Congress Center Prague to get overhaul

The unpopular communist-era building will be revamped but not destroyed

Few people are fans of the former Palace of Culture building in Prague's Vyšehrad district. Some Kč 1 billion will be spent to transform its interior and surroundings.

The neo-functionalist building was designed in the 1970s and opened in 1981. It has been known as the Congress Center Prague since 1995. Local people sometimes call it “Pakul,” from the original Palác kultury. It already underwent an extensive renovation in 1998 to 2000 ahead of a meeting of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, but still is not up to standards.

Congress Center chairman Radim Haluza said that the building will not be torn down, even though some people would prefer that. While almost nobody likes the current design of the structure, the planned renovations are intended to help rectify the situation.

Prague Mayor Adriana Krnáčová is also not a fan of the building. “We inherited a building from the 1970s … that is not among the jewels of architecture. And we now have to deal with a building that was a product its own time,” she said.

The structure is terribly dated and cannot compete on the same level as other congress centers across Europe. To remedy that, an international architectural competition will be called and the winner will be announced in the summer of 2017. The cost of the renovation will be paid for by the Congress Center.

Congress Center director Roman Ray Straub said that Vienna, Berlin or Paris currently win out over Prague when people plan congresses or conventions. The new design of the interior should be more suited to the needs of large conventions and have a better space for exhibitions.

The halls will be expanded and redesigned. Work on that could start in two to three years and cost Kč 250 million to Kč 300 million. Transforming the halls is not the only step. A new interior is also planned and work is already under way to replace ceilings, trash receptacles and doors. Work should be completed on that next November and cost another Kč 300 million to Kč 350 million.

Several hundred million crowns will go into changes to the plaza outside the building, and something resembling a city square might arise. The south side of the building would become a parking lot, and club that is there would be demolished.

Modernizing the space around the Congress Center fits in with the city's plans to transform other public spaces such as Wenceslas Square and Malostranské náměstí, and to redesign the magistrála road that bisects the city.

The state is the majority owner of the Congress Center, with the city holding 45.65 percent. The state took over ownership in 2014 to help relieve the Kč 2 billion debt remaining from the Kč 4 billion remodeling that took place before the IMF and World Bank meeting in 2000.

Construction on the Palace of Culture began in 1976 on the site of a the Nuselský SK football club. It opened April 2, 1981, with communist leader Gustav Husak in attendance. The architects were from the Military design Institute and included Jaroslav Mayer, Antonín Vaněk and Josef Karlík. It was originally decorated with 150 works of art from then-famous Czechoslovak artists and had a sculpture of a mother and daughter in front, but only the plinth remains. The building was used for communist part meetings until the end of the communist era.

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