Pavol Paňák is one of very few Slovak architects who can point to a planned 34-floor office building and call it his "second-greatest project." A crater next to the upside-down pyramid housing Slovak Radio holds the foundation of what will soon be Slovakia's tallest building, the National Bank of Slovakia's (NBS) headquarters.
Paňák and his partners in the firm Architekti BKPŠ, Martin Kusý and Eduard Šutek, are the envy of architects across the country. They entered their design in the bank's architectural competition in the summer of 1995. Theirs was named the winning bid in March 1996, construction began last November, and the building is scheduled for completion in September 1999.
Paňák finds what he called the project's "diabolical pace," exhausting, but he far prefers it to his experience with his "greatest project."
Paňák and his colleagues won the architectural competition to design the new Slovak National Theater in 1980. But construction on that building, which totals more cubic meters than the NBS project, did not start until 1985, and continues to founder due to lack of government funding. Today, 17 years after his design was selected, Paňák sits in his studio surrounded by designs and models of the National Theater and says, "I don't see an end to it."
In contrast, the challenge of housing the National Bank has given Paňák and his partners new inspiration for their creative energies. "Because this is a new, dynamic, developing republic, this building should reflect that lack of historical context," Paňák said. "The form should be unmistakably original."
Standing on the corner of Mytná ulica and Starohorska ulica, the NBS tower will cast its shadow on several prominent buildings already in that neighborhood. The architects took this into account in designing a structure that will provide stark contrast to the inverted pyramid of Slovak Radio and the long rectangle of the Ministry of Post, Transport, and Telecommunications, both of which are at the Mytná-Starohorska intersection.
The tower will be shaped like a quarter of a circle, with its rounded side offering a view over expansive Námestie Slobody towards the Prime Minister's headquarters, the Presidential Palace and Bratislava castle rising in the distance. This juxtaposition symbolises, as Paňák said, that "the bank is the third center of power."
The design is full of symbolism. A garden will grow in an atrium directly over the huge subterranean vaults. (The vaults' dimensions were wiped from the architects' plans as soon as they were awarded the project. A separate firm is dealing with the design and construction of the vaults, in an effort to ensure confidentiality.)
The grand entrance hall will feature an exhibit on Slovak money, selections from the bank's art collection, and the busts of famous people in Slovak banking history. When asked if there are many candidates for such a shrine, Paňák said with a quick smile, "No." There is room for eight and Paňák said the most obvious choice is Imrich Karvaš, NBS governor from 1939 to 1944.
Should anyone be overwhelmed by historical trappings, the building will also offer a breath of fresh air - literally. Thanks to a double-skinned facade, or what Paňák called "the latest hit in architecture," NBS employees even on the tower's top floors will be able to open their windows without fear of problems caused by wind pressure. The NBS will be the first building in Slovakia to use this energy-saving construction of two sheets of glass, which has been successfully implemented in London, Paris, and Essen, Germany.
What are Paňák and his partners intending to do once Slovakia's tallest building is complete? "We have no time to plan ahead right now," Paňák said. But he does not envision trying for an encore right away. "We would like some smaller projects - just to rest. I would prefer to design some family houses."
5. Jun 1997 at 0:00 | Rick Zedník