June 22: why you shouldn’t call it “Fred and Ginger”
2012/06/22 § 1 Comment
On this day in 1987 Fred Astaire died.
An architecture person should be able to reflect on Fred Astaire like a regular person and remember only his elegant cinematic presence. Undeniably one of the great screen stars of all time, Astaire was a virtuoso dancer with charisma to burn, especially when paired with his long-time partner Ginger Rogers. But that’s become difficult to those who have memory of the 1990s when the names of the two were cheekily applied to designate a new building by Frank Gehry in Prague. Standing on a corner site that was bombed out (so nothing had to die for it, thankfully), it looks across the Vltava River to the Castle in the distance. It’s a pretty great part of Prague; no obvious monuments in the immediate neighborhood, but instead a very Praguish and colorful collection of Baroque and Art Nouveau era commercial and residential blocks. Gehry’s work, which owes something to Expressionism and the Baroque, fits in here as well as it does anywhere–indeed far better than in some cities.
Gehry’s building for Prague replicates, as much as possible for him, the scale and rhythm of the neighboring structures, with very expensive projecting window details staggered along the facade as if providing a freeze-frame of the building in the midst of seismic action. Or maybe it just has the nicotine shakes. The corner turns with a pair of forms, one a downwardly tapering cylinder with the world’s biggest sieve for a crown; the other a limpid, liquid flared . . . thing, that gets slightly skinny in its middle. The way it leans into the sieve-topped cylinder and bares so many concrete legs, very much makes it look like a (headless) creature in a skirt, preparing to do-si-do around her partner.
The big paired things attracted the nicknaming for this building, which was essential. Without it you’re stuck calling it after its Dutch client or Czech designation, two of the universe’s unfriendliest languages (right up there with Chinese and Klingon). So, generically, “Dancing House” it is, or for most, “Fred and Ginger.” And that puts the Muse twice in a reflective mood. First, how interesting it is that people crave an identity for buildings, and will make great leaps of association if the building does not look like a building. When buildings are abstracted forms, people tend to make up stuff: they’ve done it in an attempt to make sense of the pants, the corncobs, the quarry, the egg, the erotic gherkin. Second, while it is to be expected that the names of of the most famous dancing couples in the world would be chosen here, it’s really unfair to their memory. Together, Fred and Ginger were the epitome of grace and elegance, precision enhanced by emotion, virtuosity dazzled with wit (as they are in this little number). We’re not certain such could be said of the building. If dancers those forms be, they put the Muse more in mind of an analogy with a popular television show where contestants grind out choppy routines in flashy costumes in a bid for spectacle, high ratings, and advertising earnings. That might be fine for Gehry; not so much for the memory of Fred Astaire.
Image: (from this source)