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Thread: Sketches of Frank Gehry (Film)

  1. #1

    Default Sketches of Frank Gehry (Film)

    Sketches of Frank Gehry
    A film review by Chris Cabin - Copyright © 2006

    Sydney Pollack has made a life out of making enjoyable romantic comedies and political thrillers, but has never gotten around to making a documentary. Apparently, this is why he was asked by longtime pal Frank Gehry to do a film on him and his groundbreaking work in architecture. What’s even stranger is how this little experiment becomes the most blatant expression of Pollack’s talents as a director and a strikingly sincere portrait of an artist.

    Frank Gehry toils in anonymity from most of the world: He’s an architect. In the world of architecture, he’s considered somewhat of a revolutionary, the equivalent of Dylan going electric. His shapes look somewhat sloppy and uncomfortable at first glance, using strange slopes and metal to create bewildering use of light. Eventually, however, his work becomes inviting and warm in a very peculiar sort of way.

    Pollack openly said that he didn’t want to make Sketches a film about how great Gehry is. Successfully, if awkwardly, he explores a few critics, who consider Gehry’s work obtrusive and mediocre at best. There’s no doubt that there is a certain amount of bias here, but it’s acceptable in that Gehry seems to be his own toughest critic. In one of the first scenes, we watch him and design partner Craig Webb take a part of the roof of a building design, corrugate it, and place it on the side, immediately stating that the next morning Webb and he will come in and not feel right about it.

    Instinctively, Pollack stays away from Gehry’s family and sticks to the man, his work, and his iconoclasm. We are given an in-depth study of his Guggenheim Museum design in Bilbao, Spain, which is considered one of the most original works in modern architecture. For the most part though, we are with Gehry and trying to understand the way he thinks. Milton Wexler, his psychologist of many years, is interviewed to allay questions of the way he constantly re-evaluates himself. With this, however, the film still has the ability to keep the mystery of artistry while still dissecting the process.

    Ultimately, the film works because Gehry is what everyone wishes celebrities and artists to be: down to earth. Gehry has an ego, but it is beneficial to his work. He knows he’s good and therefore, he knows he can do better. His friendship with Pollack is key to understanding him as a normal person because most of the interviews are wildly unanimous in his guile and mastery of his field. Pollack, who is often seen on screen, has the ability to just talk Gehry about work as it is to them. Both of them show true passion for what they do but at the end of the day, it's still work, and Pollack finds that tone in his conversations with him; a gentle balance of love and dexterity.

    Reviewed as part of the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival.

  2. #2


    Quote Originally Posted by Kris
    ...he was asked by longtime pal Frank Gehry to do a film on him and his groundbreaking work in architecture...
    Only a small ego.

  3. #3


    Quote Originally Posted by Kris
    Frank Gehry toils in anonymity from most of the world
    A joke? Yeah, he's not that famous. He only has a furniture line, jewelry and watch line, multiple books, and even a Simpson's episode about him and his work.

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  6. #6
    Forum Veteran krulltime's Avatar
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    Uh I am going to see this film.

  7. #7
    Forum Veteran MidtownGuy's Avatar
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    A joke? Yeah, he's not that famous. He only has a furniture line, jewelry and watch line, multiple books, and even a Simpson's episode about him and his work.
    I know, it seems unbelievable to us, but never underestimate the cluelessness of the masses! I guess he means famous like Beyoncé or Jessica Simpson.
    Too bad Gehry isn't a d-cup with fake blond hair. He'd be known by everyone from here to Tmbuktu.

  8. #8


    The Architect
    A relatively dark conversation with Frank Gehry.

    Saturday, December 23, 2006 12:01 a.m.

    LOS ANGELES--Frank Gehry is 77, white haired, paunchy, and when we talked one afternoon in late autumn the topics of age and death never seemed far off. Mr. Gehry is, of course, one of the world's great architects, creator of the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao and enough of an icon to have been among the personalities featured in Apple's "Think Different" campaign.

    Describing what it takes for him to accept a commission, Mr. Gehry says, "The determining factor is: Can I get it done while I am still alive?" Explaining why he doesn't build houses any more, Mr. Gehry says, "They involve a lot of personal hand holding. I guess at my age I don't have the patience."

    Probably more than most architects, one sees Mr. Gehry's buildings--buildings that have been described as resembling ruffling sails or looking like they are melting--and has a sense that there is a single personality behind them.

    "I don't know why people hire architects and then tell them what to do," Mr. Gehry says. "Architects have to become parental. They have to learn to be parental." By this he means that an architect has to listen to his client but also remain firm about what the architect knows best, the aesthetics of a building. This, Mr. Gehry says, is what makes an architect relevant in the process that leads to a completed building. "I think a lot of my colleagues lose it, lose that relevance in the spirit of serving their client, so that no matter what, they are serving the client. Even if the building they produce, that they think serves the client, doesn't really serve the client because it's not very good."

    Mr. Gehry and I meet in his office in Los Angeles. The office is in a warehouse; the office itself is a rectangular box in the middle of a hangar-like space that is filled with rows of cubicles. The interview takes a little over an hour and Mr. Gehry, wearing jeans and a black T-shirt, drinks one cup of coffee and then asks for a second. We sit at a long rectangular conference table and the only time he requests something be off the record is when he criticizes a museum that he believes is behaving badly towards an architect he admires. About his own clients and concerns he is surprisingly candid.

    The idea of an architect having a brand that he can use on a client's behalf is new, he says. "Probably if we were smart about it, we would figure out how to get paid for that service. It certainly is an additional service."

    Clients are pushy and ask for things that have nothing to do with architecture. Most recently and most directly in his own experience, Mr. Gehry was asked to put his name on a wine that a client produces. "If I end up selling thousands of cases of wine by just having my name on it, I don't know how I would feel about it. I didn't intend to do that."

    Clients seem to like to exaggerate how much something costs; this seems to add drama and glamour to their projects. There are stories, Mr. Gehry says, that when he first began working on the Walt Disney Concert Hall the budget was $110 million and that when the building was finally completed the construction costs reached $275 million. The truth, he says, is that the $110 million was the construction budget in 1989 and when ground was finally broken in 2000, the budget was $210 million. The building was completed for $215 million. "The people that paid for it know the story is not true but they don't care to clarify it."

    Because Mr. Gehry's buildings are as much feats of engineering as they are of architecture, it is strange to walk into his office and notice that there are no computers. Mr. Gehry's office is surprisingly spartan. There is a desk and there is a conference table and on one wall are photographs of friends. Sitting at his conference table and speaking of technology, Mr. Gehry volunteers, "I don't know how to turn on the DVD. I barely can use the technology in my car. It's a wonder I don't get into an accident."

    The actual physics and engineering of Mr. Gehry's buildings are managed by teams of employees. Some 150 people work for him, and when Mr. Gehry talks about what exactly he does that leads to a building, it seems that he is almost more a manager of personalities and processes than he is someone who sits down with pencil and paper. "The building process is complicated. You have an idea, an image, a dream. You start to fantasize. You've got to get that feeling through thousands of hands to build a thing. Meetings, bureaucracy, accounting."

    Considering that Mr. Gehry's buildings appear almost completely indifferent to conventions, I expected Mr. Gehry to be something of an egomaniac. Instead he turned out to be surprisingly modest. Describing a hotel in Spain that he just completed, Mr. Gehry said, "the rooms are comfortable," and when talking about the Guggenheim in Bilbao, he said that he was relieved that the people of the city liked it. The only time Mr. Gehry showed strong pride was when he was discussing being a good employer.

    Most architects of Mr. Gehry's stature can staff the lower rungs of their office with volunteers and interns. "I am very proud," he says and sits up at the conference table. "Everybody gets paid. Everybody here is paid. There's no freebie interns. I've never done that. A lot of my colleagues do that, but that offends me so I've never done that." Like only one or two other topics in our conversation, this issue of how he cares for the people who work for him is something that seems to get him excited. "I am very proud," he says, again referring to his employees, "that they always get cost of living index raises and bonuses and more."

    Another aspect of Mr. Gehry's old-fashioned virtue is his concern for what will happen to his employees once he dies. When I ask him if his age adds greater urgency to picking projects and finishing projects, Mr. Gehry says, "No. I am not that megalomaniac. No, I think the day will come and . . ."

    Then apropos of very little in particular, he says, "What I am interested in is, since it's 150 people here and a lot of people's lives and futures depend on it, how do you create a succession?" Again Mr. Gehry sounds passionate. "There's a way to leave it and pull the plug and I am fine and they"--referring to his employees--"lose." As part of managing for his own death, Mr. Gehry has been trying to build the public personae of the people who work for him, trying to direct some of the limelight that seems always oriented towards him in their direction. In the catalogs and exhibits devoted to his work, he makes sure to mention the people who worked with him on his various projects.

    As the interview wound down and the theme of age began to seem a more and more dominant part of our conversation, Mr. Gehry started to talk about some of the problems of getting older. Because he cannot program and has to work through others in order to engineer a building, he said that he is in some ways obsolete. Referring to these computer skills, he asked, "If I knew all that, could I be a better architect?"

    The thoughts of death and obsolescence seemed to bother him and make him perhaps slightly melancholy for, again unprompted, he said, "You know I find solace, like a lot of people do, in Bach and Beethoven. I go backwards and just the things I rail against in architecture people doing, I do in music or literature."

    Asked how he handled these limits he saw for himself, he said, "I keep going. Keeping going is important to me and not to get sidetracked and to get caught up in self-pity."

    In this relatively dark conversation, one story that Mr. Gehry told me and which made him chuckle was that of a friend who is a chiropractor and who asked him to help her lay out her office. "I love doing that kind of stuff," Mr. Gehry said. The friend came over and brought her floor plans and Mr. Gehry spent several hours noodling over them. "I've always had the fantasy of having a little kiosk in the mall where I could do that. Where people would line up and you would charge them 25 bucks and you would look at their plans. I love doing that kind of stuff. They think you are a genius when you move one little wall and get an efficiency and nobody had thought of that before. Small pleasures."

    Mr. Sharma is the author of the novel "An Obedient Father" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000).

  9. #9

    Default Conversations with frank gehry

    Essence of the Architect

    Published: May 7, 2009

    When architects cannot erect they write, and thus we can expect an imminent increase in publications by underemployed practitioners of the building art. However, good times or bad, producing books has been mandatory for architects ever since the modernist masters (and masterly self-publicists) Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier committed their ideas as well as their plans to print.

    Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Associated Press
    The Stata Center at M.I.T., designed by Frank Gehry.


    By Barbara Isenberg
    Illustrated. 290 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $40

    Frank Gehry, the most acclaimed American architect since Wright, is not a ­natural-born writer. To satisfy the considerable demand for personal explications of his work, Gehry, who turned 80 in February, has avoided the agony of authorship and cooperated with several interviewers on transcribed texts during the past decade. The best of them — the architectural historian Kurt Forster’s “Frank O. Gehry/Kurt W. Forster and the curator Mildred Friedman’s “Gehry Talks” (both released in 1999) — contain valuable insights into the subject’s idiosyncratic approach to a profession he has recast as an experimental art form and advanced as a technical discipline.

    Barbara Isenberg’s “Conversations With Frank Gehry” is the latest attempt to elicit the essence of his creative method in his own words. Isenberg, a Los Angeles-based writer on the arts, exhibits neither Forster’s intellectual sheen nor Friedman’s comprehensive expertise, but nonetheless offers worthwhile new information for architecture devotees and an engaging introduction for general readers.


    Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

  10. #10
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
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    Frank Gehry, the most acclaimed American architect since Wright...

  11. #11
    Crabby airline hostess - stache's Avatar
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    Default I watched it.

    It was diverting. I didn't know he was a truck driver for a couple of years.

  12. #12


    Well they said acclaimed, not talented. I think the programs and technologies Gehry and Mayne use for their designs will become more common in the future and hopefully used more productively.

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    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
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    Architect Frank Gehry on his first Australian project

    Australian Broadcasting Corporation
    Broadcast: 11/12/2009

    America's Frank Gehry is considered by many of his peers to be the world's greatest living architect. His remarkable Guggenheim museum at Bilbao in Spain, along with Jan Utzon's Sydney Opera House is regarded as one of the great iconic building designs of the 20th century. Frank Gehry, at the age of eighty has agreed to come to Australia to transform a former industrial site for the University of Technology in Sydney.



    KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: America's Frank Gehry is considered by many of his peers to be the world's greatest living architect. He's certainly the most distinctive and one of the most decorated. His remarkable Guggenheim Museum at Bilbao in Spain along with Jorn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House is regarded as one of the great iconic building designs of the 20th Century. The Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles is up there as well. But his soaring sculptural creations dot urban landscapes through North America and Europe, and now at the age of 80 he's agreed to come to Australia to design a new building for the city campus of Sydney's University of Technology. Frank Gehry knew and admired Utzon and feels his own connection to the Opera House. We recorded this interview from the Opera House earlier today.

    Frank Gehry, since we're sitting here in the Opera House, we might as well talk about it first.

    FRANK GEHRY, ARCHITECT: Might as well.

    KERRY O'BRIEN: As the man who created the Bilbao Guggenheim, the Disney Concert Hall in LA, what do you think of this building?

    FRANK GEHRY: Well, I have to be grateful for it, since when I was taken to Bilbao to do the Bilbao building, first thing they asked me is to for sure create the same effect, create for them the equivalent of the Sydney Opera House. That was part of my brief. So I'm eternally grateful to (inaudible) for that. I think it's showed that architecture can have an impact greater than just 50 feet away from it. It can be emotional. It can engage a world. And I think we should all be grateful for that example in our time.

    KERRY O'BRIEN: So when you first laid eyes on it, what were your impressions?

    FRANK GEHRY: Holy ... (laughs).

    KERRY O'BRIEN: You had your ups and downs with the LA Concert Hall and it was a long process, but it didn't end sadly or angrily like it did here for Utzon. Can you describe how the musicians responded there in LA when you walked onto the stage?

    FRANK GEHRY: It made me cry. They were so wonderful. The game is if the orchestra can hear each other, they play better. If they play better and there's a tangible feeling between the orchestra and the audience, if they feel each other, the audience responds and the orchestra feels it. And it's a win-win thing and it happens very subtly. So opening night was great and probably quite different from opening night for Utzon.

    KERRY O'BRIEN: Well, he wasn't here.

    FRANK GEHRY: Yeah.

    KERRY O'BRIEN: And with Bilbao, with the Guggenheim, can you describe the journey from beginning of conception to the final design?

    FRANK GEHRY: It was a competition, three architects. I actually helped picked the site 'cause they asked us to start with an existing building and it didn't make sense. I told 'em it didn't make sense. And so they took me out in the city and said, "Where would you like to put it?" And we'd all had a lotta drinks. I said "There!" It was right at the river, the junction of a bridge and a river and so on, and by miracle that was one of the possible sites.

    KERRY O'BRIEN: At what point did you feel that this could be something really quite special?

    FRANK GEHRY: I never did. No, not until the end, until later. I went there a week before it opened and I looked at it. I said, "My God, what have I done to these people?" Um, I think the issue is for the Concert Hall and the artists and everything, is to really embed yourself in those cultures, understand what it is and what their needs are. So in the case of both those buildings, they worked damn well, and ...

    KERRY O'BRIEN: So what do you think that building did for Bilbao, for the community of Bilbao, for the people, their perception of their city and themselves?

    FRANK GEHRY: Well this year they brought in 320 million Euros. Financially, it's been a great boon for them. They went from going in the press saying "Kill the American!" to now I can walk down the street and they touch me and I could live there for free probably.

    KERRY O'BRIEN: You're 80 now and there are some fundamental truths about growing old that none of us can escape, unfortunately.

    FRANK GEHRY: Is it that true? (Laughs).

    KERRY O'BRIEN: How has your age impacted on your work, on the ambitions you still have? Does it get in the road?

    FRANK GEHRY: Ah, I don't think I've slowed down. I think people around me think I've gotten even worse.

    KERRY O'BRIEN: And when you say the people around you say you're getting worse, what do you mean? In what sense?

    FRANK GEHRY: Well, I started a new business that I shouldn't have done. I've gotten all involved with this computer technology. And I see it as a way to change the culture of architecture. Architects are really underpaid, undervalued, treated like, you know, the little woman, "Oh, you're very cute," like the decorator. And because you're hired by a client, you design a building, they love the building, it goes out to bid, it's too high, they don't have the extra money, they go to the contractor and in that brief encounter the architect's marginalised. And it's the worst thing and it happens all over the place. With the computer, which I don't know how to turn on, you have control of all the information. And so you - when the moment of truth comes, you say, well, we can do this, this and this. Before the contractor bastardises your - and you're really in control. When I did Disney Hall, it was originally done as a stone building and we had these models. The contractor came in with the client, looked it and said, "You'll never be able to build that." And I said, "Well, come on over here." And I had a wall built that long of the building in stone, fabricated as a model. And he looked at it and said, "Oh, well, if that's what you mean, yes, of course."

    KERRY O'BRIEN: And that's what computer technology can do?

    FRANK GEHRY: Right.

    KERRY O'BRIEN: What are your thoughts at this stage of what you will create for your one Australian project, a learning institution?

    FRANK GEHRY: Um ... I don't have a preconception. I know that the budget is really tight. It's pretty contained. The site is small. So it's a constrained project already and it's gonna be hard to play with the forms. It's not - and it may not be appropriate. I don't mean - you know, Bilbao was built for $300 a square foot at the time. So it doesn't cost a lot more to do all that stuff. You just need site space. There we had the room and we had - the zoning allowed us to do that. Here you're more constrained. And more like what we did at MIT. It was kind of like that. You're able to - there's only one reason to push outside that thing and that's to give more involvement with where you are. So if you have a bay window in a living room, it's awfully nice to be able to step out to the bay window and look in all directions. So it's more about that. And that leads to a more interesting facade. And so I think those are the kind of things we'll be ...

    KERRY O'BRIEN: So you start with the random sketchy lines?

    FRANK GEHRY: Well the random sketchy lines are well informed by the reality of the site and the program. The interesting thing this project is that the brief of the business school is to reach out to the community and have the community possible to reach into them, to become part of it.

    KERRY O'BRIEN: So, this is obviously not the first time you've been to Australia, but when you come to a city like Sydney and you've been to Melbourne as well and you look at the cityscape, what is it you're looking for if you're making kind of architectural judgments about that city?

    FRANK GEHRY: Well, first of all the city is built with a lot of the same buildings, same banal buildings that are built in every city in the world. The value of architecture doesn't show - I mean, it's not different than any place in the world. Chicago's one of the rare places where architecture is more visible. I guess I try to understand the culture.

    KERRY O'BRIEN: So what do you understand right now about the Australian culture, that you will have in mind when you design this building?

    FRANK GEHRY: I guess there's a certain self-consciousness about being away from the action. On the other hand, there's seems to be a pride in the openness and that we're not - we, I'm becoming part of it - are not dragged down by all the conventional notions. There's a freedom here.

    KERRY O'BRIEN: A lot of conventionality too, though.

    FRANK GEHRY: I can see that, but it seems freer. It seems - when I got to LA in 1947, it was free. It was open. A lot of conventionality, but - and I feel that here. And so maybe there's an opportunity. It's very enticing, I can tell you that.

    KERRY O'BRIEN: Frank Gehry, thanks very much for talking with us.

    FRANK GEHRY: Thank you.

    KERRY O'BRIEN: Frank Gehry recorded that interview after a rather nasty bout of food poisoning.

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    Frank Gehry: 'Don't call me a starchitect'

    Is there any future for extravagant, 'wow-factor' buildings? According to the world's most famous living architect there is – and he has a few more home truths for doubters. As a show celebrates Frank Gehry's career, Michael Day gets an earful.

    I don't know who invented that ****ing word 'starchitect'. In fact a journalist invented it, I think. I am not a 'star-chitect', I am an ar-chitect..." Just 10 minutes into the interview, Frank Owen Gehry, the world's most feted building designer, is already a bit irate. A short, owlish man, who looks younger than his 80 years, he speaks quietly when left to his own devices, and meanders, never quite finishing one train of thought before it segues into the next. When he is tackling something more contentious, though, he relaxes and becomes animated. His head rises and so does his voice. He even smiles. This is a man who likes a scrap.

    So I lob the first hand grenade by using the s-word , and ask him if it is true that the so-called 'starchitects' – such as himself, Jean Nouvel and Zaha Hadid – have raised the profile of their profession and raised the game of architects everywhere. Or have they merely created personality cults? "There are people who design buildings that are not technically and financially good, and there are those who do," he replies. "Two categories, simple."

    Despite his modesty being offended by my use of the "star" word, Gehry, the most talked-about architect since Frank Lloyd Wright, is quick to ensure there is no uncertainty about which of the two categories he falls into. With no prompting, the statistics come thick and fast.

    "My building in Bilbao cost $300 a square foot with a budget of $100m. I finished it on time and on budget and it doesn't leak. After 11 years it's still there. Last year it earned the city of Bilbao €320m – that's the custom generated by the museum for the city through the visitors it attracted. Walt Disney Hall was built for $215m and the budget was $207m and it doesn't leak and people love it and it works, and people identify Los Angeles with the building the way people identify Bilbao with the other building." Phew.

    Milan's rather trad Triennale design museum doesn't appear to leak either, but otherwise couldn't be more different from Gehry's titanium-clad, avant-garde creations. Nonetheless, it is currently hosting a major display of the models, illustrations and photos of all his important designs since 1997. This was the year his gleaming Guggenheim gallery arrived, apparently from outer space, to park itself on the grey banks of the Nervion River in Bilbao, lighting up that rather down-at-heel Spanish city.

    A similar mix of hi-tech and whimsy reappeared in Berlin's DZ Bank building (2000), LA's Walt Disney Concert Hall (2003), the Ray and Maria Stata Computer Center at MIT (2004), and the as-yet-unbuilt addition to Washington DC's Corcoran Gallery, all of which are featured in the show.

    The Milan exhibition is an upbeat way for Gehry to end what has been both professionally and personally a rough 12 months, overshadowed by cancelled projects, job losses and family tragedy. It is also a timely reminder of the remarkable work he has already achieved. Despite his spectacular career, with a Pritzker Prize (architecture's equivalent of a Nobel) under his belt and professorships at Yale, Columbia and Harvard, Gehry's triumphs have never been enough to overcome his need to prove himself.

    He was born in Toronto, Canada but his family moved to Los Angeles in 1947. Gehry, poor, Jewish and new in town, was the triple outsider – snubbed by LA's artistic elite. He changed his name from Goldberg, supposedly on the advice of first wife Anita Snyder, in order to avoid perceived anti-Semitism in his profession. "Each time I suffer like I'm starting over again in life," he once declared of the design process. "There's a lot of healthy insecurity that fuels this stuff."

    It is a peculiarly American brand of insecurity, however, which required Gehry to seek years of help from psychoanalyst Milton Wexler, before allowing the same therapist to go public about his client's hang-ups in the Sidney Pollack documentary on Gehry and his work.

    That's not to say that Gehry is without a sense of humour. This is the architect who did the voice-over for his appearance in The Simpsons, parodying himself as he tossed scrunched up bits of paper onto the floor in search of inspiration for new buildings. There is also an endearingly prosaic quality to Gehry's bombast, and despite his stratospheric position in the world of architecture, the emphasis he places on sticking to a budget shows that he is aware of one of the biggest gripes faced by his profession – that its members get carried away, with little consideration for their customers' bank balances.

    But once again, Gehry has turned that charge on its head with his much-discussed "organisation of the artist" working philosophy, which places the architect in control of the design throughout a building's construction. This not only enables the original artistic vision to remain intact, but also eliminates the malign influence of politicians and business people on the construction process. In Gehry's view, these are the real villains behind inflated budgets.

    Matters of control and artistic compromise have been on his mind this year, in the build-up to his next, eagerly-awaited work, the Guggenheim Gallery in Abu Dhabi, slated to open in 2010.

    The vaguely pyramidal structure, surrounded on three sides by the waters of the Persian Gulf, will at 450,000 sq ft, dwarf the other Guggenheim galleries. Gehry has already gone on the record with his concerns that rigid Islamic cultural mores might seriously limit the range of art that the gallery is able to display. However, his fears have been allayed.

    "This was something that I was really concerned about. But they've just done a show of Picassos from the Louvre (presented in another Abu Dhabi gallery in the run-up to the Guggenheim's opening) which even contained some nudes and it went out with no problems; there was no editing or interference. They have curators from all the over the world now, so it's going to be a very interesting collection." Though it has been no bed of roses in the Emirates: "I was at a meeting and there was one curator there expressing his hatred of Israel to me, so you can see it's not going to be that easy."

    The Abu Dhabi museum is touted to be one of his most beautiful creations yet. A criticism that has dogged Gehry, however, is that his museums are more interesting than the art they contain. It certainly seemed true of the Bilbao Guggenheim – but it hardly seems Gehry's fault that the art it displayed was so underwhelming. A few years ago I was lucky enough to be invited to a gala dinner in this, Gehry's most celebrated building, and at night, with its soaring atriums lit in different colours, the building' interior was a work of art in its own right: cavernous but strangely intimate; part space ship and part Walt Disney fairy castle. Aside from some jolly Jeff Koons creations, there seemed little to drag my gaze away from the endlessly fascinating architecture.

    Other critics accuse Gehry of borrowing too heavily from other art forms – another odd complaint, seeing as artists from Michelangelo to Picasso have studied and incorporated earlier achievements from other art forms in their own creations. Gehry swats away such moans, in practised fashion.

    But other charges are a little harder to dismiss – or at least they rile him rather more. Shouldn't he make some more socially relevant buildings?

    Aren't his designs too extravagant? Times are tough, after all. This lights the touchpaper as effectively as the s-word. "We are architects ... We serve customers!" he barks. "I can't just decide myself what's being built.

    Someone decides what they want, then I work for them. Look, I went to city planning school at Harvard and I discovered that you never got to change a ****ing thing or do anything. Urban planning is dead in the US."

    So that's urban planning dealt with. Gehry doesn't really do discussion. But having uttered the final word on a subject, he sometimes seeks partially to make amends by offering discourse on a vaguely related theme. This time it is financial hardship.

    "I think that people will have learn to live more modestly; I think they should learn to save their money. We've been through a generation of excess – everybody's got two or three cars, we've been flying all over the place, but now something else is happening and we've got to respond to it; although architects alone can't do it." Some of them might have to tighten their own purse strings, though. Gehry has had to lay off 100 people from his own firm, Gehry Partners, in the past year.

    His candour is refreshing, however, in the way it allows him to criticise modish or politically correct assumptions. His views on "environmentally friendly" architecture are one example. "Green issues have been used as a marketing tool. Sometimes these green claims are completely meaningless."

    But there is still the quick chance to blow his own trumpet about a building he has just done in Switzerland: "It's all glass, but with the highest energy-efficiency rating."

    One underlying theme in Gehry's world-view appears to be is that progress is inevitable. "If you try to stop progress you can't," he says. "Even though some people don't seem to want it." He's keen to talk about a friend of his who he says is "under siege by animal rights activists" on account of his work as a medical researcher. "They've attacked his mother's grave, her gravestone and burnt his house down. These kind of people want to live in the past."

    Certainly, advances in technology, from metallurgy to computer software design, have allowed him to construct his masterpieces in stone, glass and titanium. But he also thinks technology could solve problems from population growth to environmental destruction. He just doesn't think that it is all the responsibility of an architect – even a very famous and influential one – to make sure it is employed to these ends.

    Although the new show is set in Milan, conservative Italy has never been receptive to Gehry's avant-garde deconstructivism or 'decon' architecture, with proposals of his for Modena, Rome and Venice coming to nothing. "In Italy, the country of the baroque, there's no place for post-baroque Frank Gehry," one Italian design critic wrote this month.

    "If I pay attention to what's happened in Italy and project what's going to happen in the future based on my experience so far, I would say that nothing's going to happen here," Gehry agrees. Anyway, he enjoys designing for more barren terrain, where there is a need for new visual stimulation. And whatever Italy's deficiencies, a lack of architectural eye-candy is not one of them.

    Is that why he has not designed major things for London, a city already brimming with radical new buildings by Norman Foster and the like? This starts him off again. "Is Norman Foster radical? I don't think so. What does it mean to be radical? Some people have the ability to experiment and some don't. Anyway, most of the world doesn't want experimentation."

    In this context I can't resist mentioning that architects' nemesis, the Prince of Wales. But it elicits a surprising response. "It's ok for Prince Charles to be who he is, and want what he wants – God bless him for coming out of the closet and saying what he thinks ... I mean some of things he likes, I like, and some of things he's come out against, well, I'm on his side," he says.

    New York, where he lived for many years, is another city in which you might expect to see more of Gehry's singular style. His relatively orthodox Beekman Tower, a 76-storey residential skyscraper, is due to open next year in Manhattan. But it was with the sprawling and ambitious Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn that he was to have made his mark on the city. Last December, however, in bid to cut costs, property developer Bruce Ratner fired Gehry from the project, scrapped six years' worth of design work in process, and replaced it with, in the words of New York Magazine, "a graceless knock-off by a journey-man stadium-builder".

    Critics in the city painted a picture of a celebrity architect hung out to dry by a property magnate who had used the Gehry name to obtain tax breaks, to win out over rival bids and to secure the power to evict tenants. Asked about events, Gehry merely says the collapse was "down to a set of opposing interests that blocked the project".

    He's also reticent about a more grievous loss, the death from cancer of his 54-year-old daughter, Leslie Gehry Brenner, herself an artist and designer, a month before the Atlantic Yards collapse. Fans of the great architect might also have been saddened by reports that he is thinking of calling it quits in the not-too-distant future. Is it true that he thinks he only has a couple of years of designing left in him? Gehry replies indirectly, saying his company is "in the hands of bright young things who are going to design lots of wonderful new buildings".

    But we probably haven't seen the last of Gehry yet. A look around the Milan show reveals Gehry designs still in the pipeline, including the proposed Atlantis Sentosa Resort in Singapore, complete with 300-foot pearlescent glass sails. So there could still be plenty more to surprise, delight and shock, before he calls it a day. Plus, there is every chance the designs that are already finished will still be here, leak-free, for a long time to come.

    The exhibition 'Frank O Gehry from 1997' runs until 10 January at the Triennale museum, Viale Alemagna 6, Milan, Italy; for details call 00 39 02 724341 or visit

    Gehry's greatest hits: A career in buildings
    Dancing Building, Prague

    Also known as 'Fred and Ginger' and the 'Drunk House', this waltzing building was designed by Gehry in collaboration with Vlado Milunic, and was completed in 1996. Its distinctive shape, which resembles two figures leaning towards each other, dancing, gave rise to its numerous nicknames. The river-front site was previously occupied by a 19th-century townhouse, which was destroyed in the 1945 bombing. The Dancing Building now houses offices and a restaurant.

    Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain

    One of Gehry's most famous buildings, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao is made up of curved, interconnected shapes cased in bright titanium, giving the shimmering appearance of fish scales. At its core is a large, light-filled atrium, which has views of Bilbao's estuary and the surrounding hills.

    Opened in 1997, it was deemed "the greatest building of our time" by architect Philip Johnson, and although it was designed to house substantial site-specific pieces, Gehry's architecture is often thought to eclipse the artworks it contains. Costing $100m, it paid for itself within just one year, and has been credited with kicking off a cultural and economic revival in the Basque country.

    DZ Bank, Berlin

    A rare example of Gehry's work fitting in with its surroundings – there are strict rules about what can be built in central Berlin, meaning an outlandish structure as in Bilbao wasn't an option. But the building, which houses office and residential space, still carries distinctive Gehry hallmarks: a grand atrium is topped by a curved glass structure resembling a whale's hump or a ship's hull, while the rear facade has a fluid, irregular structure which contrasts with the more conventional front, designed to match the urban planning of the Pariser Platz.

    The Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum, Seattle

    Paul Allen, Microsoft co-founder and collector of rock memorabilia, wanted a "swoopy building" to house his museums dedicated to popular music and sci-fi. Matching design to content, Gehry took inspiration for the sheet-metal construction from electric guitars: "We started collecting pictures of Stratocasters, bringing in guitar bodies, drawing on those shapes in developing our ideas," he recalls. The result – curvy and colourful, with a monorail running through it – does look both suitably sci-fi and 'swoopingly' musical.

    Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles

    Funded by the Disney family, this 2,265-seat concert hall offers another instance of nautical inspiration – its auditorium is designed to resemble a ship's hull. The exterior is visually arresting too, with sail-like curves made of shining stainless steel (some panels later had to be sanded to a dull matte, because their reflection of the sun's rays had seriously overheated nearby buildings). This 2003 construction isn't just about appearance though: it was carefully designed to provide exceptional acoustics, with a hardwood panelled interior, and is the home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

    The Ray and Maria Stata Centre, Cambridge, Massachusetts

    Gehry's 2004 building for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has a random look, all strange angles and deceptive curves, as if the different sections are collapsing into each other. It's clad in a mish-mash of surface materials, colours and textures too – mirror-shiny metal, brick, bold coloured paint, brushed aluminium. Costing around $300m, it was funded by Bill Gates and Alexander Dreyfoos, who each have towers named after them. However, in 2007 the MIT sued Gehry's firm after persistent leaks and drainage problems.

    Marqués de Riscal Vineyard Hotel, Elciego, Spain

    Gehry's only hotel is another fluid building, which seems to stream colourful, curling titanium ribbons over its central construction of sandstone blocks. Gehry called the building, which was completed in 2006, "a marvellous creature, with hair flying everywhere". Part of one of the oldest wineries in the Rioja region, the hotel offers guests a dose of avant-garde design to accompany their wine tasting and spa treatments.

    Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Museum, Saadiyat Island, United Arab Emirates

    Continuing under construction despite the crisis, Gehry's second Guggenheim museum will be a huge 450,000-square foot structure. Block and cone-shaped galleries cluster around a central covered courtyard, connected by catwalks, while other galleries pile up on top, providing an innovative combination of vertical and horizontal exhibition spaces with unique curatorial possibilities. Gehry's design brief was to "push the boundaries of his own architectural practice and set the benchmark for museums," according to Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon al-Nahyan, of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority.

    Holly Williams

  15. #15


    Quote Originally Posted by Merry View Post
    Why, sure!

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