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Ugly blob or cultural treasure?

The battle over Prague's proposed funky-looking library.

The proposed Eye Above Prague library. (Courtesy Future Systems)

PRAGUE — Call it what you will: the Blob, the Octopus, the Eye — by any name the saga of the chosen library design refuses to die.

Officially known as The Eye Above Prague, the futuristic-looking library would have a malleable-looking shape bereft of corners, sides and sharp edges. Atop the eight-story building would be a cafe open to the public, with a huge window looking out over the city (hence the name).

Many Czechs like the design, unconventional as it might be. Architects laud its contribution to Prague's cultural scene and decry the city's lack of modern architecture. Everyone acknowledges the city needs more space for its expanding book collection. But this is not merely a question of art.

A political crusade, led by President Vaclav Klaus, seemingly scuppered the project last year. But the political forces that Klaus rallied to oppose the project could shift within the next year through parliamentary and city elections — potentially creating an opening for the resurrection of the so-called Blob.

“We have little modern architecture in Prague — the Dancing House, but it is the only one in the last 20 years,” said Vlastimil Jezek, the former director of the National Library, referring to a Frank Gehry design, sometimes called the Fred & Ginger building.

Jezek, who wrote a book last year about his battle to save the "Octopus," says that 20 years after the fall of communism there's something wrong with a country's democracy when the president's political machinery can overturn a legal competition.

An international jury unanimously selected the project, designed by architect Jan Kaplicky, from more than 350 entries in March 2007. Kaplicky died suddenly in January at the of age 71, on the day his second wife gave birth to their first child.

In the library's promotional book, Kaplicky wrote, “...the National library is a building of such importance that it can help return this country to Europe. That would be the greatest achievement — if the building not only worked as a library, but it also became one of the modern-time symbols of Prague.”

(Trailer of a documentary dedicated to the proposed National Library.)