The term “panelak” comes from the prefabricated cement “panels” that were used to construct numerous housing estates across the former Soviet bloc under communism.
These ubiquitous and bland buildings were constructed during the communist era to provide housing for a growing post-war population. It was propagated at the time that these housing estates would do more than just provide housing, they would be a crowning achievement in “socialist architecture” and would help to reduce or eliminate class distinctions
Over half the population of Prague live in Panelaks. There simply is nowhere else to live. They are still occupied by Czechs of different income levels and educational backgrounds and have remained relatively free of drugs, crime and the general decline suffered by these types of apartment complexes in other parts of the world. On the contrary, many of them remain vibrant and safe areas, where many families and children live.
At the same time it must be said that most Czechs regard the panelaks with a slight touch of disdain and consider them somewhat representative of the failed communist era.
As a foreigner here and having lived in Prague for many years in the center and the older areas, visiting the Panelak estates, which ring the city, is always jarring in a sense for me because of the sharp contrast between the very old, and the not so old communist era architecture. Walking around some of the Prague panelak complexes gives a sense of being on another planet or another world. These estates can appear foreboding and intimidating. These images are meant to convey a sense of detachment, curiosity and mystery. Perhaps it the sense one has when living in an outpost far away from home.