George Hauner (born Jiří Hauner), 1949
George Hauner was born in Prague in 1949 and grew up in the Dejvice neighborhood with his parents and younger sister. His father, originally from Prague, studied architecture but worked in the finance department of the science ministry. His mother grew up in southern Bohemia and worked in a personnel department. George has fond memories of traveling to visit his maternal grandparents as a young boy. He says that because his mother’s village, Kasejovice, was liberated by American soldiers during WWII, she was sympathetic to the West and the United States in particular.
George attended high school in the years during the Prague Spring and says that the liberalization of the times made school ‘quite exciting,’ as he and his classmates were exposed to new publications and information. He graduated a few months before the Warsaw Pact invasion in August 1968 and, although he considered leaving the country in the wake of the invasion, he decided against it as he was to begin university. George studied architecture at ČVUT (Czech Technical University in Prague) and graduated in 1975. He served one year in the military and began working at an architecture firm.
On February 7, 1981, George and his then-wife left the country shortly after marrying. They obtained passports and visas for a trip to Austria and eventually made their way to the United States. Although they intended to move to Los Angeles, their plans fell through and they settled in New York City. George, who had visited New York twice before on short trips, describes the city as ‘a theater stage.’ Aided by a friend, he quickly started working at an architecture firm and has worked in the industry ever since. Starting in the late 1980s, George returned to Prague each year to visit family and friends. Although he lived in Wyoming for three years and, for a short time, returned to Prague to work, he considers New York City his home. Today, George works for Grimshaw Architects and lives in Manhattan.
George says that his parents had different political ideologies
“My mom, being born and growing up in this village I named [Kasejovice, in southern Bohemia], was liberated by the American army, so she was more oriented towards Americans, freedom, and I think that she quite early realized what the other side of the token will be one day. With my father it was a little bit opposite because he came up from a quite poor family and, I guess after the War, he believed in the new world, the new system, which was brought from the East, so he joined the Party until 1980. So it was a little bit of a contrast of opinions in our family.”
George describes his high school experience
“In high school, I think it was quite quality and, again, a combination of the ideology and then the real subjects. We were lucky because our last year of high school was ’68, so it was very liberal and many changes took place, even in our education and the information provided. Like reading Literární noviny was mandatory, and it was quite exciting. Then we graduated and enjoyed this happy time for a few more days and it was over.”
An architect by trade, George is asked whether growing up in Prague influenced his choice of career
“I would say not at the beginning, because at the beginning I could care less about architecture; I was more into sports in high school, at the end of high school when we had to make a decision where to go, what to study. But later, certainly it was a big influence and a great feeling living in Prague, and then I had the opportunity to travel abroad and visit a few other places around Europe. I was always saying ‘It’s a very, very nice place we live in, compared with other places.’”
George recalls his first impressions of New York City
“Like a theater stage. Some quite exciting, interesting theater stage. And lately, I’ve just realized that there is not such a place anywhere in the world. It’s so special and one has to think really hard to describe why it’s so different. I like the compactness; it’s a very prominent place in the world, being in New York City, going back or from New York City, working opportunities, quality of the offices here. And everything else: culture, people, restaurants. Just name it.”
Category: New York City, Oral History