The History of Panelák Housing in the Czech Republic

Prague was recently voted the most beautiful city in the world.

With its castles, gorgeous architecture and cobblestone streets, the Czech Republic capital is viewed as one of the most picturesque corners of Europe where tourists entering in floods every year. 

However, many are ignorant to the fact the Czech Republic is not merely immersed in attractive and charming buildings. Much of its architecture, and where many residents live, is still froze in the times of the communist era, in the form of Panelák housing.

Referred to frequently as an ‘architects’ nightmare,’ the bleak, towering and frankly ugly apartments are a stark contrast to the beauty of the traditional, well-loved, construction of the beauty spots of Prague.

The Panelák apartments were a quick solution in the communist era- they solved a need for quick, affordable, and modern housing in large quantities when the country was known as Czechoslovakia.

Under total government control, soviet-style cities, and the housing developments within, generally featured tower blocks in park-like settings. This explains the enormity of some paneláks, which can be more than 100 meters long, and 20 stories high.

Standardized and mass-produced, urban planning in the Soviet-run countries during the Cold War era was dictated by ideological, political, social as well as economic motives.

Between 1959 and 1995, paneláks containing 1.17 million flats were built, and, although many tourists will be unaware, they still house about 3.5 million people, or about one-third of the country’s population today.

In 1990, Václav Havel, the then president of Czechoslovakia, referred to paneláks as “undignified rabbit pens.”

His criticism of the housing was a response to not only their poor-quality construction and ill-favoured appearance but also their minimal satisfaction as ‘bedroom communities.’

In the years since the Soviet era, Czech architects have worked on paneláks to include more facilities such as shopping centres and schools, as well as trying to add more colour to the exterior designs- and more importantly, generally improving conditions.

The hope is that by building up paneláks with better access and transport to the city and the construction of facilities like swimming pools and churches, the less likely it will be that they deteriorate and become refuge to only the poorest communities.

Currently, they are home to a range of social classes and there is a little social stigma attached to being a panelák-dweller.

Despite many renovations since the soviet era, there Is still concern regarding the unfit state of some of the panelák neighborhoods- with decay being a real problem.

The towers have served their purpose of housing over one-third of the population of the Czech Republic for many years now, but it is important the government does not let them deteriorate any longer.

 

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