Eliška Kaplický Fuchsová: The Committee on Culture and Heritage

What is the mission of the Committee on Culture, Heritage, Tourism, Expositions and Foreign Relations of the Prague City Assembly?

This Committee that I preside is a consultative body to the Prague City Assembly and takes care about activities mentioned in its name. All of its very contributive and constructive sessions take place with participation of the public and many journalists. Each of mentioned domains has its individual mission and its own financing system. It reflects three ministries, Ministry of Culture, of Foreign Affairs and of Regional Development. However, in the municipal autonomy area, only two departments are engaged – Department of Culture, Foreign Relations and Tourism and Department of Heritage. More time-consuming is – from the municipal autonomy point of view – the activity of the Department of Culture, Foreign Relations and Tourism, which pays attention to the grant system and, in addition, to individual applicants. The Committee proposes to assign to them a financial contribution within so-called partnership (specific grant). This way was for instance supported the Architecture Week project last and this year. Once a year, the grant applications of proprietors of the historically significant objects and grants in the culture and art area assesses a committee of the Prague City Council set up from professionals so that it is really a very efficient and transparent financial support instrument. In the incoming tourism domain, the committee proposes to assign individual grants to projects and applicants who bring new ideas and implement motivational events for foreign and domestic visitors. Only last year, approximately 6.5 million tourists came to Prague, which can be considered a success in presentation of our capital as a tourist attraction.

What kind of approach practises this Committee to Prague urbanistic development and what projects it considers?

The territorial development and urban planning is the authority of Prague Deputy Mayoress Petra Kolínská. I hold the posts in several committees working in that area. We are primarily engaged in particular parts of the city’s conservation area being under pressure of tourist visitors. One of the acute problems of the city is the Wenceslaus Square. I am glad that its lower part will be soon revitalized according to the results of architectonic competition.

Where do you see the main value of city’s historical heart and what threaten it nowadays mostly?

The centre of our city is unique and has its spirit. However, it is gradually pushed out by commercialization of the space. Omnipresent advertising on street lighting and house walls without regulation will be removed with time. The preservationists are uncompromisingly inspecting small street gardens and advertising and fine those exceeding fixed parameters or disturbing surroundings by its appearance. Another threat are cars, which has in such a size nothing to look for in the city centre, at best perhaps those electrically powered. The squares should function as meeting places for people, not as car depots or buskers’ performance places. We have statistics about city centres depopulation every year in all capitals. Despite growing number of inhabitants of our capital, Prague 1 is one of two city quarters where number of inhabitants dropped between 2001 and 2014. It is important to find a balance between protecting our integrity and, simultaneously, necessary solicitude for historical legacy that was entrusted to us and more and more attracts tourists to visit Prague. Their aim is only historical heart of the city and I would like to bring their interest also to the cultural events outside the city centre, to broaden a touristic circuit.

Which European city do you consider a pleasant place to live and where should we inspire while building new city premises?

Copenhagen was several times recognized as one of the best places to live. Within our Prague days in Copenhagen that I had the honour to open last year, I could experience it personally. These days, Denmark – as well as many other EU countries – solve their city development projects from the sustainability point of view, i. e. effective utilization of energies, implementing energy-saving methods, more intensive utilization of accessible renewable sources and, consequently, reducing the CO2 emissions. We still miss this discipline. Both cities, Copenhagen and Prague, have lot of housing estates where social problems arise; Denmark offers an improved architectural rendering to and successful revitalizing of these localities.

Our capital has quite changed lately and it is still changing, new residential, administrative and commercial complexes emerged. Do you like any of them? Would you like to live or work in some of them?

For some reason, we miss modern bridge, pedestrian bridge; we have no public building full of culture or beautiful sculpture from world famous artist. I see our development growing in quality of life in Prague, which we can help to improve by creating new meeting places, opening empty historical palaces and buildings in the city centre, where no other utilization exists. All my life I have worked in architectonically interesting and remarkable places – in Barrandov Studios, in cubistic villa on the waterfront, and now in the historical centre of Prague at Virgin Mary Square. O do not want to be negativistic but I cannot imagine myself living or working in a new building. On the other hand, I am glad that many developers try to come with interesting constructions.

Modern architecture is very sophisticated, technologically advanced, it provides highly comfortable environment, but people perceive it sometimes as impersonal and have problems to identify themselves with it. How is it possible? Is it a poor work of architects, developers, or are people not able to get used to modern environment?

I would answer by a proposition of Saint-Exupéry: “A culture is based on that which is demanded from the people and not on that which they are given.” Czech Republic was in the history always a country, which determined the direction in architecture, but, unfortunately, the communist era has set its development back. For me, functionalism and cubism were final styles that delineated us quite clearly against other countries. People are always important, and here I see the biggest problem. Today, you do not see concrete personality or architectonic studio behind any architectonic act. New, contemporary modern constructions have no identity of their own, just as their architects, developers or investors.

New buildings set into elder city quarters has often tendency to expand – to make use of maximum of developable space, to have more floors then its surroundings, to ruin “useless” green vegetation. What is the position of your committee? Does the capital have some effective instrument how to cope with this problem?

Our capital tries to set new rules that would be not only comprehensible, but also logical. We must regulate substantial things, not marginalia. This is why we approved the Prague Building Code this year introducing traditional urbanistic terms in the city planning as construction or street line, which already helped to build high-quality quarters during the First Republic and form clear limits for streets and squares demarcation. In practical application, it means that a new building has to follow the neighbouring one and must not unfeelingly enter the street space. Another new rule is that all constructions, not only family houses as yet, have to keep some distance from estate’s boundary. Moreover, they are not set universally for the whole city but follow the character of particular housebuilding – somewhere the houses have some distance to each other, somewhere they follow one another by gable walls. We rightly draw attention to height regulation that is absent in Prague. The first move is the mentioned Building Code, which in a simplified way says that if you build a house it should correspond to the height of surrounding buildings.

On this day, architecture is becoming increasingly globalized and you often cannot recognize in what city or even on what continent a new quarter stays. How can a city preserve its identity?

It is enough if we protect what our ancestors entrusted us. I would also certainly wish to leave an imprint of our generation in the architecture that would represent a symbol of our freedom and democracy, but now we prepare a local plan where our aims are defined.  The point is that new housing development has to supplement the surrounding character. In a simplified way – between family houses only new family houses should arise and new housing constructions in block quarters, as in Letná or Vinohrady, should sensitively supplement surrounding buildings. However, the principles of creating a high-quality city are to a certain extent more general. The key principle is that new quarters should offer their inhabitants housing and job opportunities, but also spaces for recreation – parks, playgrounds and things like that. So that live quarters arise in the city which grow together with the neighbourhood. Something like that succeeded for now quite well at Anděl, nowadays one of the most alive parts of Prague, literally emitting energy. The city must try to negotiate actively and transparently with investors and developers about the forms of their intentions in order that the result brings victory for all parties.

The term organic city personifies a place with healthy, pleasant and balanced environment that develops permanently. Does Prague have a chance to become such a kind of city? Where do you see its largest potential?

Prague has an enormous potential in empty spaces like former factory grounds and premises or unused goods stations. Today, these areas are fenced and form some non-permeable blind spots for usual Prague inhabitants. We negotiate with private proprietors of these brownfields and try to find a synergy in its utilization. In most cases, it is not allowed to build there today, although Prague population grows and will grow – up to 2050, we expect some about 250 thousand new inhabitants here. And when it is not possible to build there, new constructions arise at the edge of the town. Prague grows wider into the fields, which is not only insufficiently economical, but also not ecological for the city. This should be prevented by means of currently being prepared Metropolitan plan. Another big potential lies in the people. Praguers are more and more active in civic and cultural life. Every day, original culture, sport or other social events take place and that is what we must build on. The economic power of the cities has in fact a strong attachment to concentration of creative industries and inventive people. There is another related point there – we must learn to show tourists this authentic and living Prague. It is not only Prague 1, there are also surrounding quarters here, full of life and ideas.

Eliška Kaplický FuchsováChairwoman of the Committee on Culture, Heritage, Tourism, Expositions and Foreign Relations of the Capital City of Prague