Making Prague a little greener

The Prague Post

Projektil Architekti’s eco-friendly designs are new concepts for the Czech Republic

It’s not easy being green. But one local architectural firm is doing its best to leave a cleaner mark with the buildings it designs.

“We aren’t radicals,” reassures Ondrej Hofmeister, a civil engineer at Projektil Architekti, a 5-year-old firm that specializes in eco-friendly designs. “Ecological buildings are close to my heart, but our focus is on teamwork and modern architecture.”

Projektil Architekti was founded in 2002 by Petr Lešek, Roman Brychta and Adam Halír;. The trio originally met while working together. Hofmeister came aboard the following year when he learned Projektil Architekti was looking for a civil engineer.

“Architects and engineers are sometimes rivals,” Hofmeister admits during a recent interview in the firm’s Prague 7 office. “But, in reality, they have to work together. I also studied architecture for three years.”

“Ondrej had worked with many famous architects in the past, so we knew he’d be good to work with us,” Lešek says.

Support like this seems to be a big part of the company’s ethos.

“Our projects are based on cooperation,” Hofmeister explains. “We hire people to bring new ideas — both technical and architectural.”

“We want to cooperate with those who are best in their fields,” Lešek adds. “We want to find the people who know things we don’t and create something new.”

This way of thinking is apparent in their newest project: the Slunakov Centre for Environmental Education, located in Horka nad Moravou, near Olomouc in Moravia. It’s a place to educate the public about environmental awareness and promote ecological living. Opened this January, the center was designed as an energy-saving building that uses modern alternative energy sources. Hopefully, the architects say, it will inspire others to design ecologically friendly housing as well.

“We were asked to make an ecological building, but there’s no definition of what that exactly is,” says Hofmeister. “So we decided to make it super-ecological.”

By that he means they integrated the building into the surroundings, used solar energy, earth-sheltered it to protect it from the elements and designed it to blend into the landscaping. The crescent shape of the building was inspired by the contour of a solar eclipse. The front of the structure faces south, while the top and back are literally covered with dirt and grass. Energy needed for heating and hot water comes from solar panels and wood-burning stoves, both sustainable sources. Cooling comes from a unique ventilation system that brings air inside and precools it in the summer and preheats it in the winter. Electricity is only used for lighting and running the technology. Water for flushing the toilets comes from rainwater.

“The whole construction is ecological,” Hofmeister explains. “We wanted to use building materials in their natural forms, feel the wood, see the concrete, smell the clay bricks, expose things as much as possible.”

“Nothing is experimental,” Lešek says. “We wanted to show that any building can be built like this.”

The architects didn’t set out to be green; most of their eco-friendly projects are private homes.

They are aware their philosophies are relatively new concepts on the Czech architectural market but say that is part of what makes them unique. It was this vision that helped them land the environmental center project.

Michal Bartoš, director of the Slunkov Centre, says the project had been a long time coming and is pleased with the results.

“It was this firm which recognized the landscape of the natural bio-center as a priority of the project,” Bartoš says about why Projektil Architekti’s proposal was chosen.

Bartoš says the firm designed a building with the traditional features of homes in the surrounding area — using clay bricks, for example — but was still equipped to function as an educational center. Bartoš says he appreciates the effort and dedication the team put into the project.

“In the end, we realized we had a lot in common and our approaches were similar,” he says. “The architects surprised us by the strong defense of their ideas, though now I feel the end result has positively surprised us all.”

Two other projects the company is working on will also feature eco-friendly designs. Both are libraries: one in Hradec Králové, the other in Prague 6.

“In both [projects] we tried for low-energy buildings,” Lešek says. “The technology is still a new idea in the Czech Republic. The design is unique: a large space but for few people.”

“We tried to make it reasonable,” Hofmeister adds. “We ventilate with natural air, using windows, which is not typical in modern buildings. It cuts the costs of running a building, but at the libraries there is mechanical cooling, unlike at the ecological center.”

While they already seem to have gone green, there’s a few more important qualities about the work they do.

“I think we want to make buildings that are clever [and] unique in some way,” Hofmeister says, noting that Projektil Architekti prefers designing things that aren’t “fashionable, meaning they can’t be dated.”

Put another way: “It’s important that our buildings be interesting to us and the user,” Lešek says.