Zauhlovačka is a project which directly draws from the strong genius loci of its place, in this case the former water tower in the town of Vratislavice nad Nisou, not far from Liberec.
The tower is part of a compound owned by the carpet company Intex which, since 2015, has rented it out to three volunteers from the AvantgArt group. That same year, the tower was granted the status of protected architectural landmark. The group’s activities over the last two years have done quite a lot with the old tower. They hauled away much debris and garbage, tidied the structure and its surroundings, and managed to put together a few events, such as Den architektury (Architecture Day) and European Heritage Day. The tower’s official opening took place in June 2016 and featured, among other presentations, lectures by architecture historian Jindřich Vybíral, who spoke about the architect Leopold Bauer and the tower’s colorful history.
The tower was originally discovered by Jitka Jakubíčková while she was walking with her child in a stroller. Her brother, Miroslav Brousek, who is also a member of the group, adds: “My sister is a great lover of culture and art. It was always her dream to preserve or open up to the public some similar landmark. She loves old industrial buildings and all historically abandoned and unkempt places. The tower came back to life in 2015 when she arranged with the management of Intex to allow her to care for the old water tower.”
The work on the tower are however far from complete. “When you look inside today, you see that it is tidy, but that does not mean that it has been, for instance, properly painted. We want to preserve the tower’s industrial look. There is a lot of work still to be done, because in recent decades the tower has been, basically every year, subjected to many sloppy reconstructions, so it is full of various tubing, wiring and similar items,” adds Miroslav Prousek. In the past, there was a machine room on the ground floor, coal storage in the middle and the water reservoir at the top. A look-out terrace was also used in the past.
All three members of the group have full-time jobs, so they can only volunteer their free time to work on the tower, which tends to prolong the clean-up and reconstruction process, as they cannot work as often as they would like. At the moment, they occasionally organize single work parties whose frequency, however, should be increasing in the near future. Eventually they would also like to have a firm schedule for their opening hours.
As far as the program is concerned, they prefer to focus on revisiting and popularizing traditional crafts. The visitors to the tower, which will soon be celebrating its 100th birthday (it was built between the years 1916–1919), are a motley assortment of individuals who are generally positive about the tower’s new program. Vratislavice is not culturally backwards: there is the cultural center Desítka, and another cultural center in Liberec called Kultivar. But the Zauhlovačka is, in some way, unique: “I think that what we do here has the capacity to bring people from Vratislavice together more than any other activity happening around the city. The way we approach things, bolstering the culture around this architectural landmark, all with the intent of rejuvenating the traditional crafts of the north Bohemian region is, I think, unique in our area. Although we have been active only briefly, this is the reason we have managed to attract such a wide spectrum of people.”
The future, in the words of Miroslav Prousek, looks bright, and the group is also glad to get support from the city and the local small businesses which have a stake in the success of the community events organized here.