Sunday, 21 September 2008

Ještěd

Years ago an architect friend told me about Ještěd and said it was her favourite modern building in the Czech Republic. She described a mountain peak with a aerodynamic circular tower that was wide at the base and swooped up to a beesting point at the top, and gestured to show how the building adopted the slope of the hill and extended it so that it seemed like the hilltop was built for the tower, rather than the other way round.

To be proper, Ještěd is the name of the peak on which the tower stands, but the location and the construction have become so inseparable now that nobody ever says ‘the tower on top of Ještěd’ or ‘the hotel on top of Ještěd’, they just say ‘Ještěd’ and everybody knows it means the hill and the tower that extends it.

My architect friend is not the only one to have admired Ještěd. In 1969 architect Karel Hubaček was awarded the Perret prize (for technology applied to architecture) by the International Union of Architects. In 1998 it was made a national cultural monument, in 2000 voted Construction of the Century by the Czech public, and in 2006 featured in David Ondraček’s film Grand Hotel.



Ještěd has become a symbol of the nearby city of Liberec and the entire region, and is one of the most distinctive modern buildings in the country. Nosing around on their website, I noticed that the hotel in the tower was offering good discounts for weeknights in the off season. A single room was going to cost 710Kč for a night, which I thought very reasonable for such an iconic building.

My room was up on the sixth floor, where the bathroom facilities are out on the corridor. The gently wedge-shaped room had four tall, narrow windows with curved corners, a natty brushed aluminium radiator cover, ship-like circular air vents and three big metallic discs built into the ceiling. I couldn’t figure out what those discs were for, as the ventilation and lighting was all over near the windows.

One was only hanging by three bolts so I pulled across a table and tried to unscrew them. The bolts were more than finger tight, but by the time I remembered the spanners in my toolkit, I also started to think it was probably not good manners to dismantle a hotel room if you’re only staying for one night, and decided to leave well enough alone.

The aluminium windows don’t open, but the rotating air vents to the side take care of ventilation; O for Open and Z for closed. Not long after I checked in a storm blew in from the valley right to the window. Quite an amazing sight to see the clouds swirling in and twisting like waves as the wind tangled them around the tower. The constant roar of the wind helped give the impression of being on some kind of 1970’s television spaceship.

The sixth floor is as high as you can go in the tower; everything above is used by technicians and other personnel. The fifth floor has the luxury ensuite hotel rooms, the fourth is the restaurant and the third is the where the entrance ramps deposit you at hotel reception. The lower floors are closed to the public and are used for storage and utilities.

In the central core of the tower is a staircase for personnel, and around that core are arranged the practicalities like bathrooms, kitchens, storerooms, staircases and elevators. Then around the outside near the windows are the hotel rooms and seating areas of the restaurant. On the reception level there’s also an enclosed observation deck that runs around the circumference.

The building is unique and it’s probably the closest I’ll ever come to being in the spaceships I once admired in Battlestar Galactica and Star Wars, but the views alone would have made the climb worthwhile. They say you can see Prague on a clear day, and I think I caught a glimpse of Říp mountain on the horizon, but at night, it’s the lights of Liberec brightening up the valley below that give the best views.

To get there, I followed cycle trail #3007 from Český Dub and the #14 from Turnov before that. From Liberec, you can take tram #3 to its final stop at Horní Hanychov and take the cable car from 200m further along the same road. It’s 60Kč just to go up or 100Kč for the return trip. From the same tram terminus you can also follow the blue-marked hiking trail which will bring you to the peak after 4km.

Just watch out for Ewoks as you pass through the forest.

8 comments:

Michael said...

Cool! I've been in the cafe a few times but never stayed the night. Something to do next time I'm there, definitely.

Hopefully you didn't run into any stormtroopers...

Michael said...

By the way, you know Hubaček also designed the hideous (and soon to be demolished) building now owned by Tesco's in the city centre? The Communists did a bit of tweaking to the original design.

Hello Xu Xu said...

That's a great place el capitan, I wonder if there was much contoversy over it being constructed.

Captain Oddsocks said...

Ah, that's interesting to know he designed that Tesco building too. For ahideous shopping centre it;s not too bad-not as bad as the Priors in Jihlava and Znojmo or the Kotva in Prague at any rate,
And the orange tiles, well, they have personality. At least they'e not grey. A bit of a shame to hear it's going to be demolished. What's going in its place?

Xuxu, as far as I know there was no great controversy, but I didn't really dig into it from that angle. My guess is that not too many people objected-it's 8km or so from the centre of Liberec, and I think at the time (1965-1973) the public had other things on their minds, especially after the 1968 invasion by the USSR, Poland and Co...

Michael said...

A new Tesco's, I think. Hubaček's original design was all in glass - the government insisted he used reinforced steel or whatever that metal is. Apparently it was a revolutionary building material at the time.
It's quite sad to see it go, I agree. If you go on the tram to Jablonec you'll pass the old Textilana site on the edge of Liberec. Beautiful it was. Now it's going to be a multi-plex cinema.

Progress...

alsch said...

Great piece. I have been offline for a while (driving from Reykjavik to Prague) but it was a treat to read this. I have been up there during the day but now will have to look into a 'night halt', maybe I will find out whats behind those discs!
Cheers

PierreJ said...

Indeed a fascinating building! A member of the trivago community has placed a link to your post (which is how I found it). Perhaps you would like to also add some images at trivago?
Regards,
Pierre

Kiara said...

Wow!
the tower seems to reach the sky! A connection between our world and the people from the universe!
I would like to book a room there for one night!
If you want to have a look try to go on my website http://europeancities.wordpress.com.

Thanks!