Westbury’s Pick – The Dancing House

Each month, we take a look at a different architect or craftsman that has inspired us here at Westbury. This month we’ve picked the Dancing House, located in Prague.

The Nationale-Nederlanden building in Prague was designed by a Croatian-Czech architect Vlado Milunic in cooperation with Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry. It is nicknamed the Dancing House as it’s unusual double towers, which seem to bend, resemble a pair of dancers. In fact, Gehry originally named the building Fred and Ginger, after the famous dancers, though that name was rarely used as he apparently did not want to ‘import American Hollywood kitsch to Prague’.

Designed in 1992 and finished in 1996, the original idea of the building was to symbolise the transition of Czechoslovakia from communist to a parliamentary democracy through a ‘yin and yang’ structure consisting of two parts. This resulted in a very non-traditional building which was controversial at the time because it stood out among the traditional Baroque, Gothic and Art Nouveau buildings which Prague is famed for.

The history of the site development is interesting in itself. The area that the Dancing House is built on was decimated by the US bombings of Prague in 1945. The plot next door was co-owned by the Havel family, of which one member, Vaclav Havel, spent most of his life. When an idea to develop the destroyed site was originally conceived by Milunic in the 1980s, it was discussed with the neighbours – including Havel. Little did Milunic know that in subsequent years Havel would become president of Czechoslovakia and, thanks to his authority, the idea of developing the site would  grow.

Havel aspired for a cultural centre to be built there, although this was not the result. In the end a Dutch insurance company agreed to sponsor the build – of a house. Milunic was chosen as the lead designer, and, along with Gehry, the unusual Dancing House was created.

It is its unusual shape that deems the architectural style as deconstructivist – a postmodern style of architecture which began in the 1950s. It is supported by 99 concrete panels, each a different shape and dimension, topped by a large metal structure nicknamed Medusa because of its twisted shape.

Dancing House side view

The two structures are different in appearance; one is a tower of glass, the other a more conventional ‘block’ which runs parallel to the river and features windows which have been distributed unevenly to form ‘waves’. Despite their abstract placement, it is the placement of the windows that create cohesion with the surrounding buildings.

It is for its clever use of glass that we have awarded this historically significant “Dancing House” the title of Westbury’s Pick for March.