Two Apartment Blocks in a Small Town

In the present state of affairs, it is difficult to find and conceive important values and meanings that would inspire us and allow us an easier interpretation of the surrounding world and its comprehension. The activities of people change in proportion to the manner that they comprehend the world. For many years, the interpretation of the world has not been presented to us by the church and its spiritual position—yet for almost as long, we have ceased to rely on the interpretation of the world provided by the rational impulses of science. The number of unknown questions is infinite, and the pioneering discoveries of the past have become the banalities that elementary-school pupils no longer need to cast into doubt. The present age lacks an authority that would be capable of leadership through its essential guidelines. Perhaps this is because the self-confident intellectual ambitions of the past century failed precisely because of their self-centeredness and inability to take in what seemed merely “peripheral”. As has been shown, a striking gesture need not always be the manifestation of personality, indeed more of a compensation for internal weakness. Likewise, architecture can grant the possibility of an interpretation of the surrounding world and the present chronological moment.
We live in a time when it is simplest to compensate for the increased demands of our social environment through the ease of consumerism or amusement, matters not calling for the expenditure of strong personal energy for satisfaction. Quite possibly, this is also the reason why art and architecture are now under pressure for commercial success. And yet, success in our lives does not consist of the amount of goods and property, but the method of gaining for oneself the life that best suits the individual person (client or architect). For the architect, this situation is a challenge—yet one forming a motivation to provoke, through his or her designs, the citizens of a given town to forming their own opinions and sensitivities. In doing so, the architect must retain an individual overview; one that elevates the given design above the media-seasoned global architectural schematics that offer guaranteed success.
I am quite strongly aware of the realities of the structured interpretation of architecture in terms of center and periphery. Under the pressure of the media-driven interpretation of the world and its ancillary commercial subtext, it is quite difficult to defend an independent stance and re-evaluate already prevalent thoughts and the (perhaps no longer essential) values linked to them. Architectonic centers protect themselves with tried-and-true names, yet these figures can no longer undertake new, daring experiments, since their consequences would threaten the economic existence of these studios as well as the professional media. And yet, the possibility of a refreshing “spring cleaning” spurred by impulses supplied from environments outside the center could be a valuable contribution for real (and possibly temporarily stagnant) centers.
Many recently constructed buildings, for all their architectonic purity, are, from the viewpoint of global architectural values, at the edge of interest simply because they were constructed outside the territorial demarcations of the main centers. But precisely the independence of such designs could be a source of inspiration for the revaluation of the new architectural orientation of traditional centers of culture. One such design is the two new apartment blocks in Police nad Metují designed by the young Prague architect David Chmelař.
The buildings stand near the boundaries of a small town, at the edge of a boring housing estate composed of monotonous and thoroughly average concrete tower blocks of around twenty years of age. They form a pair of closely similar and specifically built objects; both are identical in floor plan and contain nine small-scale apartments with a floor area of around 60 m2, parking lots, and the necessary facilities. The apartments are intended for two, in the most extreme case four, tenants. The architect has concentrated not only on creating links between the new flats and the immediately built environment, but equally, creating an artistic relation to the surrounding landscape. The town’s natural surroundings are captivating: a rolling, partially forested landscape with hills topped by dramatic sandstone cliff formations. And the design of the new buildings is equally dramatic and visually noteworthy. Rather than being based on the assemblage of individual floors, one above the other, a different principle has been chosen for the building’s essential structure, one influenced by the building’s limited site area. The buildings expand upward, and their surroundings are more open. The concept of organization is based on the principle of the spiral rising upward; around it, the individual flats are arranged along the staircase. Situating the apartments on the level of each staircase landing gives the building its sense of irregularity. The legibility of the structural system is replaced with the artistic conception of an exterior surface; the graphic treatment of the windows obscures the building’s division into individual floors and gives the whole, thanks to the dispersal of window surfaces and balconies, a unified character. To support his dramatic conception, the architect in fact offered the tenants the possibility of deciding whether they would like to have light, suspended balconies hanging from the façade in front of their own apartments. If they refused, they could make use of the sliding glass doors of the residential halls. A further contribution to the irregular tectonics is the free access of one flat directly to the surrounding terrain.
In the sense of their meaning, it cannot be said about these buildings that they are on the margins. They are in the thick of the action: awakening attention through their aggressive appearance and the artistic system used. The buildings’ architecture does not succumb to the banality of the surroundings or the age’s consumerist values. Above the typified gray of prefabricated concrete from the 1980s, there now rises an individualist expression with a diverse offering of individual apartments. The tenants in the buildings have found the possibility to create a sense of uniqueness and personal identification.

Alexandr Skalický
Náchod, May 21, 2005


Blocks of flats Police nad Metuji

popis: zobrazit popis
realization: 2002-2004
project: 2001-2002
address: Fučíkova
investor: Town Police nad Metuji
author: David Chmelař