Prague-based Brainwork Revitalizes Ice Vaults as Public Spaces

Photography by BoysPlayNice.

It was 2002 when portions of Prague were decimated. Weeks of torrential rains that summer caused the Vltava River running through the historic city center to flood. As part of the slow but steady recovery of the once-vibrant waterfront, local architecture firm Brainwork has proposed a creative revitalization of long-abandoned space: a series of century-old vaults once used for storing ice.

Principal Petr Janda led the charge, beginning with tearing out all existing elements, including floors and ceilings. Interiors were then rebuilt with modern HVAC, plumbing, and electrical infrastructure hidden behind 
a simple shell of sandblasted concrete, intentionally left spare to allow for the widest variety of uses. In some, partitions are partially clad in black titanium-coated stainless-steel plate, its mirrorlike effect complementing the geometry and airiness of 
the spaces, especially when lit by Brainwork’s linear ceiling system. “The contrast between the original confinement and the current openness is the essence of our work,” Janda says. 

Photography by BoysPlayNice.

Another noteworthy feature is the pivoting 18-foot-diameter window fronting the vaults. “Now the city can turn and face the river,” adds the architect, whose choice to provide the tunnels with the ability to open up to fresh air marks a prescient and fortuitous one in the pandemic era. Plans for the 20 vaults, which span 475 to 1,400 square feet, range from cafés and creative studios to public restrooms and a pool.

Photography by BoysPlayNice.