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The paneláks of Prague

At the beginning of this year (which seems like eons ago), I wrote about a CityLab series that Feargus O’Sullivan was doing on the vernacular home designs of a handful of European cities. Cities like London and Berlin.

Well, after a brief pause, that series is back in the form of a CityLab “storythread.” It’s now called, “The Iconic Home Designs That Define Our Global Cities.” In it, he explores the various floor plans, housing typologies, and tenures that you might find around the world. Everywhere from from Singapore to Reykjavik.

The most recent article is all about Prague’s communist-era apartments. Apparently people call these paneláks because they were initially built using some sort of collection of prefabricated panels. They were a quick and dirty housing solution for a city and country that were rapidly urbanizing starting in the late 1950s. (See, prefab works.)

But what I find most interesting about the story of these paneláks is how their reputation seems to have changed and evolved over time. They proved to be a far more adaptable form of housing than you might initially think, going from written off and ready for demolition, in some cases, to then becoming a form of aspirational housing.

Part of this allegedly had to do with a handover from state ownership to private ownership, which maybe goes to show you that architecture and design, alone, aren’t enough when it comes to housing innovation. You really need to consider the whole picture.

But regardless, it is clear to me that tastes do change, and housing is no exception. Renewal is an integral part of urban life. And one generation’s trash might be another generation’s treasure.

Photo by Jakub Matyáš on Unsplash

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