The vast reconstruction of the Prague National Theatre, which took place between 1977 and 1983, enabled the ambitious urbanistic task of creating a new edifice to be built in the area between the National Theatre and the St Ursula convent. The area used to be occupied by a complex known as Kaur’s Houses (Kaurovy domy in Czech): three Classicist houses which defined the orientation of the National Avenue towards the river, the bridge, the theatre. By the end of the 1950’s, these collapsing houses had to be demolished and the thus newly available space started challenging architects. The need for a fundamental reorganization of the area had actually been on the agenda for a long time, discussions were being held since the early 1920’s about the use of this place. Starting in the 1920’s, several waves of architectural competitions took place, while their clauses kept changing. The last one took place at the turn of the 1950’s and it was won by the architect Bohuslav Fuchs, who submitted his project – together with his co-workers – in 1966. After Fuchs’ death, the copyrights passed on to the State Institute for the Protection and Conservation of Monuments and Sites, whose employee Pavel Kupka was charged with the completion of the project. It was eventually approved for execution in 1976. The open space was supposed to welcome three new buildings: the theatre’s management building, a restaurant and right on the National Avenue, a building including a reception hall.
In 1980, while the reconstruction of the historical building of the National Theatre and mainly the construction of the new buildings was well under way, the project was suddenly re-evaluated. The decisive input came from scenographer Josef Svoboda, who had been for some time struggling to obtain a building exclusively for the troupe of the Laterna magika. Svoboda managed to instigate a critical discussion about the use of the new building and the result was a major modification of the whole project. The new task was entrusted to Josef Svoboda and Zdeněk Kuna, but Karel Prager was also charged with the same assignment.
Svoboda came with a project that respected the floor plan of the already partially built building and that suggested its rearrangement for the ensuing use by the Laterna magika; whereas Prager’s project focused on multifunctionality and space flexibility. On the 6th of October 1980, the Communist Council for the layout of the built-up area near the National Theatre chose Svoboda’s and Kuna’s proposal, who however asked for the postponement of the deadline, so as to be able to complete the newly drawn up ambitious project. This demand was not to the liking of the communist party’s municipal committee that held the floor when it came to the final decision concerning the project, and that insisted on the originally set date for the completion of the works on the 18th of November 1983. Karel Prager was hence entrusted with the execution of his proposal. The details of the project together with the interior arrangements were completed in a hurry during the construction works, which had to be finished in less than a year and a half.
This is how the New Stage was created. Ever since its completion it has become one of the most talked-about buildings in Prague and it was given more than one sarcastic nickname. The building, which cocksurely overlooks the National Avenue, was placed in the neo-Renaissance mouth of the street bluntly and without ceremony. It is composed of two parts: the one lying against the Baroque convent is discreet, transparent, with a smooth coat of solar-control glazing. The other part rises on massive pillars, between which a passage opens onto the theatre piazzetta. From the first floor up it displays a particularly unconvential architecture: its warped shape is beveled at the bottom, at the top and on the corners and it is paneled with over four thousand shaped pieces designed by Stanislav Libenský. These glass pieces that create the characteristic aspect of the New Stage have diverse shapes, and placed together they create a huge relief. The whole building becomes actually a peculiar sculpture; it is the unique example of such a use of glass.
Karel Prager (1923-2001) was born in Kroměříž. In 1949 he graduated from the Faculty of architecture at the Czech Technical University (České vysoké učení technické in Czech) in Prague, where his most famous constructions can be seen. The most prized one is the building of the Research Institute of Macromolecular Chemistry of the Czech Academy of science in Břevnov, which was listed as a cultural heritage site in 2000. His other constructions in Prague are not as univocally accepted. Some hate them, some are fascinated by them, whether it be for instance the former Parliament building or the building of the Komerční banka in Smíchov in the shape of a truncated pyramid. One of his latest works is the housing complex U Kříže in Jinonice, which received the title Best Construction of the year in 1999. This architect, known for his fantastic vitality and an incredible passion for his commissions, was awarded the Prize for life achievement from the Community of architects shortly before he passed away.