Jiřího z Poděbrady station shines with novelty. All its design elements stand out. From the well-known anodized aluminum stoves by Jaroslav Otruba to the renewed lighting, which restores the station’s originally intended atmosphere, created by architect Anna Hübschmann. The station is again approaching its vision thanks to the fact that the visual smog has disappeared from it.
What would have to happen in order for the Prague metro to get rid of advertisements and see through its entire length? “People would have to start appreciating the shape of our metro. Many metropolises don’t have such a good subway,” says designer and visual smog expert Veronika Rút Fullerová.
What do you think about the reconstruction of the Jiřího z Poděbrady metro station in Prague?
I especially welcome the removal of advertisements from the station area, because I am not from here and I have a problem with orientation in the subway. Culturally, aesthetically and in terms of architectural heritage, but also purely functionally, it is essential that there be as few advertisements as possible in this space. Otherwise, I can’t get out of there.
So the reconstruction is more important to you from the point of view of orientation than aesthetics?
Aesthetics and cultural heritage certainly play a role here. I have experience in train stations and subways around the world. In 2021, I had documentation searches for the Railway Administration in hand, I dealt with them and came to the conclusion that there is no point in solving the orientation system until we solve the advertising smog.
And I also noticed that they treat subways in foreign countries completely differently than we do. So for me, it’s about representativeness and cultural heritage. Investments are now being made in the Readable Prague project. In order for designers to do their job well, advertising needs to be cleaned up.
Tell me more about the concept of visual smog. What causes it?
It is a kind of chaos that has enveloped us in the public space, there are an awful lot of actors and movers, so it is not a simple problem that can be solved in one fell swoop. It features merchants, public administration, and advertising lessors. This applies to operators of outdoor advertising, but also to traffic signs. It is a volume of visually chaotic things that cause information overload and a lot of other things affecting a person’s psyche, his health, his ability to orient himself. It is necessary to solve it. I have been working on it for eight years, it is necessary to face the problem, to define some rules. In the chaos of the nineties, it is impossible to function all the time.
If I’m not mistaken, there are currently no advertisements for the newly renovated Jiřího z Poděbrady station. What effect does it have?
It would require more research on this topic – to compare states without ads and with ads. But there is also a lot of inspiration from abroad, where the quantity of advertising media is reduced and the quality, thus the price, increases. This means that the income from advertising will be preserved in some way, but only prestigious carriers will remain in the public space: illuminated, embedded in the wall, those with a very well thought out location. Anna Švarc, the architect of the Transport Company, takes care of that, and I think she does it well. However, there is always a need for political support and the will of both the city management and the Transport Company to solve this in some way.
Somewhere it is, somewhere it is not. It’s always more of a compromise. It is necessary to expect some ad revenue, but I don’t think advertising should come back in the same volume that it was before. Metro needs better located, better quality carriers. Rhythm is essential. We work with the attention of the viewer, that means quiet areas where there is no advertising at all, and then the prestigious carrier that sounds has value economically and from a promotional point of view.
Does the Prague metro only have a problem with visual smog, or do other European cities also suffer?
It always depends on the cultural context and the priorities that cities prioritize. London’s Piccadilly Circus has been hidden under advertising for decades. At one point, they simply said “No.”, the buildings were cleared, and the only one, the legendary one we all know, was left to advertising.
In Naples, they decided to have the most beautiful subway in the world. Investments are made in architecture, in works of art. Prague has already done that, this investment took place here a few decades ago, we just don’t appreciate the art today. Naples is making this investment right now: and whether we like it or not, some of the stations there are provocative, but it has a value that the city stands for and wants to present itself to. Public space in Naples is horrible, chaotic and full of cars. It’s a crazy town. But the metro is clean and full of culture. And he owes it to a political decision.
Can you imagine that such a political and cultural decision will happen in Prague as well? What would have to happen?
People would have to start appreciating the shape of our metro. In many metropolises, the subway is not that good. It’s absolutely horrible in New York. It always will be. It cannot be improved there for various reasons. A person who has experience with the New York subway will probably appreciate the one in Prague. It will start to respect it and protect it from the spread of generic advertising that is exactly the same everywhere in the world. The situation will improve for us when we can detect that our metro is unique, no one else has it.
Is it possible that the Prague metro suffers from its communist past? We often fail to appreciate post-war architecture in the Czech Republic.
It certainly is. I noticed this in Belgium during my internship, where I was for a year, 1970s clothes were all over the place, no one thought it was a bad thing. In our country it always has a political flavor, it evokes a political affiliation. It’s absurd, but it’s just the way it is. It is our heritage. I am resigned to the fact that when I admire a sign from the 1970s, it will always have a communist flavor, even though I have gotten used to connecting these things myself.
My and the following generations are no longer burdened by that legacy, they are able to appreciate the architecture of the period. It certainly makes sense to protect similar buildings in the future, because the next generations will no longer have a connection to communism, they will not associate a specific design with it. That is why it is worth protecting and appreciating period buildings.