Among the most interesting recent development projects is the revitalization of the former Walter factory at Jinonice in Prague. We have asked Pavel Streblov from the Penta Group, who implemented the project, for the details on the preparation and the current situation.
Aerial view of the area. Source: waltrovka.cz
Why did you choose to become an Aviatica investor on the site of the former Waltrovka?
The opportunity to take over Waltrovka’s revitalization project has presented itself for a long time, since the time of the financial crisis when the original developer got into trouble and had to withdraw from the project. There were more reasons why we decided to take it over, primarily its location and its good transport accessibility and size, which enabled us to create a comprehensive urban concept here.
Did the fact that it is an airplane engines factory with a well-known and interesting history play a role in your decision as well?
It was not a key criterion, but every place with a strong story is more interesting than a building on a greenfield. On the other hand, an original industrial operation always carries the risk of an environmental burden, which was quite considerable in the case of Waltrovka. The site was literally interwoven with various pipelines, cables, concrete foundations, and wells. The original owner started the land sanitation which was co-financed by the state and we were fortunate to continue. However, the site has eventually totally compensated for these problems and we refer to the history of the site in the project, whether in the names of the buildings or the preservation and reconstruction of some original buildings.
The architectural design of the project has been the subject of an international competition, which is not yet common in our country. Why did you announce it?
We announce an architectural competition for most of our projects, and for big ones it’s the rule. Even if we had an idea of which direction we want to take the project, we know that thanks to the contribution of many experts, we’ll come up with many other ideas that will greatly benefit the project. Specifically, an established consortium of architects designed solutions for Waltrovka, which the final project is based on.
Is it important to involve foreign architects in competitions as well?
Involving foreign architects is important because they have a distance from our local context. They have no problems taking on the project more courageously than colleagues from the Czech Republic who have a personal relationship with the site and its history. A good example is the revitalization project of Masaryk Station. Czech architects in their designs preferred a part in Prague 1 and subconsciously perceived the part in Karlín as being less attractive. Zaha Hadid saw it exactly the opposite. She decided that the location around Florenc, where there is a major traffic junction and where two metro lines cross, deserved to be the centre of the project and located the main square right there.
Building Walter. Source: waltrovka.cz
Which project won and why?
The appearance of a part of the site was given by planning permission for Aviatica and Dynamica and was elaborated in the design by the architect Jakub Cígler. We had quite a clear idea about the appearance of office buildings, with the final appearance emerging from the project of the winner of the competition, which was by the architect Krátký. Urban design of the residential part is based on the concept by ADR consortium, Chybik + Kristof ARCHITECTS & URBAN DESIGNERS and Rudiš-Rudiš architects, s. r. o. Some of the buildings are then dealt with separately and assigned to individual architectural offices. Overall, we have always tried to combine the experience of established architects with the innovative approach of young progressive ones.
How did their innovative approach emerge, for instance?
A nice example is the form of the central park. Low-rise buildings are being built in its immediate vicinity, and buildings increase in height outwards. Thanks to this, far more people have a direct view of the park, which is located in a kind of open amphitheatre and is not overshadowed. The transport service solutions are also relatively unique, which most of the transit being shifted on the ring road shaded by office buildings and avoid the inner, residential parts of the area.
One of the preserved buildings of the original development is a functionalist building from 1929. What role does it play in the finished complex?
We wanted this unique object to be put to an unusual use. In the end, we found two tenants, a company called Canadian Medical and Dr Kolář from the Centre of Motion Medicine. On the ground floor, there will be a pharmacy and also a restaurant to take care of the health and overall comfort of our tenants.
The area is large and the expected number of inhabitants and users is actually approaching a small town. Was the project expected to involve the local community? For example, did you take this into consideration when selecting the tenants and the composition of the shops, restaurants, and services?
Yes. We try to make the location a separate Prague neighbourhood. Accordingly, we have also dealt with the composition of the tenants so that the inhabitants have access to all basic services. We have restaurants, shops, cafes, canteens as well as health facilities and a post office. There should also be a fitness centre in the near future. We also try to encourage fostering a sense of community through various events for tenants and residents. We organize markets, Christmas celebrations, neighbourhood get-togethers, and recently, for example, a “waltriáda”, a threesome where teams of tenants and residents competed in unusual sporting disciplines such as running in high heels or throwing a binder. We also launched a community site where tenants and residents can share information, learn about organized events, offer new stores on the site, etc. We are delighted that it’s doing well and that the location lives literally twenty-four hours a day.
Recently, statues by David Černý were added to the premises. Were they already an existing part of the project, or will the artistic decoration of the site appear gradually?
The decoration will grow gradually, but the aesthetics of public space is one of the key points of our projects. We place great emphasis on it – we want our tenants and residents to feel comfortable. In the case of Waltrovka, we addressed more artists. From their suggestions, the one from David Černý appealed to us most, which created a modern version of the mythical Pegasus, with the part of the body being replaced by an engine and propeller.
Will the aviation theme and genius loci remain on the premises longer?
Definitely yes; even drawings of engines from the Walter factory or an artistically engineered airplane are installed inside the Aviatica building. In the Dynamica building, we are considering placing a historic engine right at the front desk. It makes sense to remind ourselves that the buildings are not on a green meadow, but on the spot with an interesting history where so precise machines such as aviation engines were built. We are also very pleased that thanks to our project we have managed to revive this site, where a lively and modern urban district stands today in a place where nearly dilapidated building surrounded by a fence stood only a few years ago.
Pavel Streblov. Photo: Penta