Posts Tagged ‘architecture’


Gated communities becoming more popular

In Brno,Economy,Life on November 12, 2010 by Petr Bokuvka Tagged: , , , ,

There are at least three unusual streets in the northern part of Brno. Although they are named like every other street, and they can be seen on regular maps, ordinary citizens never get the chance to see them. There are do-not-enter signs, gates and “private property” signs. Welcome to gated communities in the Czech Republic. A phenomenon whose popularity is increasing.

The street is quiet, calm and safe. We all know one another. And if, God forbid, something happens and an intruder alarm sounds, we know where it is coming from, says a local man in the middle of one of the streets. His refusal to tell me his name was polite, but firm. His words confirm that the main reason why people move into these unusual neighborhoods is “the feeling of safety”.

Sociologist from Masaryk University in Brno Barbora Vackova frequently conducts researchers in this area. When we ask people who live in these new neighborhoods. They say they appreciate the feeling that they know that when their kids play outside, they are not going to get hit by car, she says.

According to a 1998 study by Edward J. Blakely, approximately 2.5 million Americans lived in gated communities. However, the way some of the gated communities are built differs from the ways Czechs do it. Most Czech gated communities are in fact private streets within an otherwise regular neighborhood. The house owners gave up a part of their garden/plot to have an access street built on what is, in fact, their property from the very beginning.

The installation of gates must be approved by authorities and okayed by the police. But since the purpose of the gate is to protect legitimate interest of property owners, the approval is usually “automatic”.

However, Edward J. Blakely’s arguments apply to Czech gated communities as well. Blakely argues that crime rate is usually associated with a neighborhood, not a particular street. The aforementioned local man had an argument of his own. People who live in new apartment buildings have front entrance locked (or with camera-operated buzzers) and they have special locks on the door leading to the apartment, some even with a security system. This street basically has the same features.


New regulation will ban street performances. Artists protest

In Brno,Culture,Entertainment,Music,Travel on June 4, 2010 by Petr Bokuvka Tagged: , , , ,


Hundreds of artists, performers and ordinary people are going to protest against a new regulation in the streets of Brno on Friday afternoon. The lawmakers meant well: they wanted to get drunk individuals who beg for “some change” out of downtown Brno. The regulation would apply to drinking in public in general, i.e. to foreign tourists who would enjoy a can of beer on a park bench (even though the Mayor of the borough argued that the purpose of the regulation is not to harass tourists, a cop having a bad day could fine them…).

The regulation equally applies to buskers – i.e. to people you can find in every major city in the world. You can’t even imagine some cities without them, e.g. Kenny G.-like saxophone players near Pont Neuf in Paris.

While some cities encourage street performances because they contribute to their atmosphere, any guitar case on a sidewalk with coins in it will mean trouble for the amateur musician who does not beg. He or she just lets people decide themselves. If you like it, your kind contribution will be appreciated…

It is a common thing in the Czech Republic that laws and regulations have unwanted side effects. When a new regulation was adopted according to which it was illegal to hold a cell phone while driving, I found out that the regulation would equally apply to drivers of siren-and-light emergency vehicles en route to accidents, crime scenes etc… The same seems to be the case here… the councillors wanted to eliminate begging for money and they ended up harassing street performances.

The Mayor of the City of Brno (not to be confused with the aforementioned Mayor of the borough) admitted that should the regulation cause trouble he is prepared to amend it… How typical…


Brno. One town. Six street sign designs

In Brno,Travel on May 11, 2010 by Petr Bokuvka Tagged: , ,

Street signs are a typical element of city architecture everywhere. Provo, Utah, for example, has white letters on green background. Bigger cities, like Los Angeles, have street signs hanging on traffic light poles. The most important thing is that the street sign design is unified throughout the city.

In Brno, Czech Republic, it is not. There are at least six different street sign designs, in terms of font, size, color etc (pictured below are only five).

Number 1: One of the oldest designs. It survived the Velvet Revolution probably because the building has not been renovated much, and (more importantly, I guess) because the street was not renamed, unlike many other streets that had communism-related names. Josef Dobrovsky was one of the most important personalities of the Czech National Revival.

Number 2: The same as number 1, except for the color. For unknown reasons blue paint was used for this sign. The number 7 (VII) refers to the number of the borough. This numbering is no longer used, as you can see from the newer signs below…

Number 3: The same street as number 2, named after Frantisek Palacky, 19th century historian and politician. The design is new and the obsolete borough number is not used. As you can see, all these signs are nailed to walls of corner-of-the-street buildings. This is the way it is done in the Czech Republic. Street signs are placed on whatever stands on street corners (walls, fences…). Utility poles and other methods are a huge exception…

Number 4: This is what happens when a building is renovated and it is necessary to have a new sign made. Obviously the person who had this sign made did not care much. Of course, they did not have the right stencil..

Number 5: Sometimes a sign has to be placed on a building from a side that is not consistent with the street where entrances are located. Therefore, it is necessary to add numbers for better orientation… This particular design is the most frequent one, save for the numbers…

These five different street signs can be found during a 15-minut walk through one particular borough…


Industrial architecture and lofts: a huge exception in Brno…

In Brno,Culture,Life on October 28, 2009 by Petr Bokuvka Tagged: , , ,

There is a very interesting building in the borough of Obrany. It is located right next to the Svitava River and across the street from a tram terminus, downtown Brno is a 15-minute ride…

(c) Petr Bokuvka

I am sure there is a reason why no construction developer has turned the ruin into a trendy apartment building. Let’s start with the overall condition, which of course can be improved. But then there is the issue of heating, it is a well-known fact that rooms of this size are hard and expensive to heat, considering the technologies used in this country. Moreover, floods are also an issue…


(c) Petr Bokuvka

When it comes to lofts, experts argue that the target group (potential buyers) is also relatively small… these people would have to have the millions to invest and the guts to accept some aspects of life in such a house at the same time. I might be wrong but it seems to me that in the U.S. loft apartments are for singles — and once they have families or babies, they move into a picket-fenced suburb house. It would not work the same way here…

I think there is only one project when a former factory has been turned into an apartment building: the Moravan project (a former textile factory, I think…). Most of the units are small studios, or one-bedroom apartments… (more information on this project coming up…)


History for sale: a Baroque castle with a unique herd of white deer for $7M

In Culture,History on October 1, 2009 by Petr Bokuvka Tagged: , ,


In the 18th century the United States had presidents and democracy, while the Czech Republic was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Noble people lived in castles and ordinary people often bowed their heads in the presence of “castle owners”.

In 2009 you can visit the website and type “zamek” (castle). You get maybe 30 search results. And if you have extra CZK 120,000,000 (i.e. $ 7,000,000), you can have this:

(c) M&M reality

(c) M&M reality

This is the Zehusice Castle, near the town of Kutna Hora, Central Bohemia. It is famous for its deer park where the unique white deer live! And the future owner will have both the castle and the herd.

According to the server, this early Baroque castle owned by the noble Thun-Hohenstein family was originally a Gothic stronghold. It was rebuilt several times. The English garden featuring a deer park with the herd of unique white deer was built in the 19th century.

(c) Chrudimsky denik

(c) Chrudimsky denik

And now, the castle is in terrible condition, the server writes. Its owners are the heirs of the original owners and they “got it back” in the restitution procedure after 1989. Only the deer park offers organized tours.

Owners of historical buildings often experience huge problems and “fights” with “landmark protection authorities”. They are widely considered the biggest bureaucrats when it comes to construction and development. Even an owner of a castle “in the middle of nowhere” that has been a ruin for decades will need the new windows, facade colours etc. approved…

Ironically, at the same time numerous landmarks owned by “the state” (or municipalities, regions, etc.) have been deteriorating because the owner slash administrator has no money to renovate…


Christian Democrats oppose plans to build a new mosque in Brno

In Brno,Religion on July 27, 2009 by Petr Bokuvka Tagged: , ,

(c) Getty Images

(c) Getty Images

The Brno Muslim community thinks their mosque is too small (it can accommodate 150 people) and they would like to build a new one. The number of Muslims in Brno has been increasing for some time and it is usual in a democratic society to allow religious groups to build their houses of worship. We have churches of all religions in Brno. We even have a tiny Mormon church (or is it a temple? I am not quite sure…).

But the local Christian Democrats, a Parliamentary party, oppose the idea to build a new mosque. Their arguments include the claim that “Islam can not coexist with secular state”, or the “way that Muslims treat infidels”, the Brnensky denik daily wrote.

They may say that but I don’t think that it is going to stop Muslims from believing what they believe in. You may be a religious person who never enters a church… Besides, some things that Christian Democrats believe in are just as questionable. Former Governor of the South Moravian Region Stanislav Juranek told the daily that “the region has its traditions, values and culture […] if I am a guest somewhere, you can not expect that my host will adapt”.

Juranek fails to realize one important thing: the Muslim community is already here and many of the people were born in the Czech Republic and have no Arab ancestors. Does it mean they are not entitled to their religion, just because it originates in a foreign culture? What about Buddhists? They have their temples all over the world…

The idea is  that the new mosque would include a minaret. “However, if the municipality says no, we will accept it,” said a representative of the Muslim community in Brno.


The City of Brno to remove illegal graffiti. It will cost us two million

In Brno on April 26, 2009 by Petr Bokuvka Tagged: , ,

The Council of the City of Brno agreed that the municipality shall pay TWO million for the removal of illegal graffiti on buildings in 22 streets of downtown Brno. This “street art” is probably the most pointless form of  “petty crime” there is… and I would be a loud supporter of corporal punishment. I know the Czech Republic is a civilized country, but a young man who spray-paints his “tag” on a 19th century facade of a building that has recenly been renovated for 4 million (an actual example from down the street) is not civilised. I think this country would use some laws that are applicable in Singapore…


Industrial architecture disappearing from Brno

In Brno,History on March 22, 2009 by Petr Bokuvka Tagged: , ,

ww2_0011Loft lovers and fans of industrial architecture don’t have much to look at in Brno, when it comes to renovations, new projects or former factories turned into places to live. Places that citizens of New York City often turn into apartments with cranes or beams left across their living rooms are practically non-existent in Brno (click on photos to enlarge them).

There are huge demolition works in progress now, just two blocks from my apartment, i.e. within ten-minute walking distance from downtown. It is fair to say that it was not a factory but rather an army facility. And it is a widely known fact that the pre-1989 Czechoslovak Army did not care about architecture. And neither did communists who did not hesitate to turn former monasteries, castles and fortresses into barracks that nobody cared of/about.

ww2_002The place where this demolition is taking place will see a brand new project in a few years — one in which famous Czech architect Eva Jiricna participates. Apartments, offices, businesses and recreation and sports facilities should be there when the project is completed. Any renovation of the former buildings would allow MAYBE offices only. However, Brno city developers are trying to avoid projects that would remain dark and unoccupied at night. In other words, you don’t want two blocks east-to-west and two blocks north-to-south to accommodate firms only.

ww2_0031The loft target group does exist in this country, but the conditions are not suitable for it: there are ownership right problems, certificate of occupancy issues etc. Strangely, many lofts are renovated by construction development companies that sell the loft apartments to clients.


Welcome to my future kitchen

In Personal on February 14, 2009 by Petr Bokuvka Tagged: , , , ,

This is the outcome of my visit to a kitchen studio.  Yes, it is IKEA. But when it comes to kitchens, even the biggest IKEA-haters usually keep their mouths shut because they do not look like assemble-it-yourself



Czech architect Jan Kaplicky dies at 71

In Breaking News,Culture on January 15, 2009 by Petr Bokuvka Tagged:

Famous Czech architect Jan Kaplicky died today at the age of 71. He collapsed on the street as he was coming home from a party where he celebrated the birth of his daughter, who was born just hours ago.

Google News reports the story in more than 10 languages. It shows how famous and popular he was…

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