Defunct steamer hits rough waters on river
Gallery plans for Prague 2's Hradčany boat fail to materialize
Posted: February 27, 2013
On the banks of Císařská louka in Prague 5's Smíchov neighborhood, an old steamer ship called Hradčany is moored, its 60 meters nearly completely empty save for a colorful sculpture next to what appears to be a big plastic rectangle on its deck. Though Ivo Slavík originally docked the boat's abandoned hull along the riverbank in Podskalí with the intention of turning it into a floating art gallery, it was suddenly and anonymously released from its docking Feb. 22. Some have attributed it to a lack of safety regulations, but Vít Šimek, an architect working with Slavík, says the ship's landlocked location is temporary and that Slavík plans to return it to its original docking within a few days.
Since 2007, Slavík, a representative of Prague 2's community association Dvojka sobě, has been working toward turning Hradčany - a ship built in Ustí nad Labem in 1938 to tote tourists up and down the Vltava River - from the empty hull it is now into a floating gallery as part of a project called the (A)void Gallery. Slavík says his idea for a multicultural space - with a gallery, theater, literary sessions and a bar that finances other programs - came from a "good neighbor cooperation" with a manager from the Prague Steamboat Company (PPS).
Slavík, who now spearheads the new (A)void project, says he wanted to extend the reach of the existing (A)void Gallery, which has already been hosting art installations and other cultural events on a smaller scale for several seasons. He anchored Hradčany at Rašínovo nábřeží and enlisted the help of Petr Janda, an architect from Brainwork studio, to help with the project's design and concept. Janda says he was inspired by the cyclical nature of the Serpentine Gallery's Pavilion project in London and by worldwide Biennale events. His striking design, scheduled to be the pilot of the project, is based on a dematerialized semi-exterior compiled from uncoated, recyclable steel rods, all swirling into a long, fish-like enclosure on the boat's deck, while other art is to be displayed under it and even below deck.
According to Janda's design, the riverbank would also see a complete renovation: He plans to put huge, circular acrylic glass into the openings of the stone walls that line the river's promenade. These pieces, which will also open diagonally and be able to vary in transparency, patterns and colors, are to act as unique entrances to the vaulted niche spaces inside, where there is to be more gallery space for exhibitions. Janda's design for the floating gallery is to be the pilot design of what he and Slavík plan as a rotating design.
Meanwhile, the aging steamer is taking on a dreary quality. There have been complaints: The manager of the Royal Standard hotel directly above the boat's riverside location, Richard Barcal, says homeless people use the boat to sleep in, and he is concerned to have seen children running around the deck unattended.
Currently, the only life onboard seems to be a steady stream of smoke emerging from the large, boxlike object sitting calmly on one side of the boat's deck. While outside it looks like not much more than a graffiti-covered box, inside, architects Šimek and Štěpán Řehoř charge 100 Kč for a visit to a temporary, wood-fire-burning sauna they built themselves, planned to be onboard until May.
It may be a while before the boat's hull sees any renovation. Though Janda and Slavík have a private partner ready to invest in the renovation of the vaulted spaces and are in negotiations over their cyclical boat concept.
"I am ashamed for those who untied the boat, because our public benefit association Dvojka sobě invested hundreds of thousands of crowns into [it]," Slavík says. "It is human misery, comparable to situations when someone steals from kids on crutches."
Kasia Pilat can be reached at