The heart of Europe, the city of Prague, along the banks of Vltava River was last home to a concert hall in 1912 – the Smetana Hall in Municipal House. Over 100 years later, the capital of the Czech Republic announced an architectural competition to gift the city a new landmark and a souvenir for the 21st century amidst the rich history of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque architecture in the city. Nine months into the journey of realising a spatial sanctum for Czech music and its symphonic leanings with the biggest names of the architecture world, the Vltava Philharmonic Hall in Prague finally has a face, a tangible vision. The proposal by multinational architecture and design firm, Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), won the global competition for their design which celebrates the Czech music tradition and strengthens the country’s identity as a cultural capital of Europe. While BIG’s design will take shape as National Philharmonic Hall in Prague, the competition also brought forth many exemplary designs from some renowned architects, including MVRDV, Barozzi Veiga, Snøhetta, Foster + Partners, CHYBIK + KRISTOF, and Mecanoo.
In the city of a hundred spires, BIG’s design transcends the mean and medium of the traditional architectural character of Czech Republic. Though the proposal, primarily through its angularly oriented form, brings a fold of contemporary architecture into the the comparatively medieval setting, it also intends to connect the Old Town’s traditional cultural scene with the Holešovice neighbourhood’s modern art scene. The site for the new concert hall rests at the intersection of the Vltava riverfront and Prague’s Cultural Mile, the location itself opening a portal to the Vltava Philharmonic Hall to be the new civic heart for Prague. The building will not only house a world-class philharmonic for 1800+ people, but will also act as a cultural building that brings together people from across the world. “Like eighth, quarter, half, and whole notes, the steps, the benches, façade, and colonnade are perfectly on beat offering its resident orchestras effective and extroverted rehearsal areas while bringing the audiences within the halls closer to the source in an environment that is both majestic and intimate,” stated Partner in Charge at BIG, Brian Yang, in an official release on the intended musical character of the building.
Designed as a series of ascending volumes from the banks of river Vltava, the riverbank, the plaza, and the building exist in continuity with each other. In an attempt to connect the development to all points of the city, the public spaces occupying the exterior of the building continually interact with the structure’s occasionally raised and lowered corners. The form takes shape in cascading roofs that become ramps and balconies adorned by statement colonnades that seamlessly carry the same language of design from the riverbank to the roof. While architecture has always been a storyteller for Prague, in the Vltava Philharmonic Hall, BIG visually etches an instrumental symphony beginning at the river and ending at the city’s skyline that speaks to the city’s transforming skyline.
The unique, rather definitive element of BIG’s design is the connectivity that the building has to its surrounding. As sculptural as it looks, the building draws visitors into its spaces by inducing an element of curiosity. Though the extensive use of glass on the facades creates transparency, it doesn’t give away everything that the structure holds. Visuals are carefully revealed than seamlessly connected. The grand foyer further connects the visitors to the music venues. Within the compactness of a perfect square in the Prague Hall, the seats are arranged like petals of a pinecone turned inside out. This seating pattern allows physical connectivity between every seat in the audience and provides a sense of unity and a shared experience. As an intervention in sustainable design, the hall’s top notch acoustical arrangement is attained in the warm interiors through the use of natural materials, primarily timber. “The new Vltava Philharmonic Hall will be a symbol of openness, accessibility, and exploration. From the Vltava square, streets ascend upward connecting interior balconies with exterior colonnades and terraces,” reiterates Yang on the spatial and urbanic ruminations of the project.
As Prague’s dynamic urban topography is prepped to welcome the new addition, the Vltava Philharmonic Hall may also shape to be a contemporary landmark for the Czech Republic. With much attention to Prague’s and Institute of Planning and Development’s (IPR) call for a concert hall following nearly a century, the intervention which is poised to act as a tool that brings together music, the future, economy, and public space, along with respecting the history of the city and Vltava, is designed by BIG as an expressive yet pragmatic entity. In a city wherein the architecture itself narrates its history, it is interesting how the next major chapter in the city’s timeline also stands on the river’s banks, carved in architecture. “For Prague, we have attempted to imagine a building that is inspired by the journey of its namesake river and informed by the complexity of its very urban site. The result is a three-dimensional public space – part musical instrument, part logistical machine, part topography, part sculpture. I truly hope this project can grow to become a beloved space for the citizens of the Czech Republic and a welcome addition to the iconic silhouette of the city of Prague,” as stated by Bjarke Ingels.
While BIG’s winning entry would ultimately come to define the identity of the Vltava Philharmonic Hall on a stipulated 10-year timeline, there were a number of noteworthy proposals from eminent architects that sparked stimulating conversations. MVRDV’s proposal, named ‘The Crystal’, was a literal manifestation of of the eponymous crystal in its form. The Prague print, a structural web, climate-responsive skin, and an attempt to create a truly sustainable building were some noteworthy elements of the design. A culmination of the verticality of the city’s architecture and the fluid evanescence of music rounded out the concept for Barozzi Veiga’s proposal. The somewhat romantic building proposal, with a familiarity to modernist architecture, resonates with the city’s urban profile and mainly addresses the relation between the city and the river. The proposal by Barozzi Veiga in collaboration with Atelier M1 was one of the high-ranked entries for the international competition.
CHYBIK + KRISTOF (CHK) collaborated with Mecanoo to design a concert hall that integrates with the city’s existing landscape. Two cylindrical buildings, draped in a ribbon-like exterior form with public urban spaces, open spaces for cultural events, and a transformed waterfront shape the urban ribbon. The intent to create a perfect acoustic setting made the whole proposal more significant. With an array of interventions discussing sustainability, urban fabric, public spaces, environment-sensitive approaches, and the sculptural significance of architecture, the competition witnessed a multitude of the design pedagogies on a single platform.
(Text by Sunena V Maju, intern at STIRworld)
Name: The Vltava Philharmonic Hall
Location: Prague, Czech Republic
Client: Prague Institute of Planning and Development
Area: 49,715 sq.m.
Collaborators: Theatre Projects & Nagata Acoustic (Acoustics), Buro Happold (Engineering), AED (Local Arch/Engineering), ETC (Transport), Systematica (Mobility), Front (Facades)
Partners in Charge: Bjarke Ingels, Brian Yang
Project Leader: Shane Dalke
Project Manager: Luca Nicoletti
Team: Sarkis Sarkisyan, Giulia Orlando, Matthew Oravec, Giulia Vanni, Jan Magasanik, Jeremias Sas Iros, Jonathan Chester, Khaled Magdy Zaki Ahmed Elfeky, Sorcha Burke, Clara Elma Margareta Karlsson, Mads Primdahl Rokkjær, Ondrej Slunecko, Tania-Cristina Farcas, Polina Galantseva, Yanis Amasri Sierra, Paula Madrid
BIG Landscape: Giulia Frittoli, Eleanor Gibson, Jialin Liang