The New National Library of the Czech Republic

Prague, Czech Republic


Memory and the Modern Czech Consciousness

A landscape with lyrical disregard of European dogmas, which nevertheless define her, but in her own way and with a provincial charm, whose deficiencies are transformed into the mystery of character. 

- Living Parallel by Alexandr Kliment

Czech Stories

To this day, the legends of Libuse, Blanik, and Golem inspire the emerging creative works of Czech culture.  The surreal and intellectual depth of Rudolfine Prague leaks out of windows and doorways onto winding noisy streets. To this day, the lines of Czech poets narrate the little miracles of a landscape that both haunts and charms.

A sensation of infinite browsing pervades the experience of the National Library of the Czech Republic. Arriving at the Staré Mesto Passage, from the moment of encounter the content of the library beckons. Subtexts of Czech legend, literature, and identity highlight key areas of the program. The Passage carries with it all that is Prague and Czech, acting as a conduit of circulation within the Library and into the Park. The mass of the building fractures to allow the user full visual access to the magnitude of the collections – a cross-sectional diagram through modern Czech culture.  A translation of relationships between Czech history, legend and daily experience - a feeling that they are not entirely separate - the Czech National Library houses the collective stories of modern Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia.  The physicality of the Czech landscape – fog, rustic village, and hollow hill – is joined with the stories of its culture.  Reaching out to Libuse’s Vyeshrad, Mount Blanik, and Hradcany the building extends Czech identity, encompassing Czech ways of being - offbeat, bold, surreal, and magical.  The content of the library represents Czech development from its resurgent self-defining efforts of the early 1800's to the current and future ambitions of a country.  The Library is a manifestation of the multiplicity of cultural tendencies. National scholars, skateboard philosophers, and soccer hooligans passing through for a Budweiser Budvar at the Literary Café.

The building organization is like a medieval settlement in a time warp, axes bending into sloping spirals.  The library is a shaken box of villages, “plays within a play”, each with it’s own organic characteristics.  Prague history and culture time travel are micro-programmed into the internal urbanism as a reflection of the ricochet of contemporary information distribution. Promontories and balconies traversing walkways lined with digital browsing terminals.  Abstractions of fortified walls, agricultural paths, and natural boundaries are transposed directly from the landscape of the Czech Republic into the architecture, creating an assemblage of “buildings” and “streets” that support physical and cultural library missions.  The faceted glass Viewer/Voyeur focuses views inward to the enclosed National Archive volume and outward to specific Prague landmarks traversing along a centripetal force field informed by trajectories toward distant landmarks, yet pulled back by the heart of the building. Congealing in localized moments, digital/spatial/social/cultural fusions episodically define place. Carving down into the site and symbolically rising out of the earth with stone, the displaced bedrock of the building intersects with strata of the modern age.  Signposts of the reformation of Czech identity - Masaryk’s vision of Czech sovereignty, F.X. Salda’s relentless literary critique, Seifert’s sublime encapsulations of national character.


I bend over forgotten corners Prague woven by your gloomy splendour smoke of inns in which the chirping of birds is lost evening like a harmonica player makes the weeping doors creak long fat keys lock up indecipherable things and footsteps scatter like a broken rosary.

                                    - Vítezslav Nezval


The Visitor Experience 

A gradual ascent guides the visitor from the street and the park entry approaches, and continues through the spaces of the Public Services Division. The Library opens to circulation and light drawing users into the warmth of the center of the building. Marking the entry at Milady Horakové is a sheltering abstraction of a frozen waterfall - the Reign/Rain of Glass.  A gently sloping 24-hr walkway linking Milady Horakové and Letna Park, the trajectory of the Staré Mesto Passage is protected from weather by the Reign/Rain of Glass that spans the Winter Garden and illuminates the Main Library Hall entry. A crossroads at the midpoint of the passage, overlooking the Macocha Abyss (a Moravian Karst fissure) down into the Universal Collections storage below grade, is both a distribution point and a neighborhood gathering place. An open corner to the southeast invites Letna Park atmosphere directly into a cultural nexus – The Literary Café. Beneath the Periodicals Reading Room, and next to the Parliamentary Library, the Café is a social magnet for the Letna neighborhood, attracting park-cruising inline skaters, politicians, academics, and social critics. A plaza and bleacher seating on top of the café is an ad hoc assembly space with public discourse potential.

At the point of entry a procession of stone stelae, The Bohemian Forest elevate the archival mass and inspire one to ascend into its haunted depths. Stone markers continue to the east onto the reserve area, a space of contemplation. Park circulation and the library’s internal landscape coalesce in a Piranesian spatial hallucination – sheltering glass projections of the Reign/Rain of Glass spanning the passage, the National Archive supported on tilting stelae above the Main Library Hall and jutting over the Macocha Abyss, the Reading Department bridging overhead in the faceted Viewer/Voyeur, and ramping Open Stacks all tracing a journey through Czech identity. Below, an adventure ride down into the Macocha Abyss defines arrival by car.  

Public users enter the Main Library Hall under the heart of the Czech National Library – the National Archival Collections. Glass walls enclose the Hall, which combines a logical progression of arrival functions and casual spaces for lingering, reading, and reflection. The Information Desk greets visitors under a monumental extraction in the Archive volume above. Reference Study Places, Cloakrooms, and Main Desk functions are immediately accessible from the point of entry and adjacent to elevator and ramp circulation routes to the Open Stack areas. Facing the street and Bohemian Forest to the east, Relaxation Zones, the Bookstore, and Exhibition area activate the pedestrian experience at the northeast corner of the site.

Linked by public circulation and Relaxation Zones from the Main Library Hall, the Restaurant and Lecture Theater are positioned in the Viewer/Voyeur with specific connections to external context. Expansive panoramic views of Letna Park define the Lecture Theater’s event terrace. The Restaurant’s terrace projects views of the spires of St. Vitus’ Cathedral.  The Winter Garden shares the publicly accessible lobby serving the Restaurant and Lecture Theater and offers weather-protected ceremonial space for gatherings intimate or grandiose.