The Nationale-Nederlanden office building, more often recognised as ‘The Dancing House’ is a modernised commercial building sitting on the corner plot, looking over the magnificent Vltava river and the surrounding historical structures. Constructed in 1996, the structure was itself a bold statement which stood-out in the monotonous neighbourhood defined by the typical ‘Art Nouveau’ buildings. The curved building also houses a rooftop restaurant offering amazing views of the city, making the Dancing House a popular tourist attraction.
As famous as it is, there are still some lesser-known facts about the building.
1. Story behind the name
Aptly called ‘The Dancing House’, the two parts of the building clearly resemble a pair of dancers. Named as an honour to dancers Ginger Rogers and Fred Astair (legendary dancing couple from the 1930s), the building was developed as an analogy of a feminine Ying, which balances a masculine Yang’ and is even nicknamed as ‘Fred and Ginger’.
2. Original site, original plans
The Dancing House today stands over the ruins of a house damaged by the US Bombing, in 1945. The initial ideas for a building to be erected on such significant historic site, revolved around creation of a cultural hub for the fragile post-war society. The first democratic president of the City, Václav Havel, formulated this idea to his close friend, and architect Vlado Milunić, who created a sketch of ‘an angular building’. And that was how, the ‘Dancing’ shape was conceived.
3. Changing Plans, And Architect
The idea of the cultural centre was dropped, when the Dutch Bank, wanting a commercial space decided to sponsor the project. Architect Vlado Milunić then approached French Architect Jean Nouvel to partner with, for the design. But the latter turned down the idea, and finally American Architect Frank Owen Gehry accepted the invitation and created this architectural marvel. Backed by the rich finances of the bank, the building funding was almost unlimited!
4. Design Style and Concept
Sensitively designed, considering the city’s contrasting political scenario at that time, the architects envisioned the building required two opposing, and dramatic elements. Thus, constructed in Deconstructivist (or new Baroque) style, the structure contains a static and a dynamic part, existing together, yet seen separately. The rock-solid tower represents the ‘Male’ or rigid part, while the flowy-glass building symbolises ‘Female’ or the dynamic side.
5. About The Structure
The unusual shape of this 9-storeyed building (2 of them, underground) is supported by 99 pre-fabricated concrete pillars, all custom made, varying in size and dimension. This framework is wrapped inside a double-curtain glass wall, supported over steel frame, extending out of the building. The male part is also topped by a large, twisted steel-wire mesh structure, to resemble a hat.
6. Three-Dimensional Elevation
To create aesthetic illusions, the designers aligned the fenestrations such that the building seemed to have extra floors than the adjacent structures. Further adding to the viewer’s confusions are the protruding window mouldings on the façade. Inspired by historic paintings, windows were ‘framed’ to achieve the effect of 3-dimensionality, and to capture attention. The flowing glass was made to look like the dancer’s skirt, and on the other side, the wavy lines and the windows shift the horizontal focus.
7. Commercial, Private and Public Spaces
While most of the floors are functioning as office spaces and Dancing Hotel’s rooms, they are restricted to the general public. But the building still has designated spaces for tourists and architectural enthusiasts to marvel at this masterpiece. With a welcome gallery and shopping centre on the ground floor, the building also houses a high-end luxury restaurant on the top floor, along with a terrace, to take in the breath-taking views of the river.
8. Interior Spaces, Exterior Tunnel
The complexity of the structure posed challenges for the utilisation of interior spaces. All the twisting columns running throughout made mass production and optimisation of the carpet area almost impossible. To tackle the difficulty, British Architect Eva Jiřičná incorporated design elements, common to those used in ships, and planned out small hallways to create circulation spaces and avoid dark alleys.
A lesser acknowledged fact about the building is the architects had originally planned a pedestrian tunnel to connect the building to the lower boardwalk. But this idea was rejected by the officials, and was never realised.
9. Testing Module For The Guggenheim
Admired for the abstract and unconventional works, Frank Gehry’s Dancing House would later act as a reference to his design of the Guggenheim Museum at Bilbao, Spain. The tools and techniques used here were the test runs for the processes integrated in his later designs.
The huge curves for the facades were developed by copying the aerodynamic spaces of aeroplanes and sports cars, to enhance the air-movement and reducing wind load. These curves were developed on the same principles and software used for designing French Jet Aircrafts.
10. Caught in Controversy and Criticism
The Dancing House has been tangled amidst various rejections, disapprovals and criticism since it’s construction itself. First off, placing a modern, deconstructivist building in a Baroque-Gothic neighbourhood attracted harsh reviews for the locals and even some architects. By defying the typical concepts of traditionalism, symmetry, geometric and rectangular structures, Dancing House gained the nickname ‘The Drunk House’ by the public. Seen as ‘Out of Character’, the design idea failed to integrate the building to the history of the place, which was actually the original concept of the project.
Not only inside, the building creates a user discomfort even on the outside. With one of the concrete pillars extending out till the footpath, the pedestrians are forced to walk closer to the busy main road, thus adding discomfort to the arriving traffic too.
Now, after some 25 years of it’s construction, the controversies have calmed down, and the building is accepted as a work of art, which adds value and beauty to the skyline of Prague, and a step in it’s modern architecture.