Photo above: copyright Dalibor Šipek 



Borek Šípek, 2014 © ANP Foto 

BOŘEK ŠÍPEK, 14 JUNE 1949 - 13 FEBRUARY 2016
One of the great architects and designers of modern times 

Bořek Šípek, the world-renowned  Czech architect and designer, died last 13 February, of cancer, at the age of 66. His death was announced by Václav Havel Library on Saturday 13 February. Bořek Šípek is survived by three sons: Milan, Dalibor and Artur.

Bořek Šípek was an avant-garde architect, who is regarded as the father of the Neo-Baroque style in architecture and design. He was also a designer of furniture, lighting and glass, and innumerable objects such as cutlery, chandeliers, doorknobs, display cabinets, porcelain and silver. He also designed many striking pieces of furniture, such as the Anna Pawlovna table, owned by Gerrit Steltman, the Karl Lagerfeld chair, specially created for the famous German fashion designer, the artwork 'Opa Kuj Sam', which resembles a shrine, the 'Princess' dressing table designed for Princess Gloria von Thurn and Taxis, the 'Cha Tu Cha' folding table and a rosewood bar.      

The man who was known for his exuberant glasswork and his graceful, meticulously finished furniture, the designer of the famous Simon candelabra with its seven undulating branches, is no more. An era of colour, refinement, elaborate forms and brilliant designs has come to an end. The many lovers of his extensive oeuvre - curators, museum directors and private collectors- will miss him. Will a new Šípek arise after his death, to continue his inspired work?        




Dalibor Šípek: "We really miss not having our father with us anymore."  

Dalibor Šípek has taken over the running of his father's studios in Prague and in Nový Bor. 


Šípek's second son Dalibor has taken over the running of his father's studio in Prague and the activities in Nový Bor, while his older brother Milan recently opened a furniture factory in China, called Morphit, in addition to another factory he had been running. Dalibor obviously is very sad about having lost his father at such an early age. "We really miss not having our father with us anymore. He was diagnosed with cancer about a year ago. It all went very quickly, but he bore it bravely and never showed the pain he must have been feeling. It was difficult to see his illness progress, and it will take a long time to get over it. Now I have taken over the management of the studios, he used to run and everywhere I go, even when I have a meal in a restaurant, I see my father's vases, plates, cutlery and other objects he had designed. His creations surround me on every side. In that way, he is still always near me."      


"We have lost one of our most highly motivated and creative artists in Bořek Šípek," says the Dutch collector and art dealer Gerrit Steltman, the owner of Steltman Galleries in Amsterdam, who had worked with Bořek Šípek for more than 30 years and gave him a springboard for further commercial and artistic development from his Amsterdam base. Šípek arrived in Amsterdam from Czechoslovakia in 1983 and set up the Šípek Studio there, which was run by Gerrit Steltman's wife Claartje van Haaren. He remained in Amsterdam until 2000, when he returned to his home country- now renamed the Czech Republic.Gerrit Steltman still has a clear memory of those times. "He could put amazing energy into his work. He was fun to be with, and a good cook too. I displayed his work in my galleries, which certainly helped his career to take off. The Italian furniture and design company Driade commissioned him to design products for them in the early eighties. As his work became more widely known, his reputation rocketed."                 


Ale Na Na Vase, yellow and clear Bohemian crystal on a sterling silver foot. 

Šípek was famous throughout the world for his rich, idiosyncratic, colourful style, full of experimentation with unexpected and often exuberant forms. In October 1993 he was awarded The Prince Bernhard Fonds Prize for Architecture and Design. Bořek Šípek was also a Knight of the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. In 1998 he was appointed a professor of design and architecture at the Institute for Industrial Design in Vienna. Šípek has designed a number of objects for the Institute of Architecture in Rotterdam, including a large conference table and accompanying chairs - all in his own characteristique style - in the 1990s.


The new Institute of Architecture in Rotterdam was opened in the early nineties. Bořek Šipek was responsible for the furnishing of the public areas, including the reception area, the check-out in the shop, all tables, chairs and other furniture and the display cabinets. The chairs were from the Sedlak series he had designed for Vitra, while the tables were the Dalibor, created by Šipek for the Steltman Galleries. Šipek also designed many buildings (including factories) in such countries as the Netherlands, Germany, China, Japan and Czechoslovakia (or the Czech Republic, after it split off from Czechoslovakia in 1993). He designed a glass tree for Škoda Cars in Wolfsburg, Germany. He built houses in the Netherlands, Germany and China, many in Tokyo and very many in Prague. The factories he built included one for Škoda in the Czech Republic and one for Volkswagen in Hanover.  


Šípek worked for several renowned design firms, mainly for Arzenal in the Czech Republic and Steltman Galleries in Amsterdam, but also for Driade and Maletti in Italy, Witmann and Swarovski in Austria, Vitra in Switzerland, Sèvres in France, Leitner and Quartett in Austria. He was awarded ther 1993 architecture prize of the Prince Bernhard Funds, and the Dutch filmmaker Jan Kelder made a film entitled: "Bořek Šípek en de moeder der kunsten.' (Bořek Šípek and the mother of artsto mark this occasion. The film was just made in time to include details of Šípek's latest commission (and the biggest project he had been engaged on up to that time), the extension of the Kruithuis Museum in the Dutch city of 's-Hertogenbosch, with a budget of fourteen million guilders (not executed).  .       



Bořek Šípek was born in Czechoslovakia, and studied furniture design  at the Prague School of Art and Design. He fled to Germany in 1968 to escape the Soviet invasion that put an end to the abortive Prague Spring, and studied architecture in Hamburg, philosophy in Stuttgart and architecture and design in Hannover and Essen. He moved to the Netherlands in the 1983. He gained his doctorate in 1979 in the faculty of Architecture at Delft University of Technology under the supervision of Prof. Jaap Bakema. Bořek Šípek set up his own architecture and design studio in Amsterdam in 1983, and built up a succesful career there for the next 17 years. He also set up a studio in Prague in 1989, after the Velvet Revolution had put an end to Soviet oppression in his home country, and he taught architecture and design at the Prague School of Art and Design from 1990 to 1998.   



Architect and Havel´s friend Bořek Šípek consoles Vaclav Havel´s widow Dagmar Havlova, in front of a coffin (not pictured) with Havel´s remains at the Prague Crossroad, a former church in Prague that Havel turned into a space for conferences and artistic events, on Monday, Dec. 9, 2011.


Šípek moved back to his home country (which had become the Czech Republic in 1993) in 2000, and was appointed Professor and Dean of the Faculty of Art and Architecture at Liberec University of Technology. Although he was trained and worked all his life as an architect and designer, many people know Šípek as a glass artist. In particular he is remembered for his fanciful glass sculptures and furniture - and for his work as architect of Prague Castle during the presidency of Václav Havel, and his design of the commemorative sites constructed at various locations known as 'Havel's Place'.


Bořek Šípek will also be remembered for his design of the commemorative sites constructed at various locations known as "Havel's Place". This was an idea of Petr Gandalovič, Czech Ambassador to the United States, for a memorial to Václav Havel, who died at the end of 2011. At Gandalovič's request, Bořek Šípek came up with a simple but symbolic design, comprising two garden chairs around a table with a linden tree, the national tree of the Czech Republic, in its middel. A simple spot, suitable for dialogue, discussion and reflection. A memorial for Havel with meaning for the whole world. Nine Havel's Places have been built so far, in different cities, from Washington D.C. to The Hague. The tenth was scheduled for Brussels, the 'capital of the European Union', and it had been hoped to dedicate many more in 2014, the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution.          

Bořek Šípek was Havel's favourite artist, designing many details such as the new candelabra, other glasswork and furniture. Šípek's work as chief architect of Prague Castle for 10 years led to friendship between the two, and also made a big contribution to Šípek's international reputation. Šípek played a major role in the interior restoration of the Castle. And the main entrance doors at the court of the Prague Castle the presidential palace, including the main Presidential Entrance with the golden fanciful animal on top.          


Anežka glass studio in Nový Bor 
Bořek Šípek founded his Anežka glass studio in the little town of Nový Bor in the Czech Republic in 2012. This area has a tradition of glass-making and glass-blowing going back centuries. The studio is managed by Petr Mader. Šipek's reinterpretation of the past is clearly reflected in the Bohemian crystal sculptures Šípek's first significant success was a glass house that he had built for his sister, for which he was awarded the German Architecture Prize in 1984. He had his own glass workshop in Lindava, some 10 km east of Nový Bor, and his own brand Ajeto for his glass pieces that are sold up in top shops around the world. He was active in the fields of both architecture and design and shuttled from city to city, from Prague to Beijing, Tokyo, Amsterdam, Milan, Berlin of Vienna, and he got many of his best ideas while flying. He loved philosophy, food and drama.       


Dalibor Šípek: "My father loved cooking. Cooking was his way of relaxing."    

Dalibor Šípek: "I am actually a photographer, but I ran a restaurant in Nový Bor for a year. Unfortunately, that closed down, and I've been working as a glass-blower at the Anežka Studio for the past two years. I share my father's passion for good food. We always cooked together and asked one another for suggestions. His culinary abilities were well known. He was always trying out new dishes he came across in the countries he visited for his work. He was a workaholic, always on  the go. Cooking was his way of relaxing. He cooked very tasty, spicy dishes. My father had a Thai restaurant in Prague for 10 years. That was quite an innovation, there had never been one there before. There was a gallery that belonged to him in the same building as the restaurant. That was the first Asiatic restaurant in the Czech Republic. He was definitely years ahead of his time."      


"My father was a pioneeer, but he was never hasty. He always thought things through carefully before he took the first step. It was very interesting to grow up with such a creative father. There was never a dull moment. We had a very unorthodox up-bringing, and we were left very free to make our own choices and trey things out for ourselves. He always took us with him to the glass-blowing shop and to the opening of exhibitions where his work was on display; crowds of people came to admire them. I remember once when my brother Milan and I were little boys that we walked round the showroom and counted all the red strickers on his artworks that had been sold. We were very proud of him! The glassware and the furniture he designed were so beautiful! Every house or flat where we lived with our father was full of things he had designed: they were all like 'little Šípek museums. It was great to grow up in such surroundings."


"The three of us, Milan, Artur and I, have all chosen an artistic way of life. Milan is doing more of less the same as my father in China, with glassware, architecturec and furniture. And our youngest half-brother Artur is a very good juggler. It's really fun to watch him performing. Whenever we had visitors, my father used to give Artur a pack of cards and ask him to do a few conjuring tricks. My father loved watching him. Artur had learnt conjuring from one of the best teachers in Czechoslovakia, known as 'the Wizard'.


Man of glass and wood 
Šipek was renowned throughout the world for his colourful Baroque glaswork, some of which is owned by Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Gerrit Steltman was a fanatical collector of Šipek's furniture, glass and other works. He is one of the biggest Šipek experts in the Netherlands. "I started collecting his work privately in 1985, when I bought the famous Anna Pawlovna table from him. I already had a gallery in Amsterdam at the time," Steltman says. "After that I bought everything of his I could lay my hands on. By 1990 I had such a big collection that I acquired a warehouse just outside Amsterdam to store his work in. Much of it is still there. I had got to know him personally by that time, and I suggested that I should hold a Šipek exhibition in my galleries. That has become an annual event. I was particularly interested in his furniture. My purchase of the Anna Pawlovna table sparked the whole development. Šipek designed a lot for me, and we produced it ourselves in limited series. But I only sold his work to museums and private collectors, not to design boutiques."                  


Big Bořek Šipek exhibition in Assen, Netherlands, in 2006 

United by art (from left to right): Jiři Kylian (Czech dancer and choreographer), Bořek Šípek, Václav Havel and the Dutch gallery owner Gerrit Steltman during the opening of the Šípek exhibition in Assen (2006).    



The Drents Museum in Assen (the Netherlands), held a big exhibition of Bořek Šípek's work  from 19 March to 25 June 2006. The exhibition was opened by Václav Havel, the former president of the Czech Republic. Havel and Šípek had been good friends for years. The exhibition contained 120 glass objects designed by Šípek, together with furniture and other utensils he had created. The opening of the exhibition coincided with the start of the Prague Spring Festival in Assen, a two-week celebration of Czech art and culture in Assen. "The exhibition was a great success," enthuses Gerrit Steltman. "Huge crowds of visitors came to see it. I was very proud of my contribution too: you could say that the whole thing was a collaborative project of the Drents Museum and the Steltman Galleries, which supplied many of the exhibits. There had been another big exhibition of his work in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in 1991, with photos by Erwin Olaf in the catalogue. Bořek was a real Amsterdammer in a way, even though he only lived there for 18 years of his life."    






"Bořek Šipek was years ahead of his time."
Gerrit Steltman knew Bořek Šipek well for nearly thirty years. "He was a friendly, modest man with a keen eye for detail in his work - no doubt about that - and a huge knowledge of technical matters. Good craftsmanship meant a lot to him. But he wasn't one to stick around. As soon as one project was finished, he'd be off, with his head already full of ideas for the next job." Gerrit Steltman remembers that he had initially been so impressed by Šipek's work that he bought many prototypes Šipek had designed. "Most of them were furniture and glassware. Just imagine: where are you going to find room for something like 2000 vases! They were all made by the Ajeto glassworks in Nový Bor, where Šipek was the artistic director. All their products were hand-blown. During the yearly exhibitions in Steltman Galleries in Amsterdam and New York, thousands of pieces were sold to collectors and museums around the world."