Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Future?

Last week Jan Kaplicky collapsed on a Prague street. Paramedics arriving on the scene were unable to save him. My wife, who is from the Czech Republic, has been hogging the computer for the last week reading the news and watching interviews with this man. I wasn't paying much attention, so it took me a while to realize who this "important" guy was. This was Jan Kaplicky! This was the radical architect who came up with the mind-blowing design for the new national library in Prague.

I had lost interest in the story about the proposed building when it looked like conservative members of the Czech government were going to put the kibosh on it. Apparently Kaplicky hadn't given up, because people close to him said that the stress of fighting hard to get his library built had contributed to his sudden death. Even though Kaplicky's London based architectual firm Future Systems had won the competition for the design of the Czech Republic's new national library fair and square, many Czechs were virulently opposed to The "Blob", as it was called.

The "Blob" was supposed to be built on a plain near the Prague Castle and the Old Town Square. Having been to Prague and seen it's wondrously preserved historic architecture, some of which has been standing since the 11th century I have to admit that, as much as I loved the idea of a giant protoplasmic library that can hold up to 10 million books, I had my reservations about it being so near these storybook buildings. But where would such a futuristic design belong? When you make a work of art you can't always be so concerned with convention, or you never move forward. Should all paintings match the couch? Maybe it would be nice to see the future as well as the past so well represented in this beautiful city.

Kaplicky's designs have been called "organic modernism". He got his inspiration from nature, and said that nature supplied and endless source of design for architects, and that it was high time man stopped living in boxes. His most famous completed building is the Selfridges department store in Birmingham England. He also design the award-winning Media Center for London's Lord's Cricket Grounds, a floating bridge, also in London, and a house in Wales that is partially submerged into a hillside. There's a wonderful portfolio of Kaplicky's designs at the Future Systems website.

When Kaplicky died last Wednesday he had just celebrated the birth of his daughter only six hours earlier. After leaving the Czech Republic in '68 after the Soviet invasion he had come back, hoping to finally build one of his revolutionary designs in his homeland. It's sad. Sometimes you can't "close the cirle". Sometimes you can't get a giant ameoba-like library built because of politics. Sometimes you try hard to get hired at a library and then quit because of politics and bullshit. You just never know.

"Soothsayer", 2009

16" x 12", oil on canvas panel

1 comment:

  1. Jan Kaplicky The Visionary. I guess I have a weakness for these” Don Quixote” type things. Myself though I would hesitate a lot to place building like that in front of the magical gothic and baroque skyline of Prague.

    But I can also understand what Jan Kaplicky’s believes.. As a visionary he saw the future already as the history. And being in a way more artist than architect (he studied industrial design) I suppose his objects themselves meant more to him than the surroundings or context.

    Together with his personal life it makes a kind of contemporary “antique tragedy” as I feel about it. Instead of enjoying a comfortable life in London he chose already 2 years of fighting and frustration in his native city. Maybe also because that’s where couple years ago he met “love of his life” he never thought of as possible.

    He saw his newborn daughter for the first and last time and left hospital to find his death later in freezing evening on the street. Almost around the corner from the vacant land area reserved for building of the new National Library.