SHARE WITH US THE ADVENTURE OF CONVERTING THE FORMER ZENGER TRANSFORMER SUBSTATION INTO THE NEW KUNSTHALLE PRAHA SPACE FOR ART AND CULTURE.
The transformer substation building in Prague-Klárov was built between 1930 and 1931 by the Electricity Company of the City of Prague. The facility commenced operations in 1932, reducing the voltage from 220V to 110V and converting the current from alternating to direct as required by the tram and trolleybus lines in Prague 6, 7 and part of Prague 1.
The station, built on the site of some demolished barracks in Klárov, was designed by architect Vilém Kvasnička in conservative neo-classicist style so as to harmonise with other buildings in the Lesser Town. However, the technical design of the building and its facilities was on a very advanced level for the period and implemented state-of-the-art technologies. The station was named after the famous physicist and meteorologist Václav Karel Bedřich Zenger, a professor at Czech Technical University in Prague.
Over time, the technology evolved and was miniaturized. In the late 1970’s, after forty years of operation, the required equipment space was reduced through the up-grading of some technologies. From 2000 to 2010 the whole converter station was modernized and the transformer system itself was moved to a small section in the basement. Most of the spacious building remained empty, posing the question of its future utilisation. Various options for the new functioning of the building were proposed, including its re-construction as a hotel.
In 2015, however, the Zenger converter station building was purchased by The Pudil Family Foundation, with the intention of creating a space for modern and contemporary art. It was later re-named Kunsthalle Praha.
Our goal is to grant the building of the former Zenger converter substation a new lease of life. We plan to transform this cultural monument into a venue for art, culture and leisure. In the same way that the building once concealed the most modern technology behind its neoclassical facade, we now want it to house premium art exhibitions and provide a place for people to meet, relax and contemplate.
The architectural concept of Kunsthalle Praha was inspired by a number of examples of the conversion of industrial monuments abroad which resulted in exceptional spaces for cultural institutions.
In the process of conversion of the former substation into a public institution unfortunately it was not possible to retain the central part of the building due to stability issues and high levels of toxic contamination. During the original construction of the building in the 1930’s, many of the vertical supporting structures were made of what was then innovative aluminous concrete. This material was later found to be structurally unstable, risking collapse at any time without any visible signs of deterioration. Further, the contamination of a large amount of the building material required careful disposal of the debris at specialized sites for hazardous waste.
In consultation with technical experts and cultural heritage authorities, we sought to find a way to retain as many original features of the building as possible, including the heritage-protected facade, roof and parts of the interior. Based on expert research, all elements of cultural heritage significance have been described in an inventory, expertly dismantled and are currently being stored so that they can later be restored and reinstated.
We chose the Czech Architectural Studio Schindler Seko to design the conversion of the building. Their reconstruction proposal emanates from an effort to preserve the valuable architectural elements of the building as much as possible while at the same time creating a gallery space that ensures visitor comfort and meets the highest contemporary standards for exhibiting art.
Bringing in a wealth of experience in the fields of interior and exhibition design and scenography, professor Axel Kufus at the Universität der Künste Berlin and his colleagues from Berlin's Werkstudio, contributed to the design of the Kunsthalle Praha interior. Among their outstanding credentials is the interior design of the new Kunsthalle Mannheim.