When this seven-story building first went up in central Prague, its co-architect, the world-renowned Frank Gehry, dubbed it “Fred and Ginger,” calling to mind the elegance and wit of the famous film couple. Some local residents, not so enamored with the radical design, dubbed it “The Drunk House,” calling to mind a boozy Saturday night along the Vltava River.
Over time the structure has built a few metaphorical bridges, and now it’s simply called “The Dancing House of Prague.”
Completed in 1996, it took four years to build the Dancing House, designed by Croatian-Czech architect Vlado Milunić in cooperation with Gehry. It sits on land that fronts the river, surrounded by imposing 18th and 19th-century architecture.
The previous building on the lot was destroyed during the bombing of Prague in 1945, in the waning days of World War II. It sat in a shattered state until the rubble was finally cleared in 1960. It took another 30 years before new life was breathed into the corner lot, championed by its nextdoor neighbor, President Václav Havel. Havel’s family had lived for decades on the block, and when construction began in 1992 he was serving as the last president of Czechoslovakia. His hope was to create a cultural center along the river.
A lot happened during the four years of construction, including the Czech-Slovak split and Havel becoming the first president of Czechia. His support of the Milunić-Gehry co-venture sustained throughout, but the dream of a cultural center did not. The building was instead financed by the Dutch insurance giant Nationale-Nederlanden, and since opening its doors the Dancing House has been used as a post-modern office building.
Gehry originally referred to the two columns as “Fred and Ginger,” but later thought better of the imagery. It was hard enough in the early 90s for locals to accept a deconstructionist’s vision for the otherwise Romanesque, Baroque, Gothic, and neo-Renaissance capital of Czechia without then slapping an American name on top of it. So “Fred and Ginger” was dropped, and in the end, most everyone seems to have accepted the Dancing House (even if it might look a little bit tipsy).
A more formal acceptance of the building can be seen in the form of a gold coin, issued by the Czech National Bank in 2005, the final in a series called “Ten Centuries of Architecture.”
Know Before You Go
The building is in downtown Prague, at the corner of the Rasinovo embankment and Resslova Street, by the entrance to the Jirásek Bridge. It’s within walking distance of the Karlovo Namesti underground station. The building is used for offices and not open to public. But you can visit the lobby and the restaurant "La Perle de Prague" on the 7th floor, with a nice view of the Vltava River and Prague Castle panorama. The late afternoon and Happy Hour timeframe is the best time to enjoy the upper terrace views at the bar area - there is an outdoor rooftop patio for taking photographs. If you can, go at sunset, the view over the city is incredible.