Dancing House celebrates 20 years

Landmark building by the river is now more accessible to the public

The Dancing House on Rašínovo nábřeží in Prague celebrated its 20th anniversary. The building now houses an art gallery, offices, a restaurant and bar with a view, and as of August is will have a two-story four-star hotel with luxury apartments.

Architects Frank O. Gehry and Vlado Milunič designed the building in 1992, and construction began in 1994. It had its official opening June 20, 1996.

Gehry originally favored the name Fred and Ginger, after the Hollywood film couple Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The name, however, didn't catch on and Tančící dům, or Dancing House, has become the common name. The building is supposed to resemble a dancing couple, with a glass-enclosed part looking like a female dancer in a dress, and the concrete tapered part is the male partner.

The idea was to have a yin and yang, a dynamic and a a static part. This was also meant to in part symbolize the transition from communism to a free society. The large metal sculpture on top of the building is called Medusa.

The site had been vacant since World War II, when an American bombers mistakenly targeted Prague on Feb. 14, 1945. Once the Velvet Revolution came, the lot on the waterfront with a good view of the city became prime real estate.

The modern design was controversial, as nothing like it had ever been built in the city, and there was some popular sentiment that whatever was built on the lot should be in the same style as the rest of the street, which had Art Nouveau, neo-classical and other early 20th century influences.

Václav Havel was a part owner of the vacant lot. He became interested in developing it in the mid-1980s and discussed what to do with it with architect Vlado Milunič. Havel envisioned a library, café and theater, but could not find investors. He said he hoped the building would become an important landmark.

Funding for the building came from Dutch insurance company Nationale-Nederlanden, which brought famed architect Frank Gehry to the project. The idea of a library and theater was dropped in favor of offices. The first official name was the Nationale-Nederlanden Building.

As of 2013, the building has been owned by Pražská správa nemovitostí (PSN), which has sought to fulfill some of Havel's original vision by making the building more open to the public.

“We are very pleased at this anniversary that the Dancing House is accessible not only for tourists but also Czech residents who like to visit our gallery, restaurant and especially the viewing area,” Dancing House owner Václav Skala said.

The art gallery also has undergone some changes. “In January this year we changed the concept and the name. We renamed Art Salon S to the more clear and robust Gallery Dancing House (Galerie Tančící dům). Also after the success of exhibitions on [Czech artists] Kája Saudek and Bořek Šípek we decided to dedicate space to important exhibitions of Czech artists and themes,“ gallery director Robert Vůjtek said.

Currently the gallery is showing Retro 70s and 80s, focusing on Czech design, history and everyday life. Soon the gallery will have a retrospective of Czech architect Jan Kaplický.

The seventh-floor restaurant in the building is now called Fred and Ginger, and has an international menu based on French cuisine. It had long been La Perle de Prague, which was one of the first truly upscale French eateries in the city, and was then called Celeste in 2009, which continued to serve French food but under a new chef.

The adjacent Glass Bar offers a panoramic view of the city.

The building has a new website in English and Czech at www.tadu.cz. It has information on the gallery, restaurant, bar, hotel and shop, as well as some history and information about the owners. 

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