It’s tough to get a group of Prague panelák residents to agree on much. Built during the communist period, the prefabricated panel buildings are ubiquitous across Czechia, where they still house some three million people. However, when the apartments were privatized following the Velvet Revolution, their individual ownership effectively atomized collective decision-making. “The reality then is that any building adaptations beyond basic maintenance work are very rare or downright impossible,” say local designers re:architekti. “That’s why we found it very interesting when the homeowners of one such residential block from the 1970s approached us with a fairly general task of how their homes could be improved.”
In the capital city’s Hostivař suburb, the residents of Kobylákova 815 and 816 presented the architects with an open brief: What could be done to improve quality of life while increasing the building’s property values? While aging panelák complexes are typically renovated through simple facade replacements, the homeowners all agreed to take a fresh — yet economical — approach.
Initially, re:architekti envisioned a bold addition to the building’s roof, creating a new shared space. Disagreement among homeowners eventually scuttled the idea. Returning to the drawing board, the designers came back with a more subtle intervention that would expand the building’s balconies into elegant loggias. Residents got on board.
Thanks to a cantilevered structure, the two small balconies that served each apartment were consolidated into a single deeper, continuous space. While the renovation added some 90 centimetres of outdoor depth to each home — accommodating more comfortable al fresco dining — the new welded steel exterior structure also effectively buttresses the building’s façade, reinforcing the aging prefab walls.
Complementing the addition, the building’s glazing was replaced, with individual residents offered a choice of window sizes and configurations, as well as exterior floor finishes. The building’s glazing is now more varied, but the new loggia structure creates a sense of aesthetic unity that carries across the façade.
“The negotiations were very demanding, long, and full of emotions, but in the end, the decisive factor was that the construction work was carried out quickly,” notes re:architekti. Evocative of Lacaton & Vassal’s famed rehabilitation of Cité du Grand Parc complex, the more modest Czech project was completed with a limited budget of just 200,000 Euro. Like in Bordeaux, residents were able to remain in their homes throughout the construction process. And now, each of these homes enjoys a generous new outdoor room.
In lieu of a pro forma facade renovation, a bold new exoskeleton transforms an apartment complex in the Czech capital.