Sunday, 27 June 2010

Panelák, Hostivař

Heading east from Vršovice towards the outskirts of Prague, art nouveau suddenly gives way to suburbs composed entirely of prefabricated concrete housing. These 'paneláky' - panel-built apartment blocks - were constructed under successive administrations from the late 1950s until the 1980s, and in their faceless functionalism are both a symbol and a reminder of the country's communist past. Former president Václav Havel is not alone in having described them as 'undignified rabbit pens ripe for demolition'.

In the last twenty years it's become de rigeur to paint panelaks in pastel colours to alleviate their grim facades, but the fact is that compared with modern housing, a number of them are failing: poor materials, bad insulation and rusting metalwork can't be disguised, however many coats of paint are applied. And though the newly-mobile, internet-savvy generation may be happy to live privately and anonymously - and despite the proximity of hi-tech shopping and sports centres - these boxes are, in the end, undesirable and undesired. 

The trend in the last ten years has been to develop 'villages' comprising more intimate, low-rise apartments, but although these are often of exceptional build quality and luxuriously appointed, they are beyond the budget of most panelák dwellers. I suspect that these estates will be with us for some time to come.

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