Blob library back on the table

The National Library is once again looking to expand

The Blob is back. The National Library system is again looking for a new place to expand to, as its current facility at the Klementinum is practically full. The widow of architect Jan Kaplický is trying to revive interest in his unbuilt plan by offering it to the library for free.

Kaplický's proposal won an architectural competition in 2006 and was supposed to be built on Letná plain, with a stated completion date of 2012.

The modern design was compared by the public and the media to a giant octopus and dubbed “the Blob.” Leading politicians including then-president Václav Klaus and Prague's then-mayor Pavel Bém were critical of the proposal. The plan was abandoned in 2008. Kaplický died in January 2009. No other plan was ever put forward.

The library obtains about 100,000 new volumes each year. The books are now stored in the Klementinum, which is being renovated to increase its capacity, and in a storage facility in Hostivař. They should reach their capacity by 2044.

Martin Kocanda was appointed a director of the National Library (NK) in May. He said he would like to see the historical parts of the Klementinum to continue to be used along with a new building.

One issue is that currently some 300,000 books per year are moved between the Klementinum and Hostivař, a 45 minute trip. A new location closer to the center would reduce the need for such trips, this saving time and costs, as well as making books more accessible.

Kaplický's widow, Eliška Kaplický Fuchsová is still hopeful the Blob will be built. “As the copyright owner, I want to donate this project to the Czech Republic for free,” Kaplický Fuchsová said, according to daily Mladá fronta Dnes.

“It would be a shame if the finances, the effort and the time spent on the project were unsuccessful,” she added. There is still a valid permit for land use, she states.

Library director Kocanda did not dismiss the idea, but he had some reservations. “Everything is still in the thinking stage,” he said.

There were many factors to consider, though, including how it fits in with the architecture of Prague and the availability of transportation.

The Prague Institute of Planning and Development (IPR) should be involved in selecting a suitable location, he added.

It is possible that once a new site is chosen and new conditions are set, another competition for a library design will be held.

One potential problem for reviving the plan to build the Blob is that it did not fulfill all the specifications of the original contest. The Court of Appeals decided in 2015 that the winning proposal should have been excluded for failure to comply with the competition conditions, and the Supreme Court upheld the decision. A total of Kč 3 million has to be paid to the losing architects to make up for the differences in prize money once the winner was excluded.

The Blob has made several appearances. A small version of its facade was incorporated into a bus stop in Brno and a video-mapping of its shape was projected onto a tent in 2015 during the Letní Letná theater festival in Prague's Letná park, not far from the originally planned building site.

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