Prague’s ugly ducklings

Prague is well known for its stunning, breathtaking beauty, majestic architectural marvels and the almost fantasy-land feeling it causes when you stroll its narrow streets, walk around and inside its medieval castles, churches, halls and cathedrals. Cross the mesmerizing Charles Bridge at night and you might believe you stepped into one giant postcard. But just as with anything there is a flip side of the coin. Over the (mostly recent) years Prague has collected a great deal of architectural scars on its pretty face, and we’re going to take you for a virtual walk to this other side – that of the negatively impressive landmarks scattered around the city.

An ever popular theme of Prague’s outskirts are the famous panel buildings called panelaky in the local lingo. These were meant to be a temporarily solution for housing at the time and were built quickly with the idea of being tore down in fifty years. Instead they survived and even kept their commercial value up to these days. Besides their dull look their most outstanding feature is usually their color: painted of bright solid colors or sometimes striped in different colors they stand next to each other looking like the builders ran out of some paint and decided to finish the job with another one.

Panel buildings in Prague

Zizkov tower is the futuristic-looking TV tower that stretches its silhouette right in the middle of the area named Zizkov. Just a few years ago the the TV Tower was mentioned, well deservedly, in the top ten of the ugliest buildings in the world. Designed by the Czech architect Vaclav Aulicky this siringe-like tower punches a hole in Prague’s skyline and is visible from everywhere in the city. The local population is divided on it: some love it, some hate it. Definitely it is a sign of the time: a dark age of architectural taste that has plagued Prague since the fifties. The giant pillars that compose the building are decorated with David Cerny’s crawling children. Zizkov tower is now home to a six stars luxury one room hotel.

Zizkov Tower Prague

Now, let’s continue our virtual walk and stroll downtown. There, a stone-throw from the beautiful Obecni dum (the old Municipal House) is the infamous Kotva mall. This grotesque and monstrous architectural misunderstanding sticks its ugly head right out into the view of the towers of Old Town’s square churches and clocks. It has been built up between 1970 and 1975 and consists of few hexagonal intersected bodies of dark steel and highlighter green color that is totally not fitting in the surrounding architecture. Just a few years ago, before the recent renovation works, it made for a very interesting place to visit: the shops were full with outdated merchandise with a dusty eighties look. The building was an achievement for the time and, as the biggest department store in Czechoslovakia, a symbol of great wealth. We still hold the hope that one day the wise people of the future will remove its status of historical landmark that it was assigned and remove this wart.

Kotva Prague

Continuing on our way North we cross the Vltava river and head straight to Letna park only for the eye to be unpleasantly surprised by the megalithic, socialist era construction on top. This was once the house of the great Stalin memorial. Heavy dark gray carved stones, piled up on of the beautiful park hill, bulging out pompously like a ziggurat for the communist god that required a sacrifice of common sense.

Letna Park Prague

Fleeing from that ugly scenery we stroll by the river back and as we pass by the marvelous National Theater here comes another unpleasant surprise: Laterna Magika (The Magic Circus): a gigantic cube covered in some dull, stained glass tiles that emanate a dirty aura. Laterna Magika is part of the circuit of the National Theater and hosts mostly contemporary performances. The building is the result of the work of three different architects but was completed by Karel Prager.

Laterna Magika

Taking a breath of relief (or maybe just jumping on tram 22), we sooner or later reach the heights of the hill next to Petrin, named Strahov. There we find the gigantic concrete bitterness of what holds the title of biggest stadium in the world: Prague’s Strahov stadium. If these two qualities could compare then we could safely say that it is as ugly as big. Having 220.000 seats its colossal repulsive corpus has an outstanding ugliness (not to mention that the run-down state in which is kept makes Rome’s Colosseum look brand new) and might definitely win our first place nomination. In Strahov were held some massive gatherings during the communist era and especially demonstrations of synchronized gymnastic.

Next on our hideous walk comes another architectural anti-marvel: Hotel Pyramida. This could perhaps be a good fit in Las Vegas but it simply should not belong to this area at the border with Hradcany, where Prague Castle is located. Just to, at least passingly point out responsibility, the project was the baby of the architects Neda and Miloslav Cajthamlovych who, I sincerly hope, didn’t have the chance to leave many more signs of their passage behind.

Hotel Pyramida

But what does the future reserve to Prague? Can we say we left all of this behind? Apparently not. In the recent years there was a heated discussion about approving the design for a new public library to be built in Letna. This new development, dubbed the Blob, has been signed by the famous architect Jan Kaplicky and the new word used to make bad taste passable seems to be organic architecture. Now, what do you say? Would you like to see something like this scar the beautiful Letna park?


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