The City of Prague has announced an international contest for a major £10.6 million overhaul of its historic 14th-century Charles Square
Open to teams of architects, landscape architects and civil engineers, the competition will identify a new vision for the prominent 7ha public space which hosts the city’s iconic New Town Hall, the Czech Technical University and several churches.
The project aims to transform the square into a ‘versatile and high-quality public space’ where existing natural and historic features are preserved. The scheme will also create a masterplan for the square and its surrounding network of streets, which harmonises pedestrian, road, tram and rail infrastructure.
According to the brief: ‘The competitive dialogue process will seek a solution for the entire Charles Square, focusing on the park revitalisation, aiming to obtain a proposal which will successfully intertwine high-quality architectonic and landscaping design with requirements of the heritage site to produce a contemporary public space meeting standards of a modern European metropolis.
‘This task may only be completed by adequately addressing all current problem areas, which include intensive traffic and pedestrian through-flow, ineffective rainwater management within the park, overall poor quality of vegetation and, last but not least, problematic social perception of this location.’
Charles Square was laid out in 1348 as part of the New Town of Prague established by Emperor Charles IV. The plaza – which features the Town Hall, a Jesuit school and several churches – was originally intended as the city’s principal public space but is today eclipsed by the nearby Wenceslas Square.
The area is a major road, tram and rail interchange featuring congested streets and pavements. The centre of the square was transformed into a public park featuring statues, monuments and fountains during the 19th century.
The latest contest, organised by the Prague Institute of Planning and Development (IPR Prague), aims to upgrade the square and its surrounding environment. The competition process will be conducted in both English and Czech.
Five finalist teams will receive around £14,000 each to participate in a ‘competition dialogue’ involving a series of workshops next year during which design ideas will be developed. The overall winner will receive an estimated £800,000 contract to deliver the scheme.
Judges include Prague mayor Adriana Krnáčová; vice mayor and architect Václav Vondrášek; the founder of Třiarchitekti Studio, Michal Fišer; and the historian and philosopher, Petr Hlaváček.
The deadline for applications is 4pm local time on 12 October.
How to apply
Visit the competition website for more information
Prague Institute of Planning and Development,
Vyšehradská 57, 128 00 Praha 2
Ondřej Boháč, director of the Prague Institute of Planning and Development
Why are your holding a contest for an overhaul of Prague’s Charles Square park?
Charles Square is a public space of citywide significance and one of the key areas of the Prague Heritage Reservation. However, it has a lot of unexploited cultural potential. For that reason the city decided to revitalise the square. The overall quality of the design is one of the most important criteria for us when making changes in public spaces. That is borne out by the importance of competitions when interventions in public space are being planned. There must be dialogue when the project is being designed, and that is not possible with anonymous competitions. That is why we have opted for a competitive dialogue that specifically makes this communication possible. But the way designs are assessed remains the same, and here too the final quality of the design is taken into account. That should prevent disagreements and enable the much-needed revitalisation. There has never been a competitive dialogue process for a similar project in our country, but even so, I am confident that this method will deliver the right result.
What is your vision for the new square?
This is a project to revitalise the square’s park, but it also comprises a masterplan for the entire square, including the streets that surround it. It covers, for example, modifications of traffic spaces, including a parking solution that does justice to the square’s importance. In addition, we want to address a new way of dealing with rainwater in the park. The water is channelled into drains that do not have sufficient capacity during heavy rains, resulting in serious problems, yet the trees in the park suffer from a long-term shortage of water.
Charles Square, Prague
What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?
As competitive dialogue is a procedure to select the winner of a public contract, some minimum restrictions are placed on entry. Applicants must have experience with a similar project for a public space, park and cultural monuments involving an investment equivalent to around €400,000. We demand the participation of a landscape architect, an architect and a traffic engineer. The landscape architect and architect can pool their references, however. So it may come about that a young landscape architect who lacks the required references teams up with an architect who has the references, or vice versa.
Charles Square, Prague
Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?
We currently have four more competitions planned, which will be announced in turn. They include an artistic competition to design metro stations on the new D line. We are trying to find a look for one of the most significant transformation spaces in Prague, the former Zizkov rail freight terminal. The competitions planned for two other squares, Vitezne namesti and Namesti bratri Synku, will address both improvements in the local inhabitants’ quality of life and the traffic situation. In addition to the competitive dialogue for Charles Square, we are currently holding a competition for a bridge for pedestrians and cyclists that will provide a barrier-free link between the districts of Holesovice, Karlin and Stvanice Island. Another ongoing competition is for the new street furniture. In October, we are planning an exhibition of all the submitted work in our new Center for architecture and metropolitan planning.
Are there any other public square overhaul projects you have been impressed by?
We have definitely been inspired Park am Gleisdreieck in Berlin by Loidl Landscape Architects in terms of the excellent standard of the process and its ability to deliver a high-quality, convincing and detailed design. Especially because it resulted in an outstanding landscape architecture solution that was highly acceptable to all, despite the large number of different expectations.
Charles Square, Prague