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New vision for Albertov Campus unveiled

On August 1st, the project for the construction of new buildings on the Albertov Campus entered the next phase of development. In a ceremony attended by the highest officials of Charles University and all faculties involved, the results of the architectural design competition were announced, with the unveiling of the winning designs from which a final winner will be chosen. To learn more about the progress of this unique Charles University project, we spoke to CU Faculty of Science Assistant Dean of Development Josef Novotný.

Mr. Novotný, could you tell us briefly about the current stage of development of the Albertov Campus project?

In my opinion, the completion of the architectural design competition is a major milestone for the project, although it may seem that the majority of work still lies ahead, especially the preparation of project documentation and the construction itself. When preparing the competition guidelines (directly based on many years of discussion of conceptual matters), we had the opportunity to significantly influence what will ultimately be built. And the fact we pushed for and successfully held an architectural design competition at all is a reflection of our ability to guide the project. Initially, this was not the obvious approach. I suppose that from our perspective, future work on the project will be less “creative” and focus more on consultation and supervision.


When exactly can we expect to see the new buildings at Albertov?

Right now, we will be negotiating with the winners of the architectural design competition on the award of a contract for the preparation of project documentation. These will be “closed” negotiations and the design that finished first in the competition need not necessarily be selected. It will also be necessary to prepare and obtain numerous other documents and analyses. It will undoubtedly take a long time. Even if everything goes smoothly without any major problems or setbacks, the construction itself won’t begin until around 2020 and is expected to be completed two years later. Nevertheless, we should keep in mind that there are many circumstances that may hold up the project, such as the likely discovery of archeological finds in the given location.


What kind of research will take place in the newly planned centers?

Both buildings, the Biocenter and the Globcenter, are designed to be modern research and education centers. The goal is to develop quality interdisciplinary research, increase the capacities and international competitiveness of our current facilities, and to create promising new workplaces and research groups. While the Biocenter will be devoted primarily to medical biology and chemistry, the Globcenter will focus on the interdisciplinary study of various aspects of global changes and their context. For those who would like to learn more about the planned activity and mission of the centers, I would recommend taking a look at the competition guidelines (document no. 001 available for download from our profile) or to visit the project website.


The architectural design competition officially commenced on September 1st of last year. What criteria were used by the judges to select the winners?

In terms of format, the competition had two rounds. In the first round 33 designs were submitted, six of which were selected by the judges to continue into the second round. In brief, one could say the guidelines and criteria attempted to emphasize the fact that, in addition to matters of urban architecture, we were equally concerned with the functionality (structural design and user functionality) and energy sustainability of the buildings. This type of competition is labelled an “architectural design competition” so people often imagine it is primarily about the appearance of the buildings. Experts, including those on the judges’ panel, assured us that this is not the case, and we tried to prepare the competition guidelines so that functionality and sustainability were understood to be equally or even more important. The competition guidelines are set forth in document no. 00 , which is available at the above link to our profile as the contracting authority.


What do you think are the greatest benefits of the winning design?

I wasn’t on the judges’ panel, so I can’t answer that question; I saw the winning designs for the first time at the unveiling ceremony. I’ll have an opinion once I look through the winning designs, but it will be better if you ask me that question eight or even fifteen years from now.


This is a major construction project for Charles University. Which faculties are involved?

There are three faculties involved, ours, the 1st Medical Faculty and the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics. With respect to the scope of planned use, the Faculty of Science clearly predominates. This is also due to the fact that of these three faculties, I believe ours is presently faced with the greatest lack of suitable facilities for research and instruction.


So our faculty will have a large share of the investment and future operations. Do we know which teams will be working in the new buildings and on what topics?

No. When preparing the concept for the future fields to be housed in the Biocenter and Globcenter, we had to reflect the current situation to some degree, i.e. the development plans and priorities of individual sections, workplaces and even research teams. Of course, it’s been stated repeatedly that those who helped draft the competition guidelines would not automatically “reserve” a place in the new buildings for specific people and teams. And there is also the timeframe aspect here. Work in the new buildings won’t begin for at least six years and research topics and personnel are constantly evolving.


The primary purpose for the new buildings is to provide space for world-class, modern scientific research. But the buildings will also serve other purposes. Can you briefly tell us what these are?

Yes, the competition guidelines included requirements for facilities other than purely research-oriented workplaces and laboratories. There are plans for several classrooms, including one large auditorium which should be suitable for moderately large conferences. There will also be a cafeteria, café or buffet in each of the buildings, smaller areas equipped for sporting or leisure activities and other facilities typically found in modern buildings of this type.


The construction of the new Albertov Campus must come to terms with many limitations. One of the most acutely perceived is certainly the lack of a cafeteria to serve the entire Albertov Campus. Is there a plan to make up for the loss of the current cafeteria?

The Biocenter will be built on the site of the present cafeteria. As I mentioned previously, the project schedule is such that the present cafeteria will continue to operate for several more years. A temporary solution will be necessary for 2-3 years. The project manager is currently examining the economic feasibility and technical/administrative demands of setting up a temporary cafeteria, which is one possible solution. Another would be the more or less organized use of catering facilities around Albertov. But there are other issues as well – the Globcenter for example will be built on the site of the current faculty parking lot and there are also several offices in buildings currently located on the planned construction site.


I would like to wind up our interview on a personal note. Has there been anything so far during this entire process that has greatly surprised you, either in a positive or negative light?

Coming into this project I really didn’t have any previous experience with anything of this kind. So I would have to say that I’ve learned a great deal personally over the three years that I’ve been involved. For example, I now have a greater appreciation of the importance of interpersonal relationships; regardless of academic title or professional expertise, we have a tendency to behave like children in a sandbox. Also, I’ve learned how important it is to check and verify information and not always believe everything that others say right away, even if they’re experts.


Thank you for your time.


interviewer: Michal Andrle

Published: Jul 26, 2016 03:55 PM

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