During the Second World War in 1945 a corner apartment house on Rašínovo nábřeží in Prague was by mistake bombarded and destroyed by American aircraft, when from unknown reasons Dresden was confused with Prague. Since then the gap site was left empty. In 1963 a city council decided that the site should be built up again, but the decision did not led to immediate action and later on the site was “forgotten” again. The neighbouring house was owned by parents of Václav Havel, the rebel revolutionist and enemy of the state of that time. In 1986 an architect Vlado Milunić was invited to design a flat partition for Havel’s family and developed and closer relationship with Václav. Together they were discussing, that the neighbouring empty site should be used for cultural purposes and what could be build there. In 1989 the Velvet Revolution finally ended the totalistic regime of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and Václav Havel was elected the President of Czechoslovakia.
Based on previous talks, Vlado Milunić was officially assigned the task to plan a new building for the unused site. The original thought of having a fully cultural object with a library, café and theatre were not financially attractive enough in order to bring an investor. Pavel Koch, an acquaintance of the architect Vlado Milunić and representative of Dutch insurance company Nationale Nederlanden (today’s ING) in Prague, fell for the project and presented it in his firm. Nationale Nederlanden agreed to invest in the project under a condition that also commercial use would be included and a world-class architect would be part of the designing process.
The first addressed was Jean Nouvel, which later built Zlatý Anděl (Golden Angel) building, but he declined. Second approached architect was Frank O. Gehry. As a hockey fan, he wittily replied that he would do anything for a country that gave America Jaromír Jágr. Cooperation between Vlado Milunić and Frank Gehry was very successful and easy going. Gehry’s signature style is recognizable, Milunić’s concept idea of two towers, a static and a dynamic part leaning over the street and signifying society that is starting to move and transform after years of totalistic stiffness, was respected.
In 1992 Nationale Nederlanden bought the site, in 1994 the first foundation stone was laid and in 1996 the operation launched offering café, gallery, offices and a restaurant/bar on the top. In 2004 the Dancing House was placed together with Zlatý Anděl to form a base of an investment portfolio of ING Property Fund Central Europe.
In 2008 the owner planned a reconstruction and contemporary redesign of the reception space. Vlado Milunić stood up and defended the space as a greatly authorial one which bears a distinct mark of Frank Gehry’s handwriting. Despite the protests an architect M. Ranný was assigned the task of designing the renovation. Later on, Milunić stated that the proposal shows a deep misconception of the original design and offers just a mainline space known from thousands of administration buildings. Nevertheless, the reconstruction happened.
In 2011 CBRE Investors acquired all of the ING Real Estate Investment Management (REIM) operations in Europe including the Dancing House and became CBRE Global Investors. Two years later in 2013 Jones Lang La Salle company is assigned to accomplish a sale of the Dancing House. Central Group developer company under the lead of Dušan Kunovský wanted to buy the building, saying that it should be a cultural house opened for public, suggesting to establish there a museum of architecture and design, but was overbid by the offer of Václav Skála and his Prague Real Estate Management (Pražská správa nemovitostí). Since then Václav Skála is the owner of the property. According to his last statement, there are no fundamental changes going to happen. The Dancing house stays as a rentable office building with restaurant/bar on top and café with a gallery in the ground floor.
The first “prenatal” idea was to build a house full of culture, opened for people, a building with library, café, and a theatre to complement the cultural line Rudolfinum – National Theatre – Mánes. But the investment returnability was not convincing enough to find an investor. The program of the building had to be adjusted to the Nationale Nederlanden’s requirement.
The new building was based on and because of the Velvet Revolution and was therefore meant to be its reflection. The design of the two towers, static and dynamic, an analogy of a society starting to move towards changes, is inspired by famous interwar dance couple Fred Astair and Ginger Rogers. That gave the building a nickname “Fred and Ginger”, which is still occasionally used. A dance couple, because the house is meant to dance above the end of totality.
Because of the site conditions and proximity to Jiráskův bridge, the foundations have to be carefully planned. The house is based on reinforced concrete slab complemented with a set of bored piles. The façade is composed of 99 original façade panels, each with different thickness and curve. There are 7 above ground floor and 2 underground floor levels. The program remained basically unchanged since the first opening, most of the floor area is used for offices (2 965 m2), rooms of conference centre are in ground floor and basement (400 m2), ground level offers also café and a gallery and in the top floors if both towers is a restaurant/bar (679 m2), currently Céleste. Interiors of the office spaces were designed by a British/Czech architect Eva Jiřičná.
For designing of the building was used a CATIA software, originally made for automobile design. The Dancing House was the first building in the world, whose plans were submitted as a 3D digital model instead of just 2D plans.
In 1996 the Dancing House was awarded the first prize in design category of American magazine Time. By Czech magazine Architect it was named one of the five most important buildings from the 1990s. Last but not least the Dancing house was chosen as a representative of modern architecture for one of the 10 coins of a cycle Ten centuries of architecture made by the Czech National Bank (ČNB).
The realisation of such an untypical project was possible thanks to post-revolutionary euphoria, series of fortunate coincidences, opened mind of Věra Millerová, a director of conservationists, and many others.
The project evoked a lot of discussion. One side of it believes that the Dancing house was a perfect fit of a modern architecture that was until then missing in Prague. Others claim that the shape is too eccentric and such a house does not belong to the historical center next to Art Noveau style.
It is a pity that the house is not opened to the public, but it is understandable, that even such an architectural sight has to be financially independent, gainful for its owner. Nowadays anyone can visit the exhibition in a gallery and top floor’s restaurant is usually opened for visitors (non-consumers) as well.
Nowadays Frank Gehry’s style of architecture is obsolete and criticized, rooms with inclined walls are difficult to furnish and fully use. Despite that, the Dancing House became an obvious part of the Prague’s panorama. It is a touristic magnet, one of the not so many globally recognized modern buildings in Prague and its symbol. It will always stay the first post-revolutionary building in Czech Republic built by a world-class architect.
archiweb.cz. (1997, January 1). Jan Kratochvíl. Retrieved from http://www.archiweb.cz/salon.php?action=show&id=13947&type=17&
Fialová, I. (2003). Tančící dům / Frank Gehry, Vlado Milunić. Zlatý řez.
Máj památkou. A Tančící dům? (n.d.). Retrieved April 3, 2016, from http://www.lidovky.cz/maj-pamatkou-a-tancici-dum-090-/zpravy-domov.aspx?c=A061103_155922_ln_praha_vvr
Realitní magnát Skala koupil Tančící dům za 360 milionů. Muzeum architektury v něm nebude |. (n.d.). Retrieved April 3, 2016, from http://byznys.ihned.cz/c1-61457930-realitni-magnat-skala-koupil-tancici-dum-za-360-milionu-muzeum-architektury-v-nem-nebude
Stavbaweb.cz – Tančící dům. (n.d.). Retrieved April 3, 2016, from http://stavbaweb.dumabyt.cz/tanici-dm-3505/clanek.html
Tančící dům – Wikipedia. (n.d.). Retrieved April 3, 2016, from https://cs.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tan%C4%8D%C3%ADc%C3%AD_d%C5%AFm
Tančící dům | Archizone.cz. (n.d.). Retrieved April 4, 2016, from http://www.archizone.cz/stavby/tancici-dum/
Tančící dům | první moderní porevoluční stavba v Praze. (n.d.). Retrieved April 3, 2016, from http://itras.cz/tancici-dum/
Produced for Mediating Architecture, SS16, by Anna Šatalíková