LOXIA designed a stylish and functional town hall
Ing. arch. Jana Mastíková graduated, in 2012, from architecture and urbanism at the Faculty of Architecture at VUT in Brno. Since 2014, she has worked in the LOXIA studio where she worked her way up to the post of chief architect.
LOXIA has been in operation for a quarter of a century and their portfolio includes almost two hundred realizations of various types of projects, from family houses, housing blocks and polyfunctional buildings through reconstruction of historical buildings, construction of civic amenities to industrial and public premises.
LOXIA means a curve in Latin. For one thing, it sounds lovely but I also think that it bears a bit of a secret. A curve is something of grace and elegance from a freely drawn line yet it has a mathematical and logical justification. The name represents that which LOXIA tries for: thought-out, functioning yet free and creative architecture.
Can you briefly introduce the studio?
LOXIA comprises architects and engineers. There are 50 of us there. It is a functioning formation of creative and technically skilled people. We don’t only want to design buildings and look at nice visualisations. We primarily want to build. And this cannot be done without technical knowledge, without searching optimal solutions and sometimes without compromise. That means that the architects and engineers at LOXIA are some kind of joined hands that create architecture and construct buildings together.
Isn’t it sometimes a bit lively between the two parties?
I am an architect and the engineer is my partner, sometimes as opponent. We respect our field’s philosophy. Architects can be creative but there must still be some rational basis to it. And that is why we have engineers, in order not to let our imagination run riot, in order not to promise our clients, developers and investors some pipe dream instead of reality. We work for people who keep their feet on ground and who expect the same from us. We can have our heads in the clouds but there must be some connecting line between the clouds and the ground.
You install modern technologies in your projects. However, the economy is eventually what plays the main role. How do you manage to persuade the client which is the right direction?
With regards to the fact that the approval process usually takes between five to ten years in our country, we are already designing for the future. The technologies we now plan in our projects can be obsolete when it is completed. We, therefore, look at it from different points of view: We do have an investor and a client, but then there are people who are actually going to live or work in the building. If the investor wants to build cheaply, the maintenance and consequence upkeep will then be more costly. We are trying to find some balance between the two. Engineers make sure that the construction is optimal from a technical and economic point of view and we, the architects, make sure it fulfils the required function and can still be beautiful. Technology development progresses incredibly quickly. The projects that are nowadays being built were drawn up some 10 years ago when no one, for instance, expected such a boom in the field of electric cars. So, we are trying to retrospectively implement various smart solutions, equipment for the utilization of grey water, photovoltaic and others. The building is alive so we cannot just draw it now and then completely shut it away from new development. There are always new materials, new technologies, new economic conditions to come up with. There are many buildings that we designed as brick ones. However, it eventually needed to be redesigned, for instance from monolithic concrete, due to a lack of qualified labour. The process simply never ends.
With regards to lengthy approval processes, it is impossible to change some projects much, especially within the state and public sectors. Technologies installed there are already past their prime at the time of their final building approval. Isn’t that a shame?
Some projects are luckier than others. We, for instance, have one lucky one – the new town hall for Prague 12 – Modřany. The population of this Prague district is 60,000 people, just like Kladno or mostly where they have interesting town halls. It was an enormous task but it will really be a very lucky and happy building! Prague 12 tendered a design and build project, which prevented lengthy delays. We started working on the project at the end of 2016, now it is under construction and is to be inaugurated in April 2021. It is a miracle, because under Czech conditions, a building has to be built within five years! For me, it represents the symbol of a genuine public building, which is wonderful. Modřany is a very specific city district – on one side, there are villas and family houses and on the other side is a housing development. We were trying to create something that would somehow join the two different worlds together. We have managed to include all the attributes that the building of a town hall should have and act as its symbol. A clock, a tower, a gathering area, a ceremonial hall, an entrance hall across two storeys… We have managed to include all that within a relatively tight budget. The council of Prague 12 decided to build an austere, yet elegant, functional and a sort of monumental building and I think that it is a good thing.
Where do you see the genius?
I say the townhall comes with a tower but it’s actually not there. In the past, town halls had towers because the clocks needed to be visible from all directions. People didn’t wear watches and had to look out from their windows to see the time. We naturally have the clock but it is basically only indicated in a line that is to be lit – and the tower will thus stand out. I like that, putting such niceties into a project…
Can you mention other projects you are working on?
This year, we have achieved final building approval on the Chateau Troja project situated within the immediate vicinity of Troja chateau. The project comprises housing blocks, a mix of reconstruction and newly constructed buildings. It is the top standard housing where a new complex emerged within an area of a former lordly manner. Several buildings from the 17th century were preserved but were in a disastrous condition after the 2002 floods. LOXIA attended to this project over the long term, since 2007. The project got both planning and building permits and then actually ‘fell asleep’. When I joined the company in 2014, it was revived after the previous crisis. So, I spent a relatively long time with the project in the second half of its life. It is remarkable that someone mustered the courage to put both resources and time into it. And it is the reason why the preserved Baroque sights, where some needed to be completely taken apart and reassembled, are to remain here for future generations. But it would be impossible to only preserve the sights and not build anything new as the new partially finances the revitalization of the old. Another very nice housing project is in Smíchov, in the mouth of the railway bridge by Strakonická Street. The aim is to build a part of the street there. It is extremely interesting. Once again, we are under the scrutiny of conservationists as Smíchov is a protected heritage zone. We are only building one relatively large building there. We decided to analyse Smíchov’s blocks of flats, their proportions, resulting in the dividing of the long building into five. That means that we are actually coming up with five buildings, five different façades. Sort of 5in1 with services within its parterre.
Would you like to mention another project?
Yes, I would. We are preparing a nursery school in Modřany. When I went there for the first time, the plot looked like a jungle. I thought to myself that we should retain it. That it is a mysterious garden… We placed the nursery there in such a way as to retain as much vegetation as possible, so that the building blends well with the jungle. It will be a kind of an ecological nursery, sensitively embedded amongst the trees, with animals grazing on the roof. It will simply be different…
What is it like when you see the building finished as per your project?
Architects come up with something, the engineers build it and someone lives there. We (architects and engineers) will probably be forgotten but people will continue living there – and the building will either keep them happy or annoy them. I myself go to see our projects. I just sit down and watch the people function there. Today, it is also possible to follow it on social network. There are already several thousand people living in Suomi Hloubětín and when you follow their discussions, you understand things. It’s not that I would be going there asking them physically.
Nowadays, architects don’t only deal with just the building but mostly also with comprehensive preparation of the area. Can you see some sort of progress from this point of view?
I think it improved incredibly. I have been involved in architectural studios for 10 years. At that time, they didn’t deal with public areas and we would probably find it difficult to persuade an investor to invest their money into some park as it creates added value. Today, this comes as standard. And that is a good thing because the town needs to be cultivated… We try to do so and I think that we also paid attention to it in the past. Urbanism always needs to be at the start: To decide where to place the structures. The façade and windows can be fixed but if you positioned the building wrongly, one would overshadow the other, an entrance would be put somewhere where no one would ever enter… how would it actually work? It is like opening a baker’s in a place where nobody goes… Poor baker! I find these the functional attributes of a city and public area. What the buildings look like is also important but it is secondary. As we work on relatively large complexes, we always consider the positioning of the building primary as it is invariable. If it is placed badly, it’s wrong.
So, it is not only about ‘designing a building’…
It is necessary to analyse the market and the environment. You must take into consideration whether the building is primarily intended for families with children or whether it is rather to serve workaholics who only come there to spend the night. That is what the concept is then adjusted to: A family with children will appreciate an inner block with playground where everybody meets, children have a trampoline, parents join in the barbeque and the whole place works as a community. But a housing block situated somewhere in the centre, near Anděl within the vicinity of the underground, will be attractive for people who are always on the go. Those won’t have barbeques in the garden. Those will pop over the street to a garden grill. They live in a slightly different way and we often discuss this with the investors. There is a relatively high number of foreign investors in the Prague market. They hire a local architect so that he discloses the local life to them – that is where his added value lies as each nation comes with their own specifics. There is no universal cookbook of a residential project that would work all over the world.
How do you prepare the projects when you want to beat the competition?
Most of what we now design is in BIM, which I consider revolutionary in design, just as it was when we moved from a draft board to computer. The townhall in Modřany, for instance, is in BIM, basically from documentation all the way to the planning permit. We have already been through several projects designed in BIM. It is a very sophisticated method. It allows you to define various details, properties and information so the investor and/or the user knows exactly where everything is to be and what it is to look like. You can’t miss anything in BIM…
You come from Pardubice, studied in Brno and now work in Prague… Can you see certain differences?
I think that, in comparison with Brno, Prague is a metropolis. I studied in Brno because the local school and people who taught there then made a better impression on me. I like functionalism that pervades everything in Brno but I always wanted to work in Prague. I wanted to do that ‘big urbanism’. I like versatility and I am glad that there is no project we would be afraid getting into in LOXIA!
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