Jul 252013

The Dancing House

Prague Czech Republic

Because buildings can be fun…


Dancing House by © Adam Marelli

Building Pilgrimage

When I was in art school, naive and full of admiration for architects, Frank Gehry had me smitten.  His playful bent wood chairs and twisting buildings like the Guggenheim Bilbao had my little student brain mesmerized.  The rectangles and leaking roofs of Le Courbusier never made any sense to me.  I wanted buildings that had movement, life, and intelligent solutions, which pretty much rules out anything by Le Corbusier.  While I was backpacking through western europe I took a two day detour through France to visit Bilbao.  On this little venture I endured a french business man masturbating our sleeping car, almost getting robbed on the train at night, getting scammed in Paris, pick-pocketed in Bilbao, and the pains of traveling on the back end of food poisoning.  Good god, talk about architectural dedication.  Either way, it was worth the trip.  A single good building can be reason enough to visit a city.

Dancing House, Prague/Czech Republic. © Adam Marelli

Dancing House, Prague/Czech Republic. © Adam Marelli

Dancing House, Prague/Czech Republic. © Adam Marelli

On a much different trip for the Prague Workshop, along the Vtlava River, is one of Gehry’s earlier international successes.  Officially named the Nationale-Nederlanden Building, the Dancing house is a playful interpretation of a Czech apartment building on a touch of acid.  The windows bulge out of the facade and the hour glass facade slinks up the side and a bundle of metal and mesh cap the roof line.  It is a playful way to combine glass, steel and concrete.

Dancing House Painter, Prague/Czech Republic. © Adam Marelli

Dancing House Painter, Prague/Czech Republic. © Adam Marelli

The day we arrived a painter was touching up the lower columns.  He said the concrete needs to be painted four times a year to keep in fresh.  We lucked out and were able to play with the architecture while his roller cut in and our of our pictures.  It made for a touching human element in a forest of curing concrete.

Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius Crypt, Prague/Czech Republic. © Adam Marelli

A Very Different Building

When we finished exploring the many options for composing with curves, we went down the road to a very different building.  The Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius has a dark history of a fatal shoot out between the Nazi’s and the Czech Resistance.  The story behind the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, who was being groomed to succeed Hitler, is a story rarely told in American history books.  You can read the entire story here.  The short version is that the Resistance fighters Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubis planned to open fire on Heydrich’s open top Mercedes.  The machine guns jammed and they lobbed a grenade at the car.  Its explosion only temporarily disabled Heydrich as a shoot out ensued.  Heydrich died the next day from complications for shrapnel, but the Nazi search for Gabcik, Kubis and the other planners went on.

Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius Crypt, Prague/Czech Republic. © Adam Marelli

In standard Nazi form, they leveled the city of Lidice and Lezaky and executed their inhabitants (men, women, and you guessed it, the children too.)  Unfortunately these towns had nothing to do with hiding the fighters, who were hiding in the crypt of the Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius.  On the street level there is a small window, where the Nazi’s used to shoot into the crypt.  After failed attempts at shooting, gassing, and exploding the crypt, they filled it with water.  The eight fighters escaped through a secret staircase, but were completely surrounded.  They each committed suicide with poison and a pistol shot to the head for insurance purposes, since the Nazi’s were not planning on keeping them alive.  In the end these men are local heroes.

Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius Crypt, Prague/Czech Republic. © Adam Marelli

We entered the crypt through a bizarre steel door.  Inside the damp walls are all lit by the single window.  The light is a poetic reminder of the sacrifice made by these men who wanted to prevent the Nazi expansion in eastern Europe.  While this is not the most uplifting site in Prague, it is well worth the effort.  The war memorabilia outside ranges from the machine guns used in the attaches to SS hats (never trust an officer who wears a skull and cross bones on their hat) to the color guides that Nazi’s used for evaluating eye color.  All of items are fascinating and completely absurd.

After our history lesson, we went for a Czech version of a Thai lunch across the street.  Over a few Budwiser Budvars, not the American beer, we swapped war stories.  Since the workshop participants were representing Brazil, Australia, Greece, Mexico and the US we all learned different versions of World War 2 history.  The unexpected severity of the church brought out a sympathetic tone from each of us.

As we continued our days in Prague, I though to myself, its a real privilege to live in a time where people from such different backgrounds can meet through a website, travel to a new country together and spend a week enjoying each other through photography.  It is certainly a far cry from what the streets of Prague might have looked like in the 1940’s.  Up next will be our trip to see Mucha’s Slav Epic…

If you are enjoying the articles, leave a little comment at the bottom or share it with a friend.

Be Well–Adam

  11 Responses to “The Dancing House”

  1. Hi Adam, actually I am not into architecture photography. Not because I am not appreciate it, but this is because my eye are not good in seeing geometry. So mostly I am mostly taking people. From your facebook and your web it make me really want to learn taking architecture photography.

    • Hi Haricharana das,

      The world is made up of many parts. Its nice to approach each of them for their own merits.

      Glad the images are inspiring a new direction for you. It will be very rewarding.

      Be Well-Adam

  2. Hi Adam
    Great post, however I would encourage you have another look at ‘Corb’.
    For an out and out antidote to clinical straight lines there is Ronchamp: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Notre_Dame_du_Haut which is a strong first impression kind of building.
    I would also argue that there is plenty of “movement, life, and intelligent solutions” in Villa Savoye, which is probably a third or fourth impression kind of building – really an intellectual statement in 3D space: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Villa_Savoye

    • Hi Amonie,
      Have a read of Le Courbusier’s clients correspondence. Without offering any of my own opinion, the building cracked, leaked, was drafty and was deemed uninhabitable by its owners. Here is an excerpt from Madame Savoye (the owner):

      “It’s raining in the hall, it’s raining on the ramp, and the wall of the garage is absolutely soaked. What’s more, it’s still raining in my bathroom, which floods in bad weather, as the water comes through the skylight.”

      Architecture, unlike sculpture, has to function as designed (in this case as a home). If the walls crack and the roof leaks the building from a simple design/engineering stand point is fails. No level of rectangular innovation can supersede its inability to keep out the weather.

      In terms of movement and design, the wiki assessment that its Golden Section division of 1/16th is neither advanced or compelling. Dividing a square into 1/16s is dividing in half four times. If it were an exercise for a first year architecture student, I might give him some credit. But as a professional, it has all the complexity of a folding a letter in half.

      Its aesthetic failing is that it looked best the day it was built. This problem can almost be universally applied to the International Style. The glass, concrete and steel structures look great on day one. But they do not age well at all, the require an inordinate amount of cleaning and maintenance which often greatly exceeds the original construction costs. Anything that is well designed should get better with age. The obsession with white pristine surfaces is a cataclysmic misunderstanding of materials. But then again most of the International Style architects were academics, rather than architects with building experience. See Borromini’s formative years as a mason as a reference.

      There is more complexity in the base of a Palladian column than in the entire Villa combined. If anything his greatest contribution to the architectural community was that he started the trend of thick rimmed black glasses and wearing black suits to a job site. In my time in building, a dead give away of a bad architect was poor selection of eye wear and wearing black, since job sites are dust bins. A sensible choice would be tweed or charcoal gray.

      Alain de Botton wrote a rather hilarious essay in his book: The Architecture of Happiness.

      Le Corbusier would make for a good action figure, but not as an actual architect.


  3. Adam,

    For a good read about the Czech assassination of Heydrich, try “HHhH,” by Laurent Binet (originally in French, now in English). The title refers to a German expression, which translates to, “Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich.”

    I found it an interesting and enjoyable book. Impressionistic and as much about the writing of the book (visiting Prague, the research, etc.) as about the actual incident. Having recently been to Prague, it’s likely to have another layer of interest for you.

    Give it a try.

    • Hi Jay,

      Thanks for the recommendation. I think we just scratched the surface of that story. Only when I travel does it become so clear how broad history really is…and how funneled a version each country gives to their children in school.


  4. Hi Adam,
    I came across your site via a link from Thorsten Overgaard. I enjoyed reading your Prague articles. I also resonate with your comment “I thought to myself, its a real privilege to live in a time where people from such different backgrounds can meet through a website, travel to a new country together and spend a week enjoying each other through photography”. I have often reflected on this myself. I have made Russian and Ukrainian friends at my gliding club here in Australia, and sold a 1D Mk III to a guy in Omsk via a well-known photo forum run by a Brazilian model / photographer!
    It’s a great modern world connected by modern media, but with so much terrorism to temper the good aspects.

    • Hi David,

      Nice to find you here…indeed the its amazing how many good connections come out of technology. The constant barrage of bad stories in the news focuses purely on the bad encounters.

      But its truly amazing how well it can connect people.


  5. Wonderful photos of the Dancing House Adam. They remind me of the masterful architectural photos of Max Baur.

    Thanks also for your other stories of Prague – I am due to visit in the next couple of months and I will add them to my itinerary.

    • Hi Andrew,

      Prague is great, you should have a blast. And while you are there check out La Finestra and Divinis for dinner. There is also another casual lunch place called Ambiante. Its great, quite popular with the locals and they have wifi, if you need to camp out for a while.

      Keep me posted on the trip!


Add Comment Register

 Leave a Reply



You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>