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Czech Republic, review, book

Florian Aicher: Litomyšl. The Potential of the Small City

Have you heard of Litomyšl? No? Then perhaps you know it as Leitomischl, as the town is called in German. This Czech town in the eastern Bohemian region of Pardubice meant nothing to me. Its castle is a UNESCO World Heritage site. However, not one of my friends or relatives has ever been there. Nevertheless: I can hear the strains of Bedřich Smetana’s Die Moldau in my mind, for the composer was born in Litomyšl on 2 March 1824. Otherwise, the town is a blind spot on my architectural and tourism-related map. What a mistake! I know this now after having read Florian Aicher’s recently published book Litomyšl. The Potential of the Small City. For - as the 151 pages eloquently convey - Czech architecture has found a new centre here. Or, to quote architectural theoretician Rostislav Švácha, this is where we encounter the “miracle of Litomyšl”.

The 20 painstakingly researched projects, photographed by Petra Steiner and introduced both in text and in expressly drawn plans, lend credence to this claim. The development of the projects came thanks to a committed, visionary mayor who appointed an official municipal architect in 1989 and announced competitions year after year. He has passed on his will and commitment: indeed, the current mayor has said “Building is a gain for our city. Architecture represents values, cultivates both community and the relationships among citizens. Our young people are interested; they are not moving away. Litomyšl is by far the only city that grows every year.” However, it is growing to the correct proportions. The book, which is certainly worth studying from beginning to end, closes with a conversation between Florian Aicher and Tomáš Valena, an architectural historian and theoretician who died at the beginning of the year: “We can see the fields from the city’s towers, for the suburbs remain limited. I hope this continues. Then Litomyšl will still serve as an example.” How fitting that Project Number 12 is the Aplaus Hotel, which was completely refurbished from 1996 until 2008 by Prague’s Architektonický Atelier ABV. Next stop: Litomyšl!

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