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Checking out the history of dissidents

Václav Havel Library to open in Prague in 2013

Posted: March 9, 2011

By Filip Šenk - For the Post | Comments (0) | Post comment

Checking out the history of dissidents

Walter Novak

Václav Havel - Library is chance to document Czech modern history

Within two years, admirers of Václav Havel will have a new way of showing their support for the beloved playwright-president: checking out a book at the new Václav Havel Library.

The library is to be located on Loretánské náměstí in a historic house known as U Drahomířina sloupu. Businessman Zdeněk Bakala purchased the house and will also provide the estimated 200 million Kč ($11.5 million) that will be needed for reconstruction and conversion of the historic building into a modern library and cultural center. Noted Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill has been commissioned to redesign the building.

Bofill spoke with The Prague Post about his experience reconstructing old buildings for modern purposes, including an industrial building he converted to office space in Karlín as well as his company's headquarters in Paris, which was once a theater.

"It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to reconvert this historic building in Prague for Havel and Bakala," he said. "The challenge was to maintain the spirit of this symbolic building while transforming it to suit its new purpose."

To fulfill all the demands of the library, which will include books in several languages, a café, a performance space and will be used as a cultural center as well as a place to store historical documents relating to Havel and the Czech dissident movement, the Spanish architect said he had to concentrate on keeping the space open.

"The design should generate interactive spaces but also provide a calm environment for study. The layout of the space should also help to promote the communication and exchange of information."

Judging from early computer models, the style of the library is quite sober, using a sensitive mix of materials including several types of wood. Above all, Bofill's design seems to be concerned with light, using a great deal of glass. Bofill, known for his playful, postmodern approach, seems to have toned down his style in order to work with historical material in the center of Prague.

The Václav Havel Library was established in 2004 and is currently housed in Galerie Montmartre. Its primary task is to collect works by Havel, but the new building will do more than that, the former president told journalists at a March 1 press conference.

"This is a real chance not to build a monument or memorial to myself but a chance - with all the possible archival documents - to make the past 50 years of our country present. And make it present in an institution completely independent of the state," he said. "I would consider it great if [the library] were not just an institution of museum-character and an archival documents accumulator, but also [had] a focus of the spiritual, political and social life in Prague where people would like to come."

Filip Šenk can be reached at

Tags: vaclav havel, vaclav havel library, czech writers, culture, loretanske namesti, u drahomirina sloupu, prague, czech republic, czech, prague exhibitions, literary news, literature, architecture.

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