This spring, 140 architecture and urban planning students from five universities in the Czech Republic and the Netherlands jointly worked on ideas for the future of the Czech Republic. The resulting exhibition, which is currently on show in the atrium of the Faculty of Architecture at the Czech Technical University in Prague, showcases 100 ideas that demonstrate the enthusiasm and optimism of the next generation of urban planners and designers in the Czech Republic. More importantly, the exhibition calls for a robust platform in the Czech Republic to stimulate debate around issues of architecture, landscape, government policy, sustainability, biodiversity, and more on a national scale.
Initiated by Winy Maas in his guest professorship at the CTU Prague, these ideas were informed by a comprehensive analysis of the country and comparisons to other EU countries. Quantitative and spatial data are combined with qualitative observations about the country’s strengths, weaknesses, and current needs. These analyses form a key part of the exhibition, combined with interviews with specialists, films of the process, and a huge 1:20,000-scale map – spread across 5 long tables and the walls of the atrium – plastered with 100 proposals for buildings, parks, and other interventions.
Some notable proposals among these are a call to add more high-speed rail to connect the country, a proposal to place wind turbines along railway lines, an idea to create 2,000 square kilometres of new artificial lakes that store and filter water, or suggestions to use the blind façades and rooftops of buildings for agriculture. There is also a series of buildings proposed in the shape of the word “HELLO”, large enough to meet the current EU housing shortage on their own, intended as a welcoming signal to people of all nations and an implicit criticism of the country’s restrictive migration policies. There is a proposed intensification of Prague adorned with a model of the Atomium in Brussels, a comment on the fact that the EU’s focus is moving steadily eastward, while the EU capital remains resolutely in Western Europe. And there is a series of proposals for alternative functions of underused church buildings in one of Europe’s least religious countries, alongside much more.
Above all, the analysis of the country’s current situation revealed one significant need: the improvement of the Czech approach to thinking holistically about the development of the country as a whole. For this reason, the exhibition (and subsequent related productions) invites visitors to contribute more, and further acts as a call to action for a platform where Czech citizens can learn about, discuss, and contribute to the decisions that are shaping their living environment. Whether this is an online platform, a network of cultural centres in Czech cities, or a recurring public event – or any other form – this platform should, according to the students, be democratic, transparent, and accessible to all.
“The world is changing, due to climate emergency and geopolitical shifts. The EU is changing, moving its attention eastwards”, says Winy Maas. “More than ever, we need each other. What will be the role, and the future, of the Czech Republic, this small country in the middle of Europe? Our students’ studies evaluate the country. How good is it? And they create hundreds of ideas and potential policies to improve and strengthen it, to re-direct it. What will the country look like? In these workshops, the 140 students developed inspiring suggestions that are mature enough to spark a national debate; shouldn’t the country have a platform to democratically discuss these topics?”
“This semester, we have been researching various things you wouldn’t associate with architecture at first sight. It was very interesting for me to get deeper into the health status of Czechs – which isn’t very good – and how design can improve it, says Lucie Bielaková, one of the participating students. “We researched how we could improve obesity, which is one of the worst in the EU, and its relation to diseases, length of life, and healthcare costs. We decided to tackle this by incorporating movement into everyday life by changing the means of transport to cycling.”
The exhibition at the Faculty of Architecture at the Czech Technical University in Prague is on show until June 26th, with plans afterwards to develop a book of the students’ work, to be launched later this year, and a website and Instagram account to spread their ideas.
As the new president of the Czech Republic Petr Pavel stated in his inauguration speech in March, “You [the people of the Czech Republic] have created a wave of hope and energy in the past months. I would like us to use it to create a common vision for the Czech Republic. I would like to start this process during my presidency. Our reactions to the crises of recent years, as well as the presidential election, have convinced me that we can unite behind one goal, even though we see different ways to achieve it.” This project hopes to be a part of forming that common vision.
The universities participating in the project are The Why Factory at BK TU Delft and FA CTU Prague, FAA TUL Liberec, FA VUT Brno, ARCHIP Prague.
A press conference about the exhibition and call for a national platform is also scheduled to take place on Wednesday June 14th, 10 am in the exhibition atrium, Faculty of Architecture, Czech Technical University, Thakurova 9, Prague 6.
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