová next, she already knows how she will deal with it.

“I would like to continue this focus in the future. That is, to really get the visions and dreams of the clients and make it real,” she says.

And to have clients that are perhaps a little smaller, as well.

“I would like to design a nursery school, school, theater or museum, as well as to create new furniture tailor-made for a specific purpose — for example, for kids in nursery school,” she says.

“Having clients [who are] kids — that would be a great, great challenge for me.”