The Danish architectural studio Henning Larsen Architects won an international competition for the reconstruction of Prague’s Main Train Station, and the shock of the daring design could hardly be greater. Rather than proposing some cosmetic changes to the original brutalist structure, the Danes call for the front portion of the station to be torn down. Rather than walls, they call for a tall arching network of latticed wooden columns without walls. In justifying its decision, the jury wrote that above all it “appreciates the comprehensiveness of the approach and the coherence of the solution for the entire area. And this is seen across all the individual issues whose solutions connect and support each other. It gives a harmonious impression.”
Some type of massive change was always in the cards. Designed with the needs of commuters in the 1970s, the original building is now falling apart. A redesign of the interior was carried out several years ago whose primary benefit was to add new shops and services to the space. But participants in the tender were given the task of figuring out how to connect the park, the station and the actual tracks, while integrating an entirely new element to the mix: a tram station directly in front of the station.
The station itself is managed by Správa železnic. Prague maintains the park and the tram lines fall under the jurisdiction of the city-owned company Dopravni podnik. These were the three primary stakeholders whose individual requirements have to be met.
“We decided to do the architectural competition together in order coordinate our efforts and it’s clear from the competing bids and from the winning bid that we did the right thing,” deputy mayor Petr Hlaváček told Czech Television. “Because the way the park connects with the new terminal have been gotten rid of all those complicated, poorly used spaces. It opens up new ways for people to move around the park and adds new shops on Bolzanova street. The method of working together has paid off because if Sprava Zelezcnic had done the station competition on its own we wouldn’t have arrived at this unified bid.”
He also addressed critics who expressed outrage over the demolition of a historically protected building. First, he pointed out that the building only got its protected status after the competition was announced, meaning the criteria didn’t take this into account. But he went on to say that monument protection shouldn’t be the only goal. “It’s incredibly important to realize that in modern architecture, it’s important how a building serves people and not just saving everything that we had in the recent past.”
Czech Television brought on the head of the Chamber of Czech Architects, Jan Kasl. “Monument protection should be able to help fine-tune some of the details. But unfortunately, we’re in a situation where preservationists are leading us by the hand and the results of these comprises are unfortunate. I would be very glad if the conservationists established some kind of limits but after that they shouldn’t get tangled up in things. I really hope they won’t try to say how each detail should look. That doesn’t work anywhere in the world.”
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