No diplomats in gilded cages

In the northern part of Prague , just across the river you find Troja. This quarter is famous for its castle (including the Freud memorial) and the Zoo, and it’s worth a visit not least for its narrow streets and houses with an almost Mediterranean atmosphere.

If you come walking from the “Císařský Ostrov” island, you will notice on your right hand side across the water a structure that resembles a factory, an industrial storehouse, or perhaps a shopping mall. Coming closer, however, you realize that we are dealing with an entire block of abandoned building that would be able to house a university. This is called the Diplomatic Quarter, in Czech: “Diplomatická čtvrt“.

The construction was launched in 1988 and completed three years later – thus just overlapping with the Velvet Revolution. The dimensions might not be impressive compared to other structures, but I believe the architect by all means intended to intimidate the persons walking between the windowless blocks towering above their heads. I know the same impression only from the back sides of shopping malls – and here is a funny analogy between two things stemming from a totalitarian self-concept.

The quality of the building is quite below standard. Holes in the plaster, material defects visible at joists. Apparently it was built for people who don’t pay for their heating. Flower beds, however, are well-tended, the cobbles kept clean. The gardener is still doing his job.

The flats appear to be all empty, apart from few exceptions. Here and there you see curtains, as if the inhabitants have had to evacuate their homes on short notice. A kind of spooky place.

This complex was built for foreign diplomats. The architect Jan Bočan 1 has probably imagined that this would become an oasis where the envoys of all countries can live and work together.

A wide opening towards the river and a flight of steps remind me of a university campus. On the one hand, the manifested ideal of bringing different cultures together in a peaceful, yet artificial neighborhood. On the other hand a totalitarian monumentality with a morbid touch.

Particularly funny are the white cages, attached on top of the balconies. The obvious attempt to create luxurious winter gardens has failed in a tragically funny way and resulted in prison cages on public display. I imagine all the distinguished diplomats sitting in their personal aviaries, flapping their wings. The proximity to the Prague Zoo cannot be a coincidence.

The plans of a Diplomatic Quarter were abandoned after all, and the property sold – in a tender with only one bidder who naturally paid not more than the stipulated minimum price.


photos: author and Wikimedia (train station and hotel)

  1. Co-author of the Prague Main Station in it’s distinctive 70ies-style and the ridiculously beautiful Hotel Intercontinental.