There is a relationship between architecture and society that is in many ways similar to interpersonal relationships. Social values, rituals, ways we spend our time are constantly changing. And the architecture – even the one that has already been built – must respond to these changes and be understanding towards them.
When there is a misunderstanding, you need to take a helpful step, work on yourself, make a correction. Not with a view to making money or trying to show off, but as a sign of reciprocity and learning from a new situation. Like when Prague’s Dopravní podnik focused on the Jiřího z Poděbrady metro station to restore its original architecture to its lost charm and to remove deposits of advertising and visual smog. And that he will hopefully build an elevator there soon.
But when architecture is truly exceptional, it can expect changes, or even co-create them. And that is exactly what the New Stage of the National Theater is like, which is able to follow society and transform itself along with it.
The building opened forty years ago, in November 1983, on the centenary of the opening of the National Theatre. True, the past regime was not a good example to illustrate the metaphor of mutual understanding. As with many things, even with architectural modifications in the historical environment, he did not care much. In order for the new building of the National Theater to be built, several Empire-style houses were demolished on Národní trida. This freed up space for two new operating theater buildings, a multifunctional hall and for underground technical facilities, a depository and a parking lot, which is located under the piazzetta, today’s Václav Havel Square.
The preparations of the project were quite hectic due to the clearly defined date of the anniversary, and the final form of the set of several buildings is the result of disputes and compromises. Several architects took turns preparing the project, who had to follow each other somewhat artificially. It ended with an atypical realization from the Gama studio. As expressive as his boss Karel Prager could make it.
Despite the complex conditions of its creation, the Nová scéna has the best characteristics of late modern architecture. Both the building and the interior are sculpturally but minimalistic. Prager chose a small amount of quality materials – green stone, light wood, glass and stainless steel. He used these throughout the entire building, inside and out. Although the Nová scéna is located in the historic center of Prague and, moreover, by its very nature it is intended to complement the Neo-Renaissance National Theatre, we do not find any historicizing elements in its architecture that would blindly copy the neighboring building. He does not style himself to his surroundings and does not play for anything. It is a bold, self-righteous, timeless building with an opinion.
It is one of the few buildings in the historic center of Prague that I feel respects – even supports – my lifestyle as a young resident of the capital city. And at the same time, I did not experience the time in which it was created. I can go to her cafe Nona for a business meeting and it comes across as a sophisticated professional space.
But when I go there a few hours later for a beer, complaining sullenly about the same work meeting, I don’t have to try to look good and professional – the modernist architecture puts on its lighthearted, understanding face. At the same time, I can take a friend from America to the New Scene and show him how cosmopolitan Prague is. When I want to feel worldly again, I go to one of the current productions – and every time my chin drops again not only from the marble foyer before entering the hall, but also from how the minimalist hall can recede into the background and give space to any dramatic scenography.
On the way home, I can breathe in the open space of the piazzetta, a place that gives free space not only to two contrasting theaters next to each other, but also to me. It’s a place that doesn’t demand anything from me, doesn’t sell me anything. A place where I can sit on the steps and eat my midnight burrito without shame.
Before long, the New Scene of Reconstruction awaits. Like many other buildings from this period. While you are reading these lines, you may be wondering why I am not writing about the apparently more current and controversial reconstruction of the Main Station. It’s not just these two houses that are getting old and need a lot of help. But our current interventions rarely reach their original qualities. Just as exceptional architecture is welcoming to us, let us now be welcoming to it too.
Look at the photos of the New Stage of the National Theatre.