Apartment building, Prague
Apartment building with gymnasium
PRAGUE (CZ) - DaM studio made its mark by expanding its commission.
It all began with a gymnasium for a primary school in the centre of Prague that did not yet have an appropriate one. But after analysing the initial brief and the site, the architects from DaM studio suggested to their client, the City District of Prague 1, a more elaborate solution than a one-storey volume containing only a school gymnasium.
The plot is on a corner with one side facing a lovely square in the centre of the Old City, in area where most older structures have already been replaced by buildings in the 1930s international style. Over the last few years this has become a very busy – and more costly – district, in which more and more office buildings are appearing at the expense of (affordable) housing. So DaM studio suggested combining the gymnasium function with a retail store, studio apartments and underground parking.
By opting for a mixed-use building with an interesting structure, DaM has made an important contribution to this historical part of Prague. The concept elaborates on an old Metabolist idea, in that the living units are designed as standardized, prefabricated capsules. Each capsule is independent of the others and provides a minimum of living space, but with all the necessary fittings. One does wonder whether the container-concept was the best choice for this particular site.
The plot is very irregular and did not really allow the application of the basic Metabolist principle of adding units one to another. Although DaM worked with a container form, the apartments are not all the same – they differ in shape and size, and on the upper floor there are even maisonettes. And for the construction, instead of choosing a lightweight 'container' material, they opted for monolithic concrete.
Stacking the containers on top of each other allows for an interesting play with volumes and voids. The removal of a couple of capsules gives the whole its dramatic shape. The resulting voids serve as communal balconies or party spaces, but since this is not a common feature of Czech housing typologies or living traditions, the question remains whether the residents will use them.
The container concept determines the look of the facades. The slightly cantilevered volumes form boxes with large bay windows. The strict geometric intention is stressed by the various shades of grey applied to the exterior. In the interior corridors, grey is used in its natural form of exposed concrete. A contrasting material is used on the ground floor, where the floor-to-ceiling windows visually unite interior and exterior.
Unfortunately, the architects did not take advantage of the corner situation. All the windows open towards the square, guaranteeing very attractive views but resulting in a somewhat closed facade on the other side. A connection between the main entrance and the square is another missed opportunity; rather than responding to the urban situation, the architects have gone for the shortest route from the stairs and elevator to the outside.
Last but not least, the gymnasium and its facilities, such as cloakrooms and bathrooms, are situated on the lowest, underground level. The double-height gymnasium receives natural light from the full-height windows on the ground floor but the ancillary spaces have no windows and their brightness comes from the walls and floors, painted in vivid colours. Primarily meant for children, these spaces differ radically from the rest of the building. The contrast with the upper structure is overwhelming but very functional because of the underground situation.
August | 2011 | Czech Republic | Vendula Hnídková