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CONTROVERSIAL CONNOTATIONS: Frank Gehry

Posted by
on October 30, 2014 at 05:48 PM

Always one to cock a snook at traditions, as is evident in his architectural ideology, 85 year old veteran architect Frank O. Gehry goes a step further – and how! In a Press Conference at Spain, where he had travelled to accept the Prince of Asturias Award for his contribution to the arts, a journalist asked the veteran architect whether "emblematic buildings" such as his would continue to feature in modern cities. It followed on from another asking him to respond to those who accuse him "of practising showy architecture". He did so by producing his middle finger!! He later apologised for his reaction, saying he was tired from the trip. The Pritzker Prize-winning octogenarian may well be forgiven for his spontaneous reaction!!

© Courtesy of Internet Sources - Frank Gehry

Architecture, as all work of art, is open to criticism. The subjectivity of opinion, stemming from study and/or perception, is inevitable. Frank Gehry’s work-style, which largely falls under the style of Deconstructivism, is often criticised – either on the grounds that they waste structural resources by creating functionless forms, or that they do not ‘belong’ to their surroundings, or that they are not designed to suit the local climate. 

The recent episode of Gehry showing his middle finger to a critic is going viral. The question about emblematic buildings was reportedly answered in typical Gehry style. "Let me tell you one thing," Gehry said, "In this world we are living in, 98 per cent of everything that is built and designed today is pure shit. There's no sense of design, no respect for humanity or for anything else. They are damn buildings and that's it. Once in a while, however, there's a small group of people who does something special. Very few. But good god, leave us alone! We are dedicated to our work. I don't ask for work. I don't have a publicist. I'm not waiting for anyone to call me. I work with clients who respect the art of architecture. Therefore, please don't ask questions as stupid as that one."

In 1989, when Gehry was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the jury cited Gehry as “Always open to experimentation, he as well has a sureness and maturity that resists, in the same way as Picasso did, being bound either by critical acceptance or his successes. His buildings are juxtaposed collages of spaces and materials that make users appreciative of both the theatre and the back-stage, simultaneously revealed.” This more or less sums up the philosophy employed by the master architect throughout his career. Often referred to as a ‘starchitect’ – a label he has consistently rejected – Gehry is one of the best known architects in the world. His design ideology questions pre-set norms and flaunts its distaste for rules such as ‘form follows function’. This deconstructivist or post-structuralist ideology is the baseline for all his creative outputs – whether it be the design of a trophy, or a hat, a home, or a museum!

Setting up practice in 1962, Gehry’s earliest commissions were all in Southern California – with the most notable of his works being the renovation of his own Santa Monica residence, a building constructed in 1920 and bought by Gehry in 1977, and in which he resides even today. The dramatic renovation included a metal wrap for the façade, which still leaves a lot of the original details visible. (Image 2)

The fish is a recurrent motif seen in Gehry’s works – starting with the (now-iconic) Fish Lamps in 1984. (Images . 5,6,7) The most glaring fish-inspired designs are the Standing Glass Fish for the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden (1986) and the Fish Sculpture (Image 8) at La Vila Olimpica del Poblenou in Barcelona (1989-92). 

Other important architectural works by Gehry in the 80s include the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro and the Air and Space Exhibit building at the California Museum of Science and Industry in Los Angeles. His notable works after winning the Pritker Architecture Award in 1989 include the Chiat/Day Building in Venice, California; followed by many large national and international commissions such as the Frederick Weisman Museum of Art in Minneapolis, the Cinematheque Francaise in Paris, the Dancing House in Prague (Image 4)  and the Walt Disney Concert Hall (Image 3) in Los Angeles. However, it was his design of the Guggenheim Museum (Image 2) in Bilbao, Spain that catapulted him to international fame - which remains by far his most famous work. His more recent works are the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris (Image 9) and the Dr. Chau Chak Wing (Image 10) of University of Technology, Sydney’s new business school. 

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