It’s the biggest square in the Czech Republic and also one of the oldest. In spite of this, Karlovo náměstí, or Karlák as most Praguers call it, is rather unimpressive and underused. It’s where you wait for the tram or cut through the park to get from one corner to the other, not a place where anyone would linger longer than necessary.
Part of this may be due to the park, which is unkempt and feels unsafe when evening falls – an aura that’s probably been perpetuated by the stabbing that took place here in 2006. It could also be the busy traffic, which slices through the square, as it zooms up and down Ječná, and the trams that rattle along Karlák’s western side. It’s telling that the liveliest part of the square is the tiny pub that huddles on the northern corner, housed in what used to be a public restroom.
Prague 2 city officials want to change all that and bring life back to a public space, which was founded in the 14th century and served for centuries as a cattle market. Earlier this month the town hall announced the results of the first round of an architectural competition for Karlák’s redesign.
The panel of judges apparently wasn’t too impressed with the 22 submitted projects, though, because no project received first place. The highest ranked reconstruction plan got second place. None of the designs will be used as a blueprint for the square’s planned reconstruction; the aim of the contest was to generate ideas for transforming Karlák into livelier space and revitalise its surroundings. Prague 2 representatives say they want to launch the reconstruction project by 2010.
The finalist projects will be on display at the New Town Hall from 23 December to 1 February.
The second place project, a design by architects Vladimír Štulc, Jan Vrana and Kryštof Štulc, proposes to limit traffic along the square and to build children’s play grounds, kiosks and cafes to create spaces more suitable for social interaction.
Karlák’s current layout dates back to the end of the 19th century, when architect František Thomayer designed the park and planted a a row of deciduous trees along its perimeter. The north end of the square near the New Town Hall was revitalised in the early 1990s, an effort opposed by local environmentalists, who tied themselves to trees that were to be cut down. Since then, reconstruction efforts have stalled
The square lies within the boundaries of Prague’s Unesco-protected heritage area, and so the town hall’s reconstruction plans face opposition from preservationists as well as from many locals. So while it’s nice that architectural competitions are taking place and the square’s future is being talked about, it looks like it will be a while yet before Karlák starts living up to its potential.
Kristina Alda can be reached at [email protected]