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Praguescape: Pankrác project promises a modern quarter

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City Epoque (ČTK): ECM Reale Estate's tower City Epoque will be 30 stoerys high, the same as the developer's City Tower (ČTK).ECM Reale Estate’s tower City Epoque will be 30 stoerys high, the same as the developer’s City Tower (ČTK).

Like the late Jan Kaplický’s national library, the skyscraper project in Pankrác has been dragging on, with developers pitched against historical preservationists, who don’t want the city’s traditional face to change. It’s a story all too common in Prague.

The project moved forward last week when developer ECM Real Estate was granted a building permit to construct high-end residential buildings, which are to be part of the City project in Pankrác.

In the past, UNESCO was strongly against the project, as was the civic association Arnika and preservation societies such as Klub za Starou Prahu. The main concern was that Prague’s nearly pristine historical skyline would be destroyed. Some even worried that the erection of high rise structures near Prague’s protected landmark zone could cost the city its UNESCO status.

Prague City Hall didn’t heed the opposition. The two towers are to be 80 and 104 metres tall, significantly higher than the 60-metre height recommended by UNESCO. The CZK 1.5 billion project is slated for completion in 2012.

The 104-metre tall City Epoque tower is to have 30 storeys, the same as the neighbouring City Tower. This means both high rises comply with the city’s new zoning plan, which is to take effect in 2010. The plan stipulates that new buildings must not be more than two storeys higher than the surrounding buildings; taller structures need to be evaluated on an individual basis.

Not everyone likes the new zoning regulation, with some worried it will not provide sufficient protection for Prague’s historical areas.

For the most part, however, architects and developers seem to agree that the city should have a modern section, complete with bold high rise buildings. They cite examples abroad such as La Defence in Paris or The City in London. Architect Vlado Milunić, the author of the renowned Dancing House, told Hospodářské noviny, for instance, that increasing the height of projects outside Prague’s historical core makes sense and can help preserve green areas on the outskirts.

Even with the building permit granted, the controversy is far from over. Arnika plans to fight the decision with a lawsuit. But it would be wrong to seal Prague into a historical time capsule. The city needs to evolve, so let us hope the Pankrác project will finally get off the ground. Now if only the design of the planned towers were more imaginative.

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