Prague’s Dancing House, the Velvet Revolution’s building

Pargue's Dancing House

Prague is one of the jewels of Europe and a strong representative of continent’s history. As a city, it was born in the 10th century around its famous castle and, in this we surely agree, it is one of the most charming capitals of the old world.

The heart of the city is in the Gothic style, but along its streets we can also find buildings in the Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassical and Modernist styles, a whole amalgam of currents that blend in perfectly with its beautiful historic centre.

But on this occasion we will focus on one of the most popular buildings in the city, the one that reminds us of two famous dancers, which is part of the deconstructivist style and which is signed by the architects Vlado Milunić and Frank Gehry.

Today it is the turn of the world-famous Prague Dancing House.

Where is it located?

This curious building is located on one of the Vltava River’s side, the longest river in the Czech Republic, which crosses some of the most picturesque towns in the country until it joins the Elbe after 430 km.

Only 15 minutes walk away is the famous Charles IV Bridge and, not far away, the famous Prague astronomical clock.

Anyone would think, as it was, that a building in the deconstructivist style would raise more than one suspicion among some neighbours who are used to live in a historical centre so distant from the avant-garde.

Where to find the Prague's Dancing House

Let’s see how this project came about:

A war and revolution history

The history of this curious building raised up in to the heat of the arrival of the democracy to the old Czechoslovakia sinks its roots at the end of World War II, when the American aviation launched a terrible attack against the city that, in only 5 minutes, caused the death of 700 people and destroyed around 200 buildings, among them, a stately house that occupied the site where today we see the Dancing House

The Project

An abandoned lot

In the late ‘ 80s, when the structure of the building had already collapsed and the site was empty, the respected architect Vlado Milunić presented an idea to one of the neighbors in the area, the dissident and playwright Václav Havel, whose family owned the house in which the architect lived.

Václav, who would eventually become president of the country from 1989 to 2003 (first of the Czechoslovak Republic and then of the Czech Republic), and who had collaborated with Milunić some time before, saved the idea for later.

The Velvet Revolution

In the wake of the events which leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall, street protests against the political regime increased, with Václav Hável leading the so-called Velvet Revolution, which peacefully broke down the Czechoslovak Communist Party and established a federal-type republic.

A general strike that paralyzed the country ended the old government and elevated Havel to the head of the new state. The idea of rehabilitating that old lot came again to Hável’s mind, and the architect Milunić was chosen to lead the project.

Václav Havel encabeza la Revolución de Terciopelo

Nationale Nederlanden takes over the Project

The Nationale-Nederlanden bank, today better known as ING Group, entered as a sponsor to the project from its representative in the area and friend of Mulinić, Pavel Koch, acquiring the site. His idea was to create an emblematic building to house their headquarters in Prague.

They contacted Milunić and suggested that he should collaborate with an internationally renowned architect on this ambitious project. One of those contacted was the French architect Jean Nouvel, who rejected the idea because of the limited space.

The Canadian architect Frank Gehry finally accepted to collaborate. Frank Gehry has won, until today, the Pritzker Prize and is the author of such renowned works as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the Louis Vuitton Foundation.

With total creative freedom and an unlimited budget, the duo of architects rescued the original idea and set to work.


Vlado Milunić

Architect Vlado Milunić was born in Croatia in 1941, but since he was 16 he had lived in Prague, where he trained as an architect at the Higher Institute of Technology and where he currently has his studio.

Until his collaboration with Frank Gehry, Milunic’s career, although he was highly regarded as an architect, had not provided him with any renowned buildings.

Until then, he had focused his projects on residential buildings and homes for the elderly and children.

However, from the dancing house, his prestige increased and that gave wings to his creativity.

Vlado Milunić

Frank Gehry

Frank Gehry is a renowned Canadian architect worldwide known  for the daring forms of his works, including the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, the Gehry Tower and the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, among many others.

After graduating from the University of California he moved to Paris to study the works of Le Corbusier and other European architects. On his return to the United States, where he lives, he opened his own architecture office.

Among the numerous awards he has been granted throughout his already long career, we can highlight the AIA (American Institute of Architects) Gold Medal, the Prince of Asturias Award for the Arts or the Pritzker Prize, known as the Nobel Prize for Architecture.

Frank Gehry

Design, construction and meaning

The work began in 1994 and lasted until 1996, when it was inaugurated. A year later it would be awarded by Time magazine due to its deconstructive design which, however, did not go down well with the neighbors.

The deconstructivist style

Deconstructivism, as a style, was born in the 1980s as a movement that sought to fragment buildings, challenging straight lines and classic geometric forms.

The buildings that fall within this style show risky forms and sometimes give the impression of being chaotic within an established order. For their cladding it is common to use innovative materials that adapt to the architect’s design.

Obras singulares deconstructivistas                           

Estilo deconstructivista

Vitra Design Museum, by Frank Gehry

Manuel Herz’s New Sinagogue, in Mainz

Dresden’s UFA, by Coop Himmelb

The dancing house, the ying and yang

The curious shape of this 8-storey building represents two dancers who show, however, a curious contrast that is accentuated if we look at the materials used for each of the two buildings that make up the work.

The general concept of the building is the contrast between a dynamic figure (the ying) and a static one (the yang), each one represented by one of the buildings.

Frank Gehry named them Ginger and Fred, in honor of the film couple formed by Ginger Rogers, the dynamic figure, and Fred Astaire, the static one.

Fred & Ginger, ying & yang of de Prague's Dancing House

Ginger Building (the ying)

The Ginger building is represented by the glass tower, which stands on a series of curved columns that give a graceful air to the figure of the building which, as we can see, contracts in the central area to project back outwards at the top.

This tower is covered by two layers of curtain wall, both of which are made of glass, with the exterior being attached to the building by means of a steel structure.

Fred Building (the yang)

For its part, the building that would represent Fred Astaire is supported by three pillars and its façade, full of undulating lines, has 99 prefabricated concrete panels.

The curved lines of the mouldings on this façade are striking, contributing, together with the curved shape of the building and the protruding window frames, to distorting the perspective and making it even more curved.

Finally, the building is crowned by a striking sculpture of metal tubes covered by a stainless steel mesh.

Inauguration and controversy

In 1996, when the building was inaugurated as the headquarters of the Nationale-Nederlanden bank, not a few voices were raised against it, calling it “the drunk” in allusion to the fact that its curved forms reminded us more of a drunk person than of two dancers.

For many residents, this modern building spoiled the aesthetics of the city, which, as we saw above, is dominated by Gothic and Baroque buildings.

It is at this point that the figure of Václav Havel, at that time already president, reappears.

Havel, the promoter of the idea, had continued living in the same area and during the first years and, until his prestige increased as a tourist spot, he defended the building strongly against its detractors.

Today the Dancing House (Gehry himself discarded the name of Ginger and Fred) is recognised as the most important piece of post-modern architecture in Prague and, as such, it has been and is recognised

Awards, recognitions and current image

In addition to the 1997 award received for its design by Time magazine, the Prague’s Dancing House has also been named one of the five most important works of the 1990s by Architekt magazine.

In its own country, where it received criticism and even comments that it should be demolished, it was launched as an image for the 2000 Czech crowns coin by the Czech National Bank, within the series of coins “Ten Centuries of Architecture”.

Today, the building is a luxury hotel with a cafeteria and restaurant on the terrace where guests and tourists can come to see the city of Prague from the eyes of the dancing house. 

Here we put an end to this entry about the Dancing House of Prague, one of the most recognized buildings in the Czech city and, by extension, in the European continent that, as you have seen, has much more history behind it than it might seem at first.

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