Interview with Pavel Nasadil

Architecture is a service for society

Architect Pavel Nasadil (49)

is the editor of the current Czech Architecture Yearbook, which presents a selection of the most interesting examples of Czech architecture of the last two years, which has become a recognized reference publication and a valuable tool for the promotion of Czech architecture at home and abroad. Pavel Nasadil is a partner at the firm FAM Architekti, which advocates architecture that positively influences people and their living space, while at the same time increasing the value of the given place. He is also active abroad and is a partner at the British firm Feilden + Mawson. He has received a number of awards, both Czech and international, for his work. 

In the media every year there is a call to submit projects completed over the past two years for inclusion in the Czech Architecture Yearbook. These can be new builds, renovations, interiors, public spaces, parks, urban planning, or even artistic objects, an interesting detail or technical solution. Submitted projects can be realised in the Czech Republic, or abroad on condition that at least one of the architects/designers is of Czech nationality. Then, you as the editor have a free hand in selecting the projects that make it into the Yearbook. What criteria did you apply? 

In my case the criteria started to crystalise quite early based on how I see architecture fulfilling its role. In my opinion, architecture is a service for society. It is, to quote Professor Masák, a service to life. Architecture is not pure art, such as painting or photography, but it is generally a collective endeavour that works with the environment. And therefore, I strived to select projects in which working with the environment was a clear priority. The Yearbook is intended for the general public, for leaders of local government, and for general and public contracting organisations. It would be great if it was also acquired by someone in government involved in policy and legislation. There is an opportunity here to present certain examples of how architecture can positively impact the human environment. Architecture influences its surroundings, immediate environment, and the whole community for many years. Architecture forms the social infrastructure.

The first criterion of the selection was of course that the architecture should be of a high standard. But this was not enough on its own. The structure must in some way fulfil social and public interests. So that was another criterion. We therefore reduced the submitted projects, and from the selection was also excluded private houses, interiors and weekend cottages. These are basically standard individual projects and are already well covered in the press and are generally very attractive for publication anywhere. I, on the other hand, strove to select projects that speak to the general public and to contracting organisations, both public and private sector. 

 

You are from the field, a practicing architect, was there any project that was a pleasant surprise for you with respect to Czech architecture? 

The selected projects were not so much a surprise for me as the people who initiated or use the structures, or are in some way involved with them. This can only be learnt by visiting the project and talking to someone involved in it. That surprise always came when visiting a specific project. So I was really impressed by the residents of the retirement housing in Kateřinice, who sold their house so that they could rent a small apartment there, and buy a car and go on trips and spend time together. Their enthusiasm, which I witnessed, and their energy, was much greater than mine, and the architecture was a major contributing factor.

Or the director of a Montessori nursery school in Jablonec nad Nisou who drew me into the Montessori educational concept and how it is facilitated by good architecture. Whether it is operational matters, acoustic solutions, or furniture design, everything is aimed at children having complete independence in making decisions. The adults are basically just observers there.

In Nové Hrady I was charmed by the owner of the renovated former Pheasantry. It is an excellent renovation that was performed by his brother, an architect who studied under the late Jan Bočan. Restoration of the ruin in an old English-style park initiated a general rejuvenation of the entire park, which the owner has begun to take care of. He himself cleared, cultivated and restored the original vistas through the park to what they were in the past. He built a new aviary for pheasants and located a refreshments area with drinks in front of the house. Anyone who arrives by bike can thus take refreshments. The owner is very open. He cultivates the place and gives it back added value, which is exactly what architecture should do.

 

Have you followed any trends in Czech architecture in recent years? For example, is sustainable architecture gaining ground? 

“Sustainable architecture” is a relatively abstract expression. However, if we are talking about environmentally-friendly solutions in architecture and the sustainability of buildings, this is a theme that is resonating almost constantly. I am always pleasantly surprised when a structure is designed with common sense without the need for expensive technological solutions. This means that it has good orientation, it is not fully glazed, and shading and ventilation is provided for. Such building should also handle rainwater well, for example with a green roof that can retain it. I feel that rational, simple and energy-efficient solutions make sense and have a future and a place in good architecture. The buildings I have chosen for the Yearbook handle this aspect in a very sensible way such that they don't really need that much technology.

 

You are also active abroad. When you look at Czech architecture objectively, are we internationally significant? For example, are we keeping pace with Europe? 

No, we are not internationally significant, but our work is of good quality from a regional perspective. I would be reluctant to talk about worldwide repute. We can't even begin to be worldly, because there is such a complicated and bloated legislative bureaucracy here that does not allow us to build within a normal process and at a normal speed. The most recent World Bank report from 2020 shows the Czech Republic is 157th out of 190 assessed countries with respect to the speed of issuing planning permission, with an average time of 246 days! By contrast, Poland is in 36th place and England 60th. We are therefore a long way behind. Until this changes, until the system is digitised and the methodology is unified and simplified, whilst there are two permits instead of one, and until the officials are sufficiently qualified, we will not progress and plans will be created very slowly, and with difficulty. Reforming the planning permission process is also key to solving the housing crisis. 

 

So that we can finish on a slightly more upbeat note, I would like to ask what advice you would give to students of architecture and architects launching their careers on how to succeed in the field of architecture in the Czech Republic, a country with a complex and slow planning process? 

It is difficult. I am from a completely different generation. But what I've always tried to do, and what I think is still relevant today, is to find my own unique way. Don‘t rely on university to turn you into architects. Be active, learn from those you respect, have a good understanding of the history of architecture and art, work hard on yourself.   

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