Erick van Ereraat
Rotterdam, 11-07-08 Architect Erick van Ereraat

Merging old with new

Erick van Egeraat opens architecture exhibit in Old Town

Dutch architect Erick van Egeraat has had an office in Prague since 1999, but his building creations are mostly found elsewhere around Europe. Despite this, the Czech capital is still a huge source of inspiration for van Egeraat, who attributes much of his creative energy to the Golden City’s dazzling blend of old and new.

“You can love a city like Prague, but you can never recreate it,” van Egeraat explains. “The city of Prague can live without me.”

Whether he can live and create without a city like Prague, with its wealth of architectural treasures, is less certain. The inspiration he finds here, along the city’s cobbled side streets and byways, has heavily influenced his work, which can be seen from London to Moscow and plenty of places in between.

And so, in an effort to give something back to the city from which he’s drawn so much, van Egeraat recently opened an exhibit at Prague’s Jaroslav Fragner Gallery, known for its dedication to architectural art. Van Egeraat’s current and previous work will be on display there until Oct. 14.

The exhibit, simply titled “Designed by Erick van Egeraat,” includes sketches, images within laser-engraved cubes, and high-definition projections of his projects.

“I think it’s a part of the work of architects that they have an opportunity to do an exhibition,” says Jana Moravcová, an architect with van Egeraat’s Prague office. “They do it with pleasure. It’s a good contact with the public, clients and other architects.”

Indeed, van Egeraat says it is important to reflect upon past and present works and also to get feedback from others.

“It’s good to show people what we are doing here,” he says, of a place and people whose architectural history fuels his own creative future.

Van Egeraat describes his designs with such contradictory adjectives as “loud, quiet, elaborate and silent.” His buildings tend to look like images from a geometry class gone wild, with angles and colors coming together in off-kilter shapes and spaces. These qualities don’t always earn him bids, he admits, but the finished results of his work ensure a new look for the cities that choose to add one of the Dutch architect’s pieces to their landscapes.

Van Egeraat, who is based in Rotterdam but tries to make it to Prague at least once every three weeks, opened a studio here in the late ’90s because his company — Erick van Egeraat Associated Architects — was doing a lot of work in Hungary, Germany and Poland and needed an office that was an equal distance from all three cities. Around the same time, van Egeraat also signed on to design the expansive housing complex in Bubenec, which was based around the historic Villa Bianca, which had not seen a renovation in nearly 90 years.

The complex stands out among van Egeraat’s body of work for its simplicity rather than its intricacy. It incorporates his standard geometric shapes and clean lines but is more gridlike, less baroque than his other designs. Van Egeraat describes his work on Villa Bianca to be “humble” and “subservient.”

Designing for Prague, van Egeraat says, “there’s no need here to be bombastic. My contributions can be elegant, not big and loud.”

These days, the 13 employees in van Egeraat’s Prague office have been busy working on overseeing the construction of a new campus for the University of Leipzig in Germany. The project’s centerpiece, designed by Van Egeraat to resemble a soaring cathedral, will provide the backdrop for the university’s 600th anniversary celebration in 2009.

The campus is a major part of van Egeraat’s Jaroslav Fragner exhibition, a larger version of which was shown in Budapest and Leipzig last spring. Van Egeraat will be on hand Oct. 10 to give a gallery lecture. He says he is looking forward to his talk next month, because it will be a chance to have an intimate interaction with this city’s “intellectual” and “sensitive” audience of architecture devotees. In addition to his offices here and in Rotterdam, van Egeraat also has studios in London, Moscow and Budapest.

An honorary professor in Bulgaria and an honorary fellow at architectural organizations in Great Britain and Germany, van Egeraat is sought out as a speaker at galleries, conferences and universities worldwide to discuss his playful, geometric designs.

“I do things the way I think they are appropriate, interesting in the city,” he says of his work. He wonders, however, if Prague may be too architecturally sound to alter. But in a city that needs repair, like dilapidated zones of Moscow or the heavily war-damaged German city of Leipzig, van Egeraat states emphatically: “I must make my mark.”

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