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Praguescape: Holešovice in transit

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DOX (COURTESY): The DOX Centre for Contemporary Art reflects the slow transformation of industrial Holešovice. (COURTESY)The DOX Centre for Contemporary Art reflects the gradual transformation of industrial Holešovice. (COURTESY)

There have been many reports about the gentrification of Holešovice in recent months, prompted, surely, by the launch of the DOX Centre for Contemporary Art; there is change afoot in this old industrial neighbourhood in Prague 7. But the transformation is slow. While along the harbour new condos and stacks of future offices are going up at a swift pace, walk just a few blocks west and you will find grimy facades and beer-soaked pubs that probably look exactly the same as they did 30 years ago.

The DOX, which opened late last year, shares its block with one such pub, as well as with a newly-constructed apartment complex. It reigns over the old part of Holešovice without suppressing its flavour. All austere lines and strikingly white walls, it’s like a blank canvas for what the neighbourhood can one day become.

It also serves as a record of what Holešovice used to be. The rebuilt machine works plant, which dates to 1901, still retains some of its original features, namely, its high-ceilinged main hall, which has been transformed into a versatile exhibition space with moveable walls.

The programme at the DOX this month focuses on bridging the neighbourhood’s past and future with a series of weekly lectures (in Czech, I’m afraid) on Prague’s industrial heritage and its new projects, along with a photo exhibition entitled Holešovice v pohybu (Holešovice in Motion), which runs until 4 April.

If you can’t make it to any of the evening lectures, be sure to at least check out the exhibit, curated by gallery founders Jaroslav Anděl and Leoš Válka. It’s well worth the 10 or 15 minutes of the time it will take to look through the photographs mounted along a ramp that runs through the core of the building.

The first half are unnamed, undated streetscapes, black and white photos depicting Holešovice over a span of more than a hundred years.

The second half documents the construction of the DOX. The photos are in colour – unfortunately not much bigger than the archive photos, which are about the size of an A4 sheet of paper. The raw beauty of the gallery’s naked skeleton and vast planes of concrete photographed from a multitude of angles and under different weather conditions – against a solid blue sky or slicked shiny from the rain – would have benefited from a larger format. It’s also too bad that other structures representing new Holešovice aren’t included to provide more context for the construction of the DOX.

Better continue the exhibition outside the gallery doors and watch the transformation in real time. Walk east down Poupětova street and turn on Komunardů. Along this street you will see a former factory for water meters, now an architectural studio that houses Jan Pleskot’s AP Atelier, the plant’s tall chimney still intact.

On the same street, you can also see what was once a Richter machine works plant and foundry, which is now a cabaret called La Fabrika. There’s also a long, one storey-tall building, the former Karel Jeřábek factory hall, which dates back to 1911. In 2005 it was rebuilt into a café and showroom.

Not far off on Dělnická street stands the former K Morsad factory, constructed in the 1920s and five years ago transformed into a modern administrative building. Nearby on Osadní street stands the late 19th century Josef Jeřábek smoked meat works, which has been rebuilt into a multifunctional centre with shops and offices.

Don’t miss the First City Brewery on U průhonu, now home to an Albert supermarket, offices and the Rignier publishing company that puts out Czech tabloids like Blesk and the weekly news and culture magazine Reflex. Construction is still going on in the back of the premises where loft apartments are being built.

The former soda-water and mustard factory on Přívozní is one of the bolder reconstruction projects, with a bright red facade covered with the name Ogilvy in cursive lettering. It now houses the offices of the Ogilvy & Mather PR and advertising agency.

From there it’s a short walk to the harbour, where you can see how far the Prague Marina project has progressed with its towers of flats that line the water’s edge. You can even walk to the narrow strip of land that closes off the harbour from the river, among old warehouses and corrugated boats. Here, you can look at the neighbourhood from across the water and, if you squint, within the patchwork of the old and the new and the just-being-rebuilt, you can almost see the Holešovice of the future.

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