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Castle architect to revive Ostrava’s ‘steel town’

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To tear it down or preserve it? And if to preserve, then in what shape? The fate of one of the most valuable industrial monuments in the country – the oldest part of the Vítkovice ironworks – has been discussed for fifteen years already. Now the company wants to repair it and find new ways to use the old idle buildings.

Vítkovice plans to turn the old factory into a congress centre for 1,500 people. A state-of-the-art building made of glass, steel and concrete, with a gallery and a multi-purpose hall, will occupy a giant, almost hundred years old gasholder.

The firm wants to revive the whole oldest premises, the so-called Dolní oblast (Lower area), which is situated in the city centre and has the status of a cultural monument.

“We want Dolní oblast to get a new role – mainly an educational one. And to create there an architectural jewel of not only the Czech Republic, but of central Europe, too,” said Jan Světlík, the owner of Vítkovic whose production facilities are next to the monument.

The author of the congress centre study is Josef Pleskot, one of the most renowned Czech architects, who became famous especially for Prague Castle projects.

Besides the gasholder, the cultural monument also includes three blast furnaces and a historical energy facility. The buildings are situated next to the mothballed mine Hlubina, dominated by an old pit head. The mine, which is the property of the state-run company Diamo, is a protected monument.

According to historians, the whole place is valuable for that it demonstrates the whole process of iron production, starting with coal excavation. Světlík wants to open the oldest blast furnace to the public and offer guided tours there. And the nearby 1911 energy facility is to change into an education centre.

The plan to build a congress, cultural and social centre in the 1921 gasholder has progressed most. More than 30 metres high and over 70 metres in diameter, the tank served to store as many as 50,000 cubic metres of blast furnace gas. Inside is more than 110 square metres of free space, where the new building will be situated.

The centre should be completed by 2013. “I believe, however, that we will finish it earlier, perhaps within two years,” Světlík said. Vítkovice spokeswoman Eva Kijonková said the preparation work in the gasholder has begun already.

Světlík, who is and enthusiast for fine arts, architecture and the history of Vítkovice, says that the economic crisis, which has hit his company considerably, will not hinder his plans in Dolní oblast.

The recovery of the old Vítkovice premises should cost CZK 500 million and is to be co-financed from European funds. The investor is the society Dolní oblast Vítkovice, whose members are the company Vítkovice, the city of Ostrava, and the Technical University of Ostrava. The regional authority is likely to become a partner in the project.

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