Frank Owen Gehry
Frank Owen Gehry, CC (/ˈɡɛəri/; born Frank Owen Goldberg; February 28, 1929) is a Canadian-born American architect, residing in Los Angeles.
A number of his buildings, including his private residence, have become world-renowned attractions. His works are cited as being among the most important works of contemporary architecture in the 2010 World Architecture Survey, which led Vanity Fair to label him as “the most important architect of our age”.
Gehry’s best-known works include the titanium-clad Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain; Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles; Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris, France; MIT Ray and Maria Stata Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts; The Vontz Center for Molecular Studies on the University of Cincinnati campus; Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle; New World Center in Miami Beach; Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis; Dancing House in Prague; the Vitra Design Museum and the MARTa Herford museum in Germany; the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto; the Cinémathèque Française in Paris; and 8 Spruce Street in New York City.
It was his private residence in Santa Monica, California, that jump-started his career. Gehry is also the designer of the future National Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial.
Gehry Residence in Santa Monica, California (1978)
Gehry was born Frank Owen Goldberg on February 28, 1929, in Toronto, Ontario, to parents Sadie Thelma (née Kaplanski/Caplan) and Irving Goldberg. His father was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Russian Jewish parents, and his mother was a Polish Jewish immigrant born in Łódź. A creative child, he was encouraged by his grandmother, Leah Caplan, with whom he would build little cities out of scraps of wood. With these scraps from her husband’s hardware store, she entertained him for hours, building imaginary houses and futuristic cities on the living room floor.
His use of corrugated steel, chain link fencing, unpainted plywood and other utilitarian or “everyday” materials was partly inspired by spending Saturday mornings at his grandfather’s hardware store. He would spend time drawing with his father, while his mother introduced him to the world of art. “So the creative genes were there”, Gehry says. “But my father thought I was a dreamer, I wasn’t gonna amount to anything. It was my mother who thought I was just reticent to do things. She would push me.”
He was given the Hebrew name “Ephraim” by his grandfather, but only used it at his bar mitzvah.
In 1947, his family immigrated to the United States settling in California. Gehry got a job driving a delivery truck, and studied at Los Angeles City College, eventually to graduate from the University of Southern California’s School of Architecture. During that time, he became a member of Alpha Epsilon Pi.
According to Gehry, “I was a truck driver in L.A., going to City College, and I tried radio announcing, which I wasn’t very good at. I tried chemical engineering, which I wasn’t very good at and didn’t like, and then I remembered. You know, somehow I just started wracking my brain about, ‘What do I like?’ Where was I? What made me excited? And I remembered art, that I loved going to museums and I loved looking at paintings, loved listening to music. Those things came from my mother, who took me to concerts and museums. I remembered Grandma and the blocks, and just on a hunch, I tried some architecture classes.” Gehry graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture degree from USC in 1954.
After graduating from college, he spent time away from the field of architecture in numerous other jobs, including service in the United States Army. In the fall of 1956, he moved his family to Cambridge, where he studied city planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. He left before completing the program, disheartened and underwhelmed. Gehry’s left-wing ideas about socially responsible architecture were under-realized,[clarification needed] and the final straw occurred when he sat in on a discussion of one professor’s “secret project in progress”—a palace that he was designing for right-wing Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista (1901–1973).
Chiat/Day Building in Venice, California (1991)
Part of the roof of the Fondation Louis Vuitton building as seen from the Bois de Boulogne in Paris, France (2016)
New World Center in Miami Beach, Florida (2011)
The tower at 8 Spruce Street in Lower Manhattan, completed in February 2011, has a stainless steel and glass exterior and is 76 stories high (2011)
In 1961, he moved to Paris where he worked for architect Andre Remondet. In 1962, Gehry established a practice in Los Angeles which became Frank Gehry and Associates in 1967 and then Gehry Partners in 2001. Gehry’s earliest commissions were all in Southern California, where he designed a number of innovative commercial structures such as Santa Monica Place (1980) and residential buildings such as the eccentric Norton House (1984) in Venice, California.
Among these works, however, Gehry’s most notable design may be the renovation of his own Santa Monica, California residence. Originally built in 1920 and purchased by Gehry in 1977, the house features a metallic exterior wrapped around the original building that leaves many of the original details visible. Gehry still resides there.
Other completed buildings designed by Gehry during the 1980s include the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium (1981) in San Pedro and the California Aerospace Museum (1984) at the California Museum of Science and Industry in Los Angeles.
In 1989, Gehry was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize. The jury cited Gehry as “Always open to experimentation, he has as well a sureness and maturity that resists, in the same way that 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.”
Though Gehry continued to design other notable buildings in California such as the Chiat/Day Building (1991) in Venice in collaboration with Claes Oldenburg, which is well known for its massive sculpture of binoculars, he also began to receive larger national and international commissions. These include Gehry’s first European commission, the Vitra International Furniture Manufacturing Facility and Design Museum in Germany completed in 1989. This was soon followed by other major commissions including the Frederick Weisman Museum of Art (1993) in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the Cinémathèque Française (1994) in Paris, and the Dancing House (1996) in Prague.
In 1997, Gehry vaulted to a new level of international acclaim when the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao opened in Bilbao, Spain. Hailed by The New Yorker as a “masterpiece of the twentieth century” and legendary architect Philip Johnson as “the greatest building of our time”, the museum became famous for its striking yet aesthetically pleasing design and the economic effect that it had on the city.
Since then, Gehry has regularly won major commissions and has further established himself as one of the world’s most notable architects. His best received works include several concert halls for classical music, such as the boisterous and curvaceous Walt Disney Concert Hall (2003) in Downtown Los Angeles, which has been the centerpiece of the neighborhood’s revitalization and has been labeled by the Los Angeles Times as “the most effective answer to doubters, naysayers, and grumbling critics an American architect has ever produced”, the open-air Jay Pritzker Pavilion (2004) adjacent to Millennium Park in Chicago, and the understated New World Center (2011) in Miami Beach, which the LA Times called “a piece of architecture that dares you to underestimate it or write it off at first glance.”
Other notable works include academic buildings such as the Stata Center (2004) at MIT and the Peter B. Lewis Library (2008) at Princeton University, museums such as the Museum of Pop Culture (2000) in Seattle, Washington, commercial buildings such as the IAC Building (2007) in New York City, and residential buildings such as Gehry’s first skyscraper, the Beekman Tower at 8 Spruce Street (2011) in New York City.
Several recent and ongoing major works by Gehry around the world include the Dr Chau Chak Wing Building in the University of Technology Sydney, completed in 2014. The Chau Chak Wing, with its 320,000 bricks in “sweeping lines” is described as “10 out of 10” on a scale of difficulty. An ongoing project is the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi on Saadiyat Island in the United Arab Emirates. Other significant projects such as the Mirvish Towers in Toronto, and a multi-decade renovation of the Philadelphia Museum of Art are currently in the design stage. In October 2013, Gehry was appointed joint architect with Foster + Partners to design the “High Street” phase of the development of Battersea Power Station in London, Gehry’s first project there.
However, in recent years, some of Gehry’s more prominent designs have failed to go forward. In addition to unrealized designs such as a major Corcoran Art Gallery expansion in Washington, D.C., and a new Guggenheim museum near the South Street Seaport in New York City, Gehry was notoriously dropped by developer Bruce Ratner from the Pacific Park (Brooklyn) redevelopment project and was also dropped in 2014 as the designer of the World Trade Center Performing Arts Center; both of these projects were in New York City. That said, some stalled projects have recently shown progress: after many years and a dismissal, Gehry was recently reinstated as architect for the Grand Avenue Project in Los Angeles and, though Gehry’s controversial  design of the National Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial in Washington, D.C., has been subject to numerous delays during the approval process with the United States Congress, the project was finally approved in 2014 with a modified design.
In 2014, two significant, long-awaited museums designed by Gehry opened: the Biomuseo, a biodiversity museum in Panama City, Panama, and the Fondation Louis Vuitton, a modern art museum in the Bois de Boulogne park in Paris, France, which opened to some rave reviews.
Also in 2014, Gehry was commissioned by River LA, formerly known as the Los Angeles River Revitalization Corporation, a nonprofit group founded by the city of Los Angeles in 2009 to coordinate river policy, to devise a wide-ranging new plan for the river.
In February 2015 the new building for the University of Technology, Sydney was officially opened, with a façade constructed from more than 320,000 hand-placed bricks and glass slabs, and costing AU$180 million. Gehry said he would “never again design a building quite like the “crumpled paper bag”.
Gehry told the French newspaper La Croix in November 2016 that President of France François Hollande had assured the architect that he could relocate to France if Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. The following month Gehry said that he had no plans to move. He and Trump exchanged words in 2010 when Gehry’s 8 Spruce Street, originally known as Beekman Tower, was built 1 foot (0.30 m) taller than the nearby Trump Building, which until then had been New York City’s tallest residential building.
Said to “defy categorisation”, Gehry’s work reflects a spirit of experimentation coupled with a respect for the demands of professional practice and has remained largely unaligned with broader stylistic tendencies or movements. With his earliest educational influences rooted in modernism, Gehry’s work has sought to escape modernist stylistic tropes while still remaining interested in some of its underlying transformative agendas. Continually working between given circumstances and unanticipated materializations, he has been assessed as someone who “made us produce buildings that are fun, sculpturally exciting, good experiences” although his approach may become “less relevant as pressure mounts to do more with less”.
Gehry is sometimes associated with what is known as the “Los Angeles School” or the “Santa Monica School” of architecture. The appropriateness of this designation and the existence of such a school, however, remains controversial due to the lack of a unifying philosophy or theory. This designation stems from the Los Angeles area’s producing a group of the most influential postmodern architects, including such notable Gehry contemporaries as Eric Owen Moss and Pritzker Prize-winner Thom Mayne of Morphosis, as well as the famous schools of architecture at the Southern California Institute of Architecture (co‑founded by Mayne), UCLA, and USC where Gehry is a member of the board of directors.
Gehry’s style at times seems unfinished or even crude, but his work is consistent with the California “funk” art movement in the 1960s and early 1970s, which featured the use of inexpensive found objects and non-traditional media such as clay to make serious art. Gehry has been called “the apostle of chain-link fencing and corrugated metal siding”. However, a retrospective exhibit at New York’s Whitney Museum in 1988 revealed that he is also a sophisticated classical artist, who knows European art history and contemporary sculpture and painting.