Architect Jan Kaplicky Dies in Czech Republic

Designer of the innovative Selfridges store in Birmingham, U.K., was 71
Posted February 3, 2009

Jan Kaplicky, the Czech-born architect who designed the groundbreaking Selfridges department store in Birmingham, U.K., in 2003, died last month in Prague. He was 71.

The store, a vast, globular blue mass in the shape of a peanut shell, is covered with reflective aluminum disks – and has no windows. Kaplicky said his inspirations for the store included a Paco Rabanne plastic dress, a fly’s eye and a 16th Century church. The store won a half-dozen awards and seemed to fulfill its goal of drawing not only local shoppers but also tourists.

“Where is it written that buildings have to be boxes?” said Kaplicky (pronounced KAP-lit-skee). “People aren’t boxes.”

His other works include a bridge over the Thames connecting the Canary Wharf area of London with West India Quay. When he designed a press box for Lord’s Cricket Ground – a huge, glossy, curving white shell that looks as if it might have been dropped from outer space, constructed by boat builders -- Prince Charles called it a “surrealist picnic” of “vegetable-shaped” buildings.

Kaplicky was born in Prague in 1937, and grew up under Nazi occupation. His father was a sculptor and painter, and his mother illustrated books on plants. He graduated from the College of Applied Arts and Architecture in Prague and went into private practice.

After the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968, Kaplicky fled to London. He started his own company, Future Systems, in 1979.