Austere Structures

The DOX Centre for Contemporary Art, Prague, has recently revealed a unique architectural intervention perched atop the organisation’s campus. Inspired by the elegant lines of the early 20th century airships, the 42-metre creation, assembled from wood and steel, was proposed as a space for encounters between art and literature. The Gulliver’s airship programme was launched earlier this month by internationally recognised writers Azar Nafisi and Patrik Ouředník.

The director of the gallery, Leoš Válka, states: “The idea to invade the DOX Centre’s starkly modern austere concrete-and-glass architecture with a ‘parasitic’ structure has been on my mind for several years. I first dreamed of an absurdly fascinating organic shape that would contrast with the centre’s existing shape.” It was with this view that Válka contacted universally acclaimed designer, and winner of the 2014 Global Prize for Sustainable Architecture, Martin Rajniš. This partnership, alongside working with material specialists, created an edifice using the shapes of the giant aircrafts that began to cruise the skies at the beginning of the 20th century.

The choice of structure is highly significant due to the symbolism that permeates zeppelins. Not only did early models exemplify the optimistic ideals of a new era of technological advancements, but their remarkable monumentality and dignity continued to fascinate generations long after they faded from functionality, a captivation that endures even to the present day. Also represented is the eternal human desire to fly, to discover and to explore. In this, the semiotics go even further, to an embodiment of a certain utopian ideal. With this concept as a backdrop, the building was named after one of the most significant characters in utopian literature: Gulliver. The building serves as a space for reading, public discussions of fiction and critical writing evoking themes related to DOX exhibitions, which often revolve around aspects of the contemporary human situation and prominent modern day issues.

The centre is simultaneously running a display illustrating the airship’s formation, sources of inspiration, the technical strategy, the complexities of the construction process and the thought developments that lead to Gulliver’s inception. This show demonstrates the inherently creative nature of its architecture, situating the building as more akin to the artwork its holds than to the surrounding assemblies.

Gulliver, DOX Centre of Contemporary Art. To find out more, visit:

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1. Martin Rajniš, Gulliver, DOX Centre of Contemporary Art (2016). Courtesy of DOX.