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Saturday, November 21, 2015

Frank Gehry

Probably Gehry's most famous work. Would Walt Disney have approved?
If you've ever seen one of his buildings, you won't soon forget it. If you should see a second building by the Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry, you'll recognize his work instantly. I suppose it might be safe to say that an architect knows when he has "arrived" when his buildings are either loved or hated. If you're rather conservative by nature--politically, economically, socially--you'll likely fall in the latter category. If you have a "progressive" bent, you'll probably find his work endlessly fascinating. You may laugh at some of his creations from time to time, maybe even scratch your head and roll your eyes, but friend or foe alike, you'll want to see more. And if you've never heard of him till now, read on. Here's everything you need to know about Frank Gehry.

Walt Disney Hall, Los Angeles, 2003, Frank Gehry
When you have to consider a list of some seventy-five completed works by a single architect, it's hard to designate his or her "best" or most famous creation. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that both those terms best apply to Gehry's 2003 Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles (above). First of all, a concert hall may well be an architect's most challenging type of commission. The problems, from acoustics to aesthetics and line of sight and within the auditorium, not to mention crowd flow, parking, security, and dozens of other considerations lay a heavy burden on the architectural team to "get it right." From all indications over the last twelve years, Gehry and his associates did. The other factor in such a designation is whether the particular structure is representative of the artist's work as a whole. To my eyes, the Disney Hall is pure Gehry, its only competition for the top spot coming from thousands of miles across the sea, Gehry's Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain (below).

Guggenheim Bilbao, 1997, Bilbao, Spain, Frank Gehry
I have nothing against the Guggenheim Bilbao (above) as an architectural work of art. It's a beautiful building in every sense. However, Gehry, like so many other art museum architects (starting with Frank Lloyd Wright with his New York Guggenheim), has fallen into the trap of creating a building which competes for attention and excitement with its contents. NO art museum should do that. No artwork should be forced to do that. An art museum is merely a container--a housing--functioning only to preserve, protect, and pleasingly present the art within its walls while serving the immediate needs of those viewing it. Museum goers should be blissfully unaware of the building itself provided they can find the restrooms, elevators, gift shop, and food service court easily. The museum should not be ugly of course, but neither should it be "over the top" fantastical. Gehry's Bilbao extravaganza is very much within that realm.

New York by Gehry, 2007-11, Frank Gehry--76 floors in the high-rent district.
If an architect wants to be "over the top" he should reserve that desire for a building where doing so is an economic asset. That would very much be the case with the architect's 2007-11 New York by Gehry, a 76-story office and apartment tower not far from the Brooklyn Bridge at 8 Spring Street in Manhattan. Begun before the 2008 "Great Recession" and halted at thirty stories for a time, Gehry's first skyscraper has been universally praised as a welcome addition to the city's skyline. The video at the bottom gives an interesting insight into the buildings treacherous rise to such prominence. On the lower levels resides an elementary school serving the educational needs of the 904-unit luxury residential tower clad in stainless steel. Apartments range from 500 square feet (46 m2) to 1,600 square feet (150 m2), consisting of studios and one to three-bedroom units. All units are rental-only; none are available for purchase. Rates range from $3,100 for a studio apartment to $20,000 for an eight-room penthouse suite. That's per month, by the way.

They're really sturdier than they look.
I love the rocking chair.
Vitra Design Museum,
1989, Frank Gehry
The Dancing Buildings, 1995,
Prague, Frank Gehry
If you should need furnishings for your new digs in Gehry's residential tower, he's got you covered there too. Above are chairs and a sofa designed by Gehry. The Chairs, incidentally, are made of recycled cardboard. The sofa is of stainless steel for out on the terrace in order to match the building's exterior. The Vitra Design Museum (above, right) located in western Germany near the French border, displays Gehry's love of graceful (and often outrageous) curves. It dates from 1989 and is created from painted concrete rather than his usual stainless steel. On the whimsical side, a few hundred miles away in Prague, we find Gehry's amusing Dancing Buildings (right), dating from 1995. Seldom do you find architects with a sense of humor.

Facebook Headquarters, Menlo Park, California, Frank Gehry
Many of Gehry's architectural marvels are located near where he lives in the Los Angeles area, including his unconventional (in the sense it lacks his usual, trademark curves) Facebook Headquarters (above) in Menlo Park, California. However, if you love ribbons of colorful metal as much as Gehry, check out his Hotel Marques de Riscal (below), El Ciego, Spain. The titanium façade changes to purple as sunset progresses. It's part of his City of Wine Complex in northern Spain.

Hotel Marques de Riscal, Frank Gehry, part of the City of Wine Complex, El Ciego, Spain. The titanium façade changes to purple as sunset progresses.
Frank Gehry was born in 1929. He grew up in Toronto, Canada where he used to spend Saturdays at his grandparents' hardware store. His parents were Polish Jews who moved to Canada shortly before he was born. His grandmother used to entertain him with scraps of wood and metal with which the boy liked to construct fantasy buildings and cities. In 1947, he and his parents moved to Southern California where Gehry got a job driving a delivery truck. He studied at Los Angeles City College, eventually graduating from the University of Southern California's School of Architecture. About that same time a man some forty years older than Gehry was retiring from the army, a five-star general to become president of Columbia University in New York. His name was Dwight D. Eisenhower. He and Gehry never met, but in July of this year (2015) Gehry's final designs (below) for the Eisenhower Plaza memorial commemorating the life of our 34th president were approved. Once funds are raised, the memorial will reside in front of the U.S. Department of Education on Independence Avenue Southwest.

Gehry's Eisenhower Memorial. The Department of Education building is visible through metal mesh tapestries depicting Eisenhower's life. The statuary group is based upon the
famous D-Day photo of Eisenhower encouraging the troops.
Frank Gehry's Binocular Building, Santa Monica, California,
part of a three-building complex currently leased by Google.


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