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Karlovy Vary New Concert Hall at Imperial Spa Baths

Karlovy Vary New Concert Hall at Imperial Spa Baths

The Hotel Thermal in the legendary Czech spa town Karlovy Vary is not only a crown jewel of brutalist architecture but also the home and headquarters of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (KVIFF). After all, the luxury hotel with spa, which from above looks like two film reels, was specifically designed by Czech architects Věra Machoninová and Vladimír Machonin, and constructed in 1977, to house the fest.

But for its 58th edition this year, KVIFF will also get to host events again at the Neo-Renaissance Imperial Baths (Císařské Lázně) from 1895, which can boast a spectacular addition. Built into the courtyard of one of the symbols of Karlovy Vary’s spa tradition, a new red concert hall opened last year and is now ready for a fest spotlight.

Designed by Czech architect Petr Hájek, his firm describes it as “an innovative dialogue between old and new.” The building addition stands on six steel legs and does not touch the heritage-listed building. “All modern alterations are clearly visible and reversible, meaning they can be easily replaced with new technology at any time in the future,” the architect’s company says.

Karlovy Vary Imperial Spa concert hall hallway

Courtesy of Karlovy Vary International Film Festival/Petr Polak, MatejHosek

As a multifunction hall, it can be used for concerts by the Karlovy Vary Symphony Orchestra, but can also host film screenings, theater performances, balls and cultural events, as well as conferences or other social events. A multimedia exhibition presents “the international and local history of the spa industry.”

“It was like building a ship in a bottle,” Hájek said in a statement when the concert hall opened.

“First, we had to manufacture everything and test the assembly in a large hall in order to make sure that nothing was missing,” he explained. “Then, everything had to be numbered, disassembled, and put back together again in the building’s atrium. It was painstaking work.” The team actually used a retractable roof to bring in the various parts.

Karlovy Vary Imperial Spa concert hall architect Petr Hajek

Courtesy of Karlovy Vary International Film Festival/Alzbeta Jungrova

The architect has even highlighted a Hollywood comparison drawn by some. “The hall’s shapes remind some people of a Transformer from the movies, while others see a red crab holding a space for music in its arms,” Hájek said. “The chosen red color is archetypal and has many different associations. It represents excitement and emotions, but also the industrial aesthetics of the late 19th century.”

Karlovy Vary is the most visited spa town in the Czech Republic thanks to its popular springs. In the 19th century, it became a popular tourist destination and developed a reputation for visits from celebrities looking for spa treatments.

The town’s Imperial Spa is traditionally the venue for the annual KVIFF Industry Days programs, which include panels and presentations on such topics as film funding, new technology, including AI, and other trends and hot topics.

the empty Karlovy Vary Imperial Spa concert hall

Courtesy of Karlovy Vary International Film Festival/Petr Polak, MatejHosek

Last year, the Industry Days featured a discussion on the growth of streaming and what audiences want, like and watch, as well as a Netflix executive’s take on the importance of local content.

This year’s Industry Days section will run Sunday, June 30-Tuesday July 2. In addition to panels and presentations on such topics as mental health, marketing, and underrepresented voices, the program includes a fireside chat on independent film and production in a changing industry, featuring streamer MUBI‘s chief content officer Jason Ropell and legendary indie producer Christine Vachon, who serves as KVIFF’s jury president this year. Plus, it will feature Works in Progress, Works in Development — KVIFF Talents, Works in Development — Feature Launch & Intensive Queer, and First Cut+ Works in Progress project presentations.

Anyone visiting the new concert hall, whether for work or for fun, will notice it tries to bridge the past and the present, the old and the new, according to Hájek. “Our design is based on great respect for the historic space,” the architect said. “We knew from the beginning that we would be walking around the original building on eggshells. Our goal was to gently complement it, to enrich it without disturbing it.”

The brutalist Hotel Thermal in Karlovy Vary

Courtesy of Georg Szalai

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