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Frank Gehry and His Mark in The World of Architecture

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Known for practicing a deconstructive style with his works, Frank Gehry has steadily become a household name in the world of contemporary architecture. The world of architecture has changed its style significantly over the course of human existence ranging from ancient pyramids, gothic cathedrals, to a more classical and approach. Within the 19th century, the use of technology slowly started incorporating itself into a lot of architectural projects for its large ability to transform a thought from paper into something more realistic and three-dimensional. Frank Gehry’s constructive style has made its way through multiple accidental discoveries and taking a leap of faith to pursue a style that can be hated by the rest of the world. Gehry’s journey to success and well-known regard in the architecture world was never easy, but like all empowering stories came from motivation, and most importantly individualism.

Slowly starting the architectural shift from simple modern pieces of work to technologically advanced abstract buildings, Frank Gehry has made a prominent mark in the world of architecture. Born on February 28, 1929 as Ephraim Owen Goldberg, his father later adopted the last name Gehry when the whole family immigrated from Toronto, Canada to Los Angeles, California in 1947. Once Ephraim had reached his twenties, he would then officially change his name to what we now famously know as Frank Gehry. Gehry’s now well-known architectural style began early on in his childhood when he would entertain himself at his grandfather’s hardware store spending time building small cities out of everyday utilitarian materials such as wood and steel.

His fascination for art and building was deeply connected with his mother as he once stated, “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.” Gehry went on to study at the University of Southern California where he found his true passion for art saying, “… ‘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.’ His mother’s encouragement and early childhood memories had ultimately paid off as Gehry went on to graduate from the University of Southern California’s School of Architecture in 1954.

After graduating, Gehry served a mandatory year of service in the United States Army; after serving in the army, he then moved to Massachusetts and eventually enrolled in the Harvard Graduate School of Design studying city planning. Gehry ultimately did not finish his graduate degree because he began feeling unenthused and eventually returned back to Los Angeles with his family.

Probably the most notable form of credit that Gehry gives when it comes to his style of work is accidental discovery. Early on in his professional career, Gehry’s main concern with his buildings was that he wanted everything to have a sense of place and not have anything feel out of context or uncomfortable for the audience. A lot of his personal feelings about his works were pushed aside as he was too focused on pleasing his clients and what the general sophisticated population deemed as appropriate. Gehry’s first monumental shift in his art was in the 60’s when he would manufacture successful pieces of paper furniture for Bloomingdale’s. He couldn’t process the amount of success he was receiving by making simple pieces of furniture, and in a heartbeat just “closed it all up and made furniture that nobody would like,” but what Gehry wouldn’t figure out until later was that this steadfast decision would lead him to have many more accidental discoveries that he would then learn from and incorporate into his style.

One of his more profound accidental discoveries actually came when he had a little too much to drink after signing a building contract for a small restaurant. He began sketching ideas on napkins and drew a fish; upon further realization Gehry noticed that everything about the fish he drew was absolutely perfect from the scales to the fins, but one aspect he despised was the tail so he once again made a rash decision and eliminated both the head and tail from the picture. Gehry also credits this moment as accidental, but also mentioned how “it was an intuitive kind of thing, and I just kept going with it, and made this proposal for a building, which was only a proposal.”

Upon multiple project completions with only mediocre success, Frank Gehry’s first stroke of fame began in 1978 with the renovation of his own home located in Santa Monica. Despite his neighbors opposing the scandalous design, Gehry managed to gain critical attention with the rest of the world as he was able to take “common, unlovely elements of American homebuilding, such as chain link fencing, corrugated aluminum and unfinished plywood, and used them as flamboyant expressive elements…”. Once the news of his small home in Santa Monica took wind, it seemed as if Frank Gehry was unstoppable as he was asked to build multiple pieces of work throughout the world and eventually was awarded the prestigious 1989 Pritzker Prize which serves to “honor a living architect or architects whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision, and commitment…”.

The group of individuals responsible for selecting Gehry stated their reasoning by describing him as someone who is “always open to experimentation, he has as well a sureness and maturity that resists…His buildings are juxtaposed collages of places and materials that make users appreciative of both the theatre and the back-stage…”. Frank Gehry in a couple years had truly managed to shift the architecture world from “orthodox modernist practice” to a more contemporary and abstract style which was uncommon back then. The ability to create buildings as an “incomplete state of construction” has ultimately led to critics coining the style as deconstructive. Due to its unique aesthetic, Gehry’s deconstructive works has enabled him to become a very “distinctive and easily recognizable designer of the recent past.”

Another very notable piece of work that was done by Frank Gehry was the Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2003 which is located in Los Angeles, California. While beautiful and distinct like many of Gehry’s projects, this one in particular managed to stir up a bit of a critical response due to its timely delay and lack of fundraising for this intricate building. The concept of the concert hall was initiated in 1987 by Walt Disney’s widow, Lillian Disney when she graciously donated $50 million towards the completion of the project. Gehry had completed the concept and drawings in 1991 and quickly began construction that following year. Funds were initially received through bonds being sold by the Los Angeles County, but the construction itself proved to become a costly challenge as funds were diminishing and having the garage itself cost $110 million.

Gehry was able to improvise in some ways by replacing certain materials with less costly ones, but ultimately the time delay is what created a financial stress for the city of Los Angeles. Gehry has even admitted in a TED Talk he had given that “it’s not a great building, but I approached it optimistically, that we would make a compositional relationship between us that would strengthen both of us.” Something important to note was that due to Gehry’s well-known abstract out of the box style, it was sometimes a back and forth battle between him and the client to deliver on something they both agreed on. Along with this, being a concert hall the building had to deliver good acoustics, ample lighting, a large stage but not intimidating enough to lessen the intimacy with the audience, and not to mention still maintain some sort of magical aspect that the Walt Disney Company aspires to deliver.

Despite all these differing opinions and financial troubles, both “performers and critics agreed that it was well worth this extra time taken by the time the hall opened to the public.” This project hit close to Gehry as it was one of his first major assignments in what he now calls his hometown and all eyes were on his way of directing the project sight. While the finished piece may have raised some doubts and controversy by some critics, the Los Angeles Times has dubbed the concert hall as “the most effective answer to doubters, naysayers, and grumbling critics an American architect has ever produced.”

Frank Gehry’s true breakthrough moment that finally established him as a “master among architects” came from his design and construction in 1997 of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Three architects, including Frank Gehry, from the United States were invited to to produce a conceptual design for the new museum in Bilbao. Like any work of art, it all started with an imagination and a follow up sketch, but what really enabled Gehry to take this artwork to the next level was the incorporation of technology and having the ability to take “computer-aided design technology enabled him to translate poetic forms into reality” which enabled him to repurpose his physical sketches into intricate shapes and patterns that were never thought of on paper. Since its opening in 1997, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao has been regarded by many as one of the most important buildings of the twentieth century. Something that served as a large contribution to the museum’s success was that its construction was kept on the down low by the press, so when the entire museum was revealed to the public the amount of publicity the museum received was astronomical.

The construction of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao has benefitted the city’s economy immensely as the city of Bilbao saw a large increase in the amount of tourists coming through the city. The success was so big that it became a phenomenon known as the “Bilbao effect.” Within the first three years of the museum’s opening, Bilbao has witnessed a shocking four million tourists coming through to personally witness the massive success the building has become and have generated the city over $160 million to the economy. The success of the reveal become so prevalent that there have been multiple attempts from other places to replicate the same amount of success by implementing large and outrageous styles of buildings to catch the critics eyes, but none have seen a reaction as great as the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.

A more recent project that Frank Gehry has been known to have participated in was the Dr Chau Chak Wing Building at the University of Technology Sydney in Sydney, Australia. The building was named after a Chinese Australian businessman who donated $20 million towards the funding of the building. Inspired by the look of tree houses, the overall aesthetic of the building has often times been described as a “squashed paper bag,” to which Gehry has responded with, “Maybe it’s a brown paper bag, but it’s flexible on the inside, there’s a lot of room for changes or movement.” Initiated in 2011 and opened in 2015 to the public, the $180 million business school building was finalized into a thirteen-floor building accommodating approximately just under 1,300 students and a little over 300 faculty members. Purposing over 320,000 bricks for the construction of the building, the Dr Chau Chak Wing Building has been given multiple awards including the 2016 Australian Engineering Excellence Award.

Another well-known recent project that has once again put Gehry on the map was the construction of the Louis Vuitton Foundation located in Paris, France. This beautiful two and a half story building was designed as a “center for contemporary art and culture, and to house the rapidly growing art collection of the charitable arm of the French luxury-goods company LVMH Moet Hennessy-Louis Vuitton.”16 A key inspiration that helped Gehry create this building were photos of greenhouses near the site of the project and emulating an “iceberg” affect by using “water in the form of a moat and a waterfall to reflect the ample light that floods all connecting areas of the structure…”. Plans for the building began in 2001 when the chairman of Louis Vuitton, Bernard Arnault, approached Gehry and pitched him the idea. The museum opened to the public in October 2017 and even held the Louis Vuitton’s women’s spring and summer 2015 fashion show; the overall construction supposedly cost $143 million, but a local French magazine had revealed that the building allegedly cost about $900 million. Whether the amount of money spent to create this charitable building was true or not, the Foundation received immense success seeing as it witnessed over one million visitors within the first three months of opening to the public.

While Frank Gehry may be ninety years old, that hasn’t stopped him from becoming more involved and pursuing other endeavors for the greater good. Gehry has been able to take his professional experiences and teach them to others by serving as a professor of architecture in multiple well-known universities in the United States. He has spread his knowledge to students at Harvard University, Columbia University, his alma mater which was the University of Southern California’s School of Architecture, and as of 2017 teaches at Yale University. His involvement in designing and constructing projects hasn’t stopped either as he is currently involved with multiple notable projects that are upcoming; “Gehry’s recent and ongoing projects include a new Guggenheim facility in Abu Dhabi, the new Facebook headquarters in California and a memorial to Dwight D. Eisenhower in Washington, D.C., slated to be constructed at the foot of Capitol Hill.” Known as being one of the first architects to start the architectural software revolution, he then went on to create a firm called Gehry Technologies in 2002 which enabled them to develop their projects digitally. To this day, many notable architects using Gehry Technologies include: Zaha Hadid, Jean Nouvel, and Herzog & de Meuron.

Interestingly enough, despite the massive success and notoriety that Frank Gehry has seemed to obtain, he has also like many artists have dealt with failure and controversy. A notable project that Frank Gehry was released from was the project of the World Trade Center Performing Arts Center in New York. Expected to design and have a part of constructing the building, Gehry was then ultimately released in 2014 as the designer of the project site due to Maggie Boepple, the president of the Performing Arts Center, disapproving of the proposed designs by Gehry. The Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial in Washington, D.C. has also been one of his more widely known controversial projects simply because it’s a current project that is being worked on. Plans to begin constructing the memorial was initially supposed to take place in 2012 after all the designs and plans were approved in 2010, but the project took a major step back as the Eisenhower family started raising objections to the designs for the $142 million memorial.

Allegedly, Gehry’s initial proposal of having a statue of Eisenhower as a child failed to accurately represent Eisenhower’s notable achievements. Even with the proposed revisions to the project of having a statue now depict an older Eisenhower, family members were still dissatisfied and were never contempt enough with certain details. Taking such a toll on the funding and the time expected to complete the project, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts had finally approved the overall concept of the proposed memorial in a majority vote in 2013. While the construction is still ongoing after what will ultimately become a decade of planning and constructing, the now $150 million dedicated memorial is tentatively scheduled to be revealed to the public on May 8, 2020. A very common characteristic that has been shown in this paper is the sheer volume of funds that have went towards any Frank Gehry project.

The idea of money and funding has always been an aspect that was quickly pointed out when talking about Gehry’s works as many people criticize him as being an architect targeted towards the wealthy. Some people have regarded Gehry as someone who is unable to be resourceful in terms of being frugal with what materials work best for a building, the longevity of a project which can lead to a lack of funding, and how overall the majority of Gehry’s works don’t appeal to the majority of middle class people and how like mentioned before, caters more towards the upper-class folks. Due to the extravagant nature of Frank Gehry’s projects, critics have also regarded his buildings as wasting materials to serve functionless tasks, and how the type of material used for the construction of the building disregards a city’s weather and climate pattern to rather create a more eye-catching aesthetic. While Gehry has never given a direct statement to his critics, he always mentions how art is subjective and even from the beginning started to create things that he knew zero people had interest in but he kept on pursuing because it was an art form that fascinated him.

Many have regarded Frank Gehry as a superstar in the world of architecture and has even been called a “starchitect,” but in a 2009 he rejected the title saying, “I am not a ‘star-chitect’, I am an ar-chitect. There are people who design buildings that are not technically and financially good, and there are those who do. Two categories, simple.” One of the largest achievements that Frank Gehry has received was the Presidential Medal of Freedom which is famously known as one of the highest honors a citizen can have. Awarded by former President Barack Obama in 2016, he praised Gehry’s works by describing his aesthetic and lifestyle by spending “his life rethinking shapes and mediums, seemingly the force of gravity itself.” Obama then went on to say what the true purpose and hindsight of architecture should really be, which is the ability to teach us that “while buildings may be sturdy and fixed to the ground, like all great art they can lift our spirits – they can soar and broaden our horizons.”

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Frank Gehry And His Mark In The World Of Architecture. (2021, January 25). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 9, 2021, from
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