The art of sitting in Prague

Czech Position

Nová Scéna by the landmark Czech national theater promotes ‘loitering’ in Prague, puts on shows with latest outdoor installation

Loitering isn’t typically encouraged in city centers nor do authorities often enable loafers by giving them a place to hang around. But like a ray of sunshine in furniture form plunked down in the middle of the Nová Scéna piazzeta; Sit On! is a tempting place to wile away a summer afternoon in Prague.

The furniture installation is the latest project in the theater’s aim to liven up the seemingly dead space between their building and the National Theater. A busy thoroughfare – people rarely pause to take in the space. When the National Theater (Národní divadlo) took over Nová Scéna’s programming in 2010 they extended their stage to include the piazzeta. A variety of projects and installations have been held here – including last summer’s “lawn” which saw Nová Scéna Picnic, a platform of grass grown in the square for people to relax on.

“Sit On! is part of a long term plan to bring projects to the square with certain concepts,” Marcela Straková, the coordinator of Nová Scéna projects told Czech Position. “We invite people to design projects, this one had to be suitable for sitting and fit the space — it’s like a living room.”

Custom-designed

Nová Scéna had a small competition consisting of three pre-chosen studios to submit projects for the square. Criteria was tight – the installation had to be compatible for sitting, had to hold a minimum of 100 people and needed to be relatively lightweight as the granite paving of the square is roof for five basement floors of the National Theater.

The architects were also limited by the materials – Peri, a manufacturer of products for building projects donated much of the components – including the eye-catching yellow wooden planks. Straková added that the furniture also had to be able to withstand the weather and people’s activities.

“We were very limited by money and didn’t want to do anything big so decided to approach architects we had worked with in the past or had expressed interest in working with us,” she said. “The architects had to combine enthusiasm and ideas.”

Collaborative collective, Opocenský Valouch architekti/ov-a and Architektonický atelier Rohac Stratil were the three studios approached with o-va design being designated the winner. Their design consists of two giant “chairs” and a big “sofa” grouped around a platform. Ov-a studio is comprised of architects Štepán Valouch and Jirí Opocenský. Valouch said they were pretty excited to have been selected.

“Wow, our first thought was great, we can build something in the center,” he told Czech Position. “We think the area is a little strange and wanted to think about it as a living room and what goes best in a living room? Arm chairs and sofas.”

This is the first time Ov-a has designed a public art project – the studio is primarily focused on family homes and Valouch said it was a nice change for them.

“We really liked it, it was really fast,” he said. “One week to design and one week to build; normally a house takes one year, so this was great.”

Busy furniture

The living room has already hosted a Shakespeare open air cinema in conjunction with the World Shakespeare Congress and Ms. Straková said it went well – the space was full and worked. At the end of the month, dance troupe 420 PEOPLE will perform three shows of their site-specific project Package from August 31- September 2 at 5pm nightly. On September 1 at 9:30pm, Nová Scéna’s façade will be lit up courtesy of a projection entitled Reconstruction of BIT. Ms. Straková is also hoping people will come with ideas of their own.

“We want to offer the square for individual programs and projects,” she said. “For example, there was an open air yoga class held here.”

Valouch is pleased to see how people are interacting with the furniture.

“People are sitting but they can also climb higher than normal and get a different view of the square or someone can stand in the middle and be a star for a minute,” he said. “Also it’s a bit like ‘Alice in Wonderland’; she was small, the chairs were big.”

Nová Scéna already has additional projects for the space planned; including an interactive art installation around the September 28 public holiday focused on Czech national symbols. They plan to do their “Second Chance” Christmas tree project again, in which people can bring their “used” Christmas trees to the square where a mini-forest will be created.

“We like to have variety,” Straková said. “We want to provide space for exhibitions, objects and interactive elements.” But for now, she is looking for people to just come on over and hang out. “We hope that people will stop by and sit on – what they need here is to have someplace to sit, it seems rather hostile, if you offer them something inviting they accept it.”