The best view of a city is from the rooftops. So, with the spring sun at our backs, let’s take a tour of the observation deck of Prague’s first skyscraper, Radost, architect Petr Hájek’s improvised garden atop Lucerna Palace, and the Views of Life exhibition – which includes a small grain field and even beehives – on the roof of the National Museum of Agriculture. We will also take a look at the terrace of the newly opened Technology Centre of the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design (UMPRUM) in Mikulandská street, designed by Ivan Kroupa, and the roof of Stanislav Fiala’s modern DRN building.
Study with your head in the clouds
The latest addition to the list of terraces affording a spectacular view of Prague’s city centre is the roof of the new Technology Centre of the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design (UMPRUM). The project has been in the pipeline since 2012, with redevelopment starting in 2018 and the former primary school's conversion into university workshops completed last year. Teaching space at UMPRUM had been at a premium for almost 100 years. The situation only grew worse after the revolution, when the school lost most of its off-site facilities in the wake of restitution claims. One of the clear advantages of this centrally located building was that it was within walking distance of the academy’s main base on Jan Palach Square. Today, it is essentially a completely new building concealed behind an old façade. Ivan Kroupa – Architect and UMPRUM lecturer who worked on the project alongside Jana Moravcová and Tomáš Zmek – intended to preserve as much as possible of the original historic structure, which was built at the end of the 19th century. However, several floors of the building collapsed during construction work. The transformation of the building is highlighted by a cut in the frontage, offering a glimpse into the centre's inner workings. The techie interior of the building, with its exposed "guts", such as cables and air-conditioning houses 22 workshops, ranging from traditional glass-making to ceramics, porcelain and animation; there are also rooms with 3D printers and a CNC milling machine that can process even the smallest details using digital data. When you enter the building, you are greeted by a stunning foyer that doubles as an exhibition space. A visit to the roof terrace is the icing on the cake. For now, however, that is a privilege reserved only for UMPRUM students.
The green heart of Národní třída
When you’re on the UMPRUM terrace, you’ll feel like you could almost reach out and touch the roof of Stanislav Fiala’s modern multipurpose DRN building, found right next door. DRN is an outstanding new palatial development for the 21st century. It stands at the corner of Národní and Mikulandská, on what was for many years a car park. The vacant lot, which witnessed the approach of Soviet tanks in 1968 and the police crackdown against demonstrators on 17 November 1989, has finally been developed after a period of more than 50 years. The building, finished in 2017, sits on the corner between the 1930s Danube Palace and the baroque Schönkirch Palace. The offices, restaurants, shops, and gallery located in the building are shielded by a glass façade featuring decorative metal elements and walkways that are lined with greenery and, in spring, brightly coloured tulips. Indeed, DRN is literally wrapped in foliage. The rooftop garden by Aleš Kurz is only accessible to the tenants of the offices, so we recommend making some good acquaintances here who can help you to enjoy the generous 650 m² oasis above Národní třída.
The joy of a fine view
Radost is about to embark on a whole new chapter in its life. The former Trade Union Centre and seat of the General Pension Institute was built in 1932-1934 according to the design of the architects Karel Honzík and Josef Havlíček. Incorporating 700 offices into 11 storeys, it became Prague’s first high-rise building. In 2018, it was bought by the Vala family, owners of SIKO, a company specialising in selling bathrooms and kitchens. They plan to restore Radost to its former glory and, most importantly, breathe new life into it. Up to 650 flats designed for long-term rental housing could be developed here, though opinions on the projected reconstruction vary. The Club for Old Prague (Klub za starou Prahu), for example, sent an open letter to the culture minister in which the signatories demanded a review of the opinion issued by Prague City Hall’s Heritage Conservation Department, which had permitted the reconstruction of this building in Žižkov. They argued that the plans for such a valuable building were too drastic. As things stand now, you can already find a cinema and a terrace offering a superb panorama of the evolving lower end of Žižkov and Vítkov. The bar runs a cultural programme and is managed by Prague café owner Ondřej Kobza and dramaturge Radek Motlík from the Café V lese club in Vršovice. The rooftop has a maximum capacity of 150 people, and your ticket includes a free drink. It is due to reopen in May.
The gardens of Lucerna Palace
The rooftop of Lucerna was always meant to be open to the public. However, that plan didn’t come to fruition until very recently. The building, which incorporates elements of the fading Art Nouveau and emerging Modernism and was completed in 1921, was designed by the grandfather of President Václav Havel, Vácslav Havel. After his death, the building was left to his sons Václav M. Havel and Miloš Havel, but they chose to focus on the construction of the Barrandov Terraces, Barrandov Studios and the cinematographic industry. It was not until Dagmar Havlová, the wife of Ivan M. Havel, became the active owner of the palace that a new era could dawn for the Lucerna. She joined forces with Ondřej Kobza and architect Petr Hájek so that the rooftop could finally be opened to the public after 95 years. First for three days in 2016, then permanently since 2019. Today, there is a wooden deck resembling an ocean liner, along with five different gardens (the medicinal, bee, butterfly, bird and party gardens) created by landscape architect Martina Imramovská and garden designer Aleš Kurz. It is regularly open to the public from Friday to Sunday. It hosts concerts and sunrise yoga classes. The terrace is scheduled to reopen in late April or early May this year. Then, in the second half of the year, there are plans to repair the Štěpánská Street façade.
A field and bees over Prague
With wheat soon worth its weight in gold, we recommend a trip to the roof garden of the National Museum of Agriculture, located in the heart of the museum district at Letná. Visit the Views of Life exhibition and you’ll find not only beehives or the perfect lawn for a picnic, but also a field with agricultural crops such as buckwheat, millet, poppy, flax, hemp and cereals such as wheat, oats and barley. The crops rotate depending on the season, and the field changes with them. The rooftop garden can be reached by stairs or a lift. It is always accessible during the museum’s opening hours, and from June to the end of September, it is also open on Thursdays from 5.30 to 9.30 pm. The view of the Prague skyline from here will never get old.
P.S: As a special tip, we recommend the café and terrace in Prague’s newly opened Kunsthalle, which we wrote about recently.