Special Prague–Osaka line. About the Czech pavilion for EXPO 2025 with its co-designers

The architectural competition for the design of the Czech pavilion for the next world exhibition in Osaka was won by Apropos Architects. Designers Nikoleta Slováková and Tereza Šváchová, who met during their doctoral studies at the FA CTU, are an important part of the Apropos team. They both believe that we can integrate technical challenges like artificial intelligence into our lives, but how do we unite society and its different generations? Tereza has long been involved in the Czech glassmaking tradition, while Nikoleta's work deals with the revitalisation of railway lines into cultural institutions. We also talked about the fairness of architectural competitions.
Spirálovitý ochoz pavilonu bude hostit českou výstavu, uprostřed se nachází auditorium. | © Apropos Architects, vizualizace: ZAN studio

You worked on the pavilion with colleagues from Apropos Architects. Can you introduce the whole team? 

NS: I started working with Apropos Architects less than a year ago. The studio was founded by Michal Gabaš, Tomáš Beránek and Eva Gabaš Rosenová. Other great colleagues while working on the competition were Rudolf Nikerle, Kryštof Jireš, Magdaléna Havlová and Laura Lukáčová, who has just finished her diploma at the FA CTU. The whole studio is spread between the Czech Republic, Holland and Switzerland. Together with Michal and Tomáš, we also won the competition for the design of the apartment building Za Papírnou in Prague's Holešovice. And in the meantime, while we were waiting to see if we would continue to design the house, we started the competition for EXPO 2025.

Tereza and I met thanks to my doctoral studies at the FA CTU. Our idea was to design a glass pavilion, Tereza has been working with glass for a long time, she is an architect from a glass family, so we thought it was great to invite her to collaborate. Lunchmeat studio helped us a lot with the design, they participated in the concept of the exhibition and also coordinated us creatively.

Tereza Šváchová (vlevo) a Nikoleta Slováková | © Dagmar Hujerová

The assignment of the competition was quite free and a lot depended on your creativity. How did your concept come about? 

TŠ: We asked ourselves what we can offer to Japan, which is very advanced in technology. It's strange to answer what you are good at yourself. That's why we thought it was appropriate that the questions should be asked by the exhibition itself, and the visitor had to find the answers for themselves. The EXPO as a whole will deal with Society 5.0. What will it be and how will it behave? The Czech Republic has set itself a separate concept of creativity, to which we have added the keyword craft.

After a thorough brainstorming session, the guys from Lunchmeat realized that the motive of our society is not only aging, but also vitality. These are important themes in Japan. We ourselves believe that we can integrate artificial intelligence into our lives. At the same time, however, we realize that it will be very challenging for the older generation, and society cannot disqualify them. We started thinking about how to bring society together, how to bring the older generation into our lives, how to gain valuable experience from them and help them to stay vital for as long as possible. And vitality was suddenly our theme.

NS: Which connects to the craft that is being lost.

TŠ: Vitality, both physical and spiritual, is extremely important. Physical vitality is perhaps better assured through better diet and lifestyle than spiritual vitality, which we are a bit worried about.

Sklářská tradice se promítla do fasády pavilonu. Zdroj: Apropos Architects. | © vizualizace: ZAN studio

Did you choose glass as a symbol of craftsmanship coming from Bohemia? 

TŠ: Glass in Bohemia is a crucial topic for me, sometimes it becomes a bit of a cliché, unfortunately. And at the same time the trace of the Sudeten Germans, for example, is forgotten. I prefer to talk about glass produced and processed on Czech territory rather than Czech glass. The Japanese are very good at making studio glass and we knew that it would not be easy to impress them. The facade seemed like a good place to experiment.

We are currently considering several glass decorating technologies, we have to take into account both the method of anchoring to the supporting structure and the security of each panel. Either way, the motif of the strips, reminiscent of basalt whistles, and playing with varying degrees of transparency through texture or sandblasting is essential. We want our pavilion to shine.

Did you focus on glass tradition and architecture in your diploma project and doctoral studies at the FA CTU? 

TŠ: My diploma project was the conversion of the former Elias Palme chandelier factory in Kamenický Šenov, which the locals call Eliáška. Despite the fact that I poked the hornet's nest and sparked many discussions, to this day this beautiful site has not been helped. I think it's a bit of a mind-set, where everyone is worried about how much money it would cost to reconstruct. But such a large area doesn't have to be completely renovated right away, it's important to start doing something. Unfortunately, in the last week of June, a very unfortunate event occurred in Šenov - a fire broke out under the roof of the iconic front of the Eliáška building, destroying part of the highly prized facade in addition to the roof itself. The whole site is now in a very fragile situation and it is necessary to proceed with great caution. It is still a cultural monument!  

During my doctoral studies, I was involved in the use of other former glass buildings in the Liberec region. In the Křišťál valley, which is a belt stretching from Harrachov through Železný Brod to Kamenický Šenov, it is necessary to support tourism, but also the community of glassmakers. Years ago I had the opportunity to help René Roubíček at the glassworks, and he kept telling me: you must not hurt the glass. I still think about that phrase. We can't let such a tradition fall.

The glass school in Kamenický Šenov can choose its students again, and students from abroad are starting to study here again, which is great. I think it is necessary for people to create an emotional attachment to the place where they live, to know about important stories from their region and to continue the legacy. In Kamenický Šenov, together with my friend and Šenov patriot Radim Vácha, we organize Architecture Days and it is amazing how many people participate in our walks and events.

NS: When I started studying architecture in 2011, I had the feeling that hardly anyone was interested in it. Now, architecture is being addressed even in the tram. I like the fact that even small towns are having architectural competitions.

Tereza Šváchová svůj diplom spojila se snahou o záchranu továrny Elias Palme v Kamenickém Šenově. | © Tereza Šváchová

Nikoleta, were you involved in the university studies with building around the railways and making better use of the potential of rail transport?

NS: In my diploma project I focused on the potential of the Negrelli Viaduct. It was partly a manifesto, because the transport infrastructure in the city is more of a barrier. Around the railway you will only find arid areas full of waste, at best former warehouses used by carpenters or other craftsmen.

During my doctoral studies, I also focused on the Slovak track Margecany - Červená Skala leading through beautiful nature near the Low Tatras or the Slovak Paradise. The line connects a number of small villages that lack civic amenities. I have been looking into the idea of putting services on a train that would travel according to a set schedule from one village to another. I presented the project in Prague with the support of an SGS grant from the CTU, during a ride through Prague in Anna Marešová's T3 Coupé tram.

TŠ: The presentation during the ride was great, I can confirm that. You became part of the concept and listened to the life on the rails in a moving tram. 

Nikoleta Slováková prezentovala svůj projekt Město na kolejích i během jízdy tramvají.  | © FA ČVUT

In Prague, the construction of new neighbourhoods around the railway is now underway. How do you evaluate it?

NS: I think we could be more ambitious, more daring, and connect the city and the tracks more. I feel like rail is still a barrier. But this is a very difficult subject and I understand the many reasons why it's not happening.

TŠ: Just look at the apartment buildings in Berlin, for example. There, the houses are literally glued to the railway, people have their living room windows right next to the tracks. And we are still afraid of that.

Maybe we let ourselves be too constrained by regulations and standards. What standards is the pavilion in Japan actually subject to?

TŠ: Our pavilion for EXPO must meet both Czech and Japanese standards. It may happen that they will conflict in some places, but since the Czech ones are subject to the European Union regulations, we are not afraid that the Japanese will be stricter. Above all, the Japanese partner office is helping us to comply with local legislation and to negotiate.

NS: At the same time, Osaka is threatened by earthquakes or typhoons, so we are preparing the structural engineers for what will not be an easy task. The structure of the building should be made of CLT wood panels. In the Czech Republic, unlike abroad, large wooden buildings are still viewed with a bit of suspicion. Other professions are therefore taking the project as an interesting experience for their portfolio. 

The competition for the design of the pavilion was announced before Christmas and you had to be ready by the end of February. The organisers themselves calculated that all the teams had done a total of 69,000 hours of work. We consider architectural competitions to be the best way of selecting a design at the moment, but they place great demands on architects.

TŠ: A studio must always consider how much time it can devote to a competition. You should expect that you will probably not get any reward and that you will subsidize the design from other projects. I am very glad that the chair of the jury, Mrs. Eva Jiřičná, brought up this topic and talked about it, because she is aware from her own experience how wasteful participation in competitions can be for offices.

Pavilon by měl představit Čechy jako vitální národ. Zdroj: Apropos Architects. | © vizualizace: ZAN studio

In your opinion, are two-round competitions or workshops appropriate in some cases, where architects know that at least part of their work will be paid for?

NS: Workshops are great for ongoing consultation, where you as an architect can get a feel for what the client really wants and still have the opportunity to rethink the design. However, you have to enter the invited competitions with a portfolio of previous projects, which closes the door to young architects at the beginning of their career.

TŠ: I believe that in Switzerland, the commissioning body will invite a few proven studios and at the same time they can give a wild card to a young studio and give them a chance to establish themselves. Another problem is that the outputs of competitions are often dominated by visualisations, which are an expensive investment. With a simple sketch you are unlikely to succeed in a competition today, even if your concept is strong. Juries may resist this influence, but a beautiful image will influence everyone.

We haven't discussed the Osaka Exhibition Grounds. Do you know where the pavilion will stand?

NS: The plot of the Czech Republic is right by the sea, close to the main promenade. The entire exhibition site will be on an artificial island, where part of the area is designated for renewable energy. The masterplan for the site was created by the office of Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto. He also designed the largest wooden building in the world, a circular promenade around the exhibition centre. 

TŠ: We were looking forward to the unveiling of the pavilions of other countries, each team works with the task differently. To our surprise, several pavilions are spiral. We think we must have got the assignment right.


TŠ: The deadlines are relentless. The project phase must be completed by the end of this year. Construction starts early next year and we open in April 2025. More cynical colleagues are smiling so that we don't assemble the last pieces of the facade in front of visitors.

You could conceptualize it. Modern society today is also not catching up.

TŠ: It would be fun, but of course we can't afford that. It is everyone's responsibility to make sure that the pavilion is completed on time and that it looks and functions exactly as we envisioned and planned. It will be months of hard work, but I believe that at the end of it all, we will have a representative glass house.

The interview was led by Pavel Fuchs.

Kromě výstavních prostor a sálu nabídne pavilon i restauraci či místa pro setkávání obchodních partnerů. | © Apropos Architects, vizualizace: ZAN studio

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