Every city has a unique story and destiny, which reflect in its buildings and squares. One can read it like an open book whose chapters may seamlessly flow, or overlap, or even contradict each other by intent.
Some cities have held on its historic face. Others, precipitously, chose to wipe it off, like an unwanted layer of makeup. Some cities have been trying to find their style until they definitively lost it. Others seem to possess it as if by birthright, and centuries are only added, naturally, like beads on a string. We call it genius loci, the spirit of a place, that has pervaded its residents and architects and which, in a mysterious dialogue of epochs, helped to build something which is more than just a sum of its parts. And Prague is rightly among those cities.
The story of Prague is peerless. A thousand years of history succeeded in merging what seemingly could not be merged: a spontaneously built-up town and the most audacious urban projects in medieval Europe; the harmony of Renaissance and the unleashed force of Baroque architecture which, in a few years, transformed the city into a gigantic amphitheatre; a sleepy atmosphere of a city immersed in dreams with bold visions of modern and avant-garde architects whose buildings have, by and large, become uniquely enmeshed in the historic environment. This is also why Prague is said to be a living textbook of architectural styles and the creative tension between them.
Prague is also witness to a unique dialogue of the city and the landscape, which form and enter each other. Buildings are not the point of a city – its whole panorama that opens in countless and unexpected views and vistas. This is also why the picture of Prague projects a mixture of harmony and restlessness. Addition of each new building can leave this precariously balanced organism stronger – or irreparably damaged. Among its many roles, Prague is also a litmus test for contemporary architecture and its ability to enter the historic context.
The compelling attraction of Prague is a thrown gauntlet that hardly anybody would choose not to pick up. However the ecstatic feeling one gets from the thousand years old city is always accompanied with responsibility for its future. The story of every city is open-ended, with each generation writing a chapter. So it is now down to us – what we do with the city and its genius loci.
(text by Richard Biegel, the tutor of History of Architecture and Monument Preservation)