What does ex-president Havel, hockey player Jágr, accidentally dropped an American bomb and communism have in common with the Dancing House in Prague?
The “Dancing House” is set on a property of great historical significance. There was a block of flats in place, which was accidentally destroyed in 1945 by an American bomb during the aerial bombing of Prague. The plot and structure lay decrepit until 1960 when the area was cleared. Another interesting fact is, that the neighboring plot was co-owned by the family of Václav Havel who spent most of his life there. Václav Havel was the ninth and last president of Czechoslovakia (1989–1992) and the first president of the Czech Republic (1993–2003). It was also he, who, along with Vlado Milunić, renewed the idea of development of the site again in the early 1990s. Thanks to his authority the idea to develop the site grew.
The original idea envisaged the creation of a house with a library, a theater and a café, which would be included in the cultural line from the Rudolfinum through the National Theater to Manes, but for this intention they could not find an investor.
The Dutch insurance company Nationale-Nederlanden (since 1991 ING Bank) agreed to sponsor the building of a house on site. The “superbank” chose Milunić as the lead designer and asked him to partner with another world-renowned architect to approach the process. The French architect Jean Nouvel turned down the idea because of the small square footage, but the well-known Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry accepted the invitation. Frank Gehry said he accepted the offer because “he would do anything for the country that gave America a person of Jaromir Jagr.” Jágr is famous hockey player, an icon. He won the Stanley Cup twice in the NHL, won the Canadian scoring five times and became the best European to play in the competition. Historically, among all NHL hockey players,, he is the second best in the number of Canadian ponits after Wayne Gretzky. He also holds other NHL records – for example, he became the oldest hattrick player.
Because of the bank’s excellent financial state at the time, it was able to offer almost unlimited funding for the project. From their first meeting in 1992 in Geneva, Gehry and Milunić began to elaborate Milunić’s original idea of a building consisting of two parts, static and dynamic (“yin and yang”), which were to symbolize the transition of Czechoslovakia from a communist regime to a parliamentary democracy. The opportunity to push through such a building Milunic attributed to post-revolutionary euphoria, Vaclav Havel, the then director of conservationists Vera Miller, and the rare interplay of coincidences.
In 1992 the land was bought by the Dutch insurance company Nationale Nederlanden, and on 3 September 1994 the foundation stone of the new building was laid. The building was opened on 20 June 1996.
The building has also received many awards. For example, the Dancing House won Time Magazine’s design contest in 1997 and was also named as one of the 5 most important buildings in the 1990s by Architekt Magazine.
And why is it called “the Dancing House”?
The house is named after the shape of its two corner towers, inspired by the famous interwar war dance couple Fred Astair and Ginger Rogers.