Tunnel-like vaults house cafes and workshops along Prague’s waterfront

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Architect Petr Janda has transformed a series of vaults on the banks of the Vltava River in Prague into multi-purpose public spaces as part of a project to revitalize the embankment.


The project to transform around four kilometers of the Czech capital’s shores was launched in 2009, when the old quay had been deserted for many years.

Vaulted arches were opened with large circular windows

The embankment area was used for car parking, with the vaults containing storage units. Janda’s workshop brain work helped develop a proposal to create a waterfront promenade that reactivates three distinct sections of the embankment and introduces new public functions.

The completed first phase of the project represents Prague‘s largest investment in public spaces since the end of communist rule in what was then Czechoslovakia in 1989. It was shortlisted in the Dezeen Awards 2021 Renaissance Project category.

A glass fronted retail gallery space is shown below a row of buildings
The glazed vaults are dedicated to cafés and galleries

According to Janda, the conversion of 20 arches installed in the existing embankment aims to optimize the connection with the riparian zone by maximizing the scale of the openings in the wall.

“The interventions merge in symbiosis with the original architecture of the waterfront wall, in which they blend naturally”, underlined the architect. “Using the strategy of acupuncture, they recreate a monumental whole.”

Commercial spaces along the Prague river have pivoting windows
Large circular bay windows can swing out and open

There are three main types of vaults which are each used for different functions: large glazed vaults contain shops and galleries, vaults with steel doors house cafes and workshops, and other spaces are used for toilets public.

Applying a consistent design language and material palette creates a sense of cohesion throughout the project. The architects also sought to combine preservation with the latest sustainable technologies in each of the interventions.

Circular window swings open
The spaces have a domed and vaulted interior

Six of the vaults of the Rašín quay have elliptical windows with a diameter of 5.5 meters. Windows can be opened mechanically and pivoted on an offset axis to provide access to interior spaces.

The original arched openings have been adapted to incorporate the round windows, with new stepped stone detailing at the base concealing the air conditioning units and flood control devices.

The 14 vaults of the Hořejší quay feature sculptural steel entrances that visually connect the vaults to the riverside area.

Some of them house public restrooms and feature curved walls that extend inwards to direct visitors to the facilities, forming partitions that seamlessly integrate the cabin doors.

A mirrored counter reflects the Prague waterfront
Interiors have been kept to a minimum to allow tenants to adapt the space accordingly

A standardized system has been developed to manage all the technical services needed inside the vaults. This includes integrated air conditioning and heating, which are concealed in the walls and floors.

A versatile, freestanding piece of furniture has also been created to allow the vaults to adapt to different uses. This modular unit can be moved around spaces, acting as a bar counter in cafe vaults or a reception counter for galleries.

The interior of the arches along the prague waterfront has a gray concrete finish
The circular window follows the shape of the interior space

Brainwork helped oversee the layout of each vault to ensure the overall architectural vision was maintained, while allowing each tenant the freedom to tailor the space to their needs.

During the restoration process, interior walls were insulated and refinished, and a uniform palette was applied throughout all spaces to maintain consistency. Each vault features sandblasted concrete walls and ceilings, cast concrete floors, and monolithic cast concrete staircases.

Toilet cubicles are zoned by a curved metal wall
A curved metal wall leads visitors to the public toilets

Doors and hatches are finished in blackened steel, while black titanium coated stainless steel creates reflective surfaces in some of the vaults that evoke the ever-changing surface of the river.

Future phases of the revitalization project will include the design of street furniture, freestanding toilets, a floating swimming pool and a floating terminal for cruise ships, as well as the completion of the remaining vaults.

A door reflects the surrounding room
Reflective metallic finishes have been used throughout to replicate nearby water

Other Czech projects shortlisted in the renaissance category for this year’s Dezeen Awards include a Chybik + Kristof bus station and a Corten tourist route around a castle, designed by Atelier-r.

The photograph is from BoysPlayNice.

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