Prague may go on UNESCO's endangered list

Highrise buildings may cause the city to lose its World Heritage designation

The historical center of Prague has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992. But that designation can be taken away if conditions change. Outside of the historical center, there is designated protection zone where changes to the visible architecture are also taken into account.

UNESCO is concerned about planned construction in Pankrác and the growing sprawl of high-rise buildings. Prague could be put on the list of monuments in danger this year, according to daily Pražský deník, if tall buildings spread.

The fear is not without reason. Earlier this year, Vienna was put on the list of sites in danger due to highrise buildings, specifically because of a modern project near the famous 19th-century Stadtpark. The new project will rise to 66.3 meters, already reduced from 75 meters. UNESCO urges a 43-meter height limit in the Vienna city center. If Viennese officials do not address the concern, the city could be removed from the World Heritage list.

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee has warned Prague that it could end up on UNESCO's list of endangered monuments due to its approach to the construction of high-rise buildings. The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), UNESCO's principal adviser on cultural heritage issues, in opposed to the planned construction of more residential towers in Pankrác.

“The height of buildings is starting to have a cumulative effect,” Josef Štulc, deputy chairman of the Czech ICOMOS committee said, according to Pražský deník.

“The planned project Rezidence Park Kavčí Hory is another big step because it lies outside the so-called 'pentagon,' and the ridge of high-rise buildings would stretch toward Vyšehrad.” he added. The pentagon refers to an area bordered by five streets in Pankrác — Hvězdova, Na Pankráci, Na Strži, Milevská and Pujmanové — that already has tall buildings visible from the city center. These buildings include City Tower, the second-tallest building in the country. The tallest is in Brno.

In the spring, the world secretariat of ICOMOS examined the situation at Pankrác after the construction of the 104-meter high residence called V Tower, which is inside the pentagon. They found the proposed projects outside the pentagon to be more concerning.

Mechtild Rössler, director of the UNESCO World Heritage Center, has stated concern about the possible damage to the Prague panorama by the spread of high-rise buildings.

Prague, in a regular report for UNESCO in 2014, made the commitment that high-rise buildings would not go beyond the pentagon, Štulc said.

Central Group, the developer of Rezidence Park Kavčí Hory, said it has already lowered the planned height from the original 72 meters to 68 meters. They say this meets the UNESCO rules for Pankrác. Experts from ICOMOS oppose housing towers anywhere outside the agreed pentagon, so the height is not relevant at all, according to them.

Concerns over the spread of highrise buildings were also raised by UNESCO in 2011, but the organization was satisfied in 2012 that steps were being taken to address the situation. In 2010 the poor quality of the restoration of Charles Bridge was also discussed by UNESCO. The Czech side agreed to take conservation into better account in the future.

The Prague Institute of Planning and Development (IPR) does not see a problem with tall buildings and counts on projects up to 80 meters in the draft of the new Metropolitan Plan, with projects considered on an individual basis. The IPR says it has a system in place to protect the reserve area.

ICOMOS's Štulc, however, says the city should take what is happening in Vienna as a warning, and not take any steps from which there is no turning back.

There are currently 54 endangered UNESCO sites, with three in Europe. Aside from the historic center of Vienna, these include medieval monuments in Kosovo and the historic center and docks of Liverpool.

Liverpool became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004. The city is planning highrise buildings as part of a plan to redevelop its docks. Critics call the redevelopment plan “urban vandalism.” Those in favor say nobody comes to Liverpool and asks to see the UNESCO certificate, instead they are looking for a vibrant city.

The medieval monuments in Kosovo have been listed as endangered since 2006 due to problems with conservation.

Removal from the UNESCO list is not an idle threat. “The World Heritage Committee decided to remove Germany's Dresden Elbe Valley from UNESCO's World Heritage List due to the building of a four-lane bridge in the heart of the cultural landscape, which meant that the property failed to keep its 'outstanding universal value as inscribed,'” UNESCO announced in 2009.

Oman's Arabian Oryx Sanctuary was the first site to be removed from UNESCO's World Heritage list in 2007. It had been listed since 1994. The government had reduced the sanctuary by 90 percent after oil had been found at the site, and asked for the removal. Only four breeding pairs of oryx were left at the time the designation ended.

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