101 on Frank Gehry
The architect's Fondation Louis Vuitton opens today - here's how to weave him into the conversation
DO drop his real name. (Brownie points for trivia.)
It’s Ephraim Owen Goldberg. That was his Hebrew name and he used it just once, at his bar mitzvah. In 1956, he officially changed it to Frank O Gehry.
DON’T say “it’s his best work” without adding a tentative “yet”.
In 1989, Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry won the biggest prize in architecture, The Pritzker, long before he made some of the iconic structures we know him for. Like the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao (Spain), outfitted in a titanium shell, came only in 1997; The Dancing House in Prague was up by 1996. The latest addition? The Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris, which opened to the public today.
DO note he’s responsible for the Bilbao Effect.
It wouldn’t be wrong to divide the design world into pre- and post-Guggenheim Museum Bilbao periods. The museum was a booster shot for the Basque country’s economy and it connected the dots between tourism and cultural regeneration. Now Abu Dhabi will be hoping to replicate this in 2017, when the Gehry-designed (and largest ever) Guggenheim opens doors in Saadiyat Island.
DON’T call him a ‘starchitect’.
The 85-year-old is known for consistently turning out landmarks. But the portmanteau that came with the critically acclaimed and universally known works really bothers him. Sure, his buildings are clad in rippled steel and bent glass, but these aren’t gimmicks to compensate for technique, or indeed function. Recently, when a journalist suggested his work is all about the spectacle, Gehry lost his cool and flipped the bird. Awkward.
DO observe how his works draw controversy.
His deconstructivist style often stands out against the context of his creations. For instance, when the unusually shaped Dancing House – with its leaning towers and glass façade – rose against the backdrop of largely Baroque, Gothic and Art Nouveau buildings of Prague, it drew criticism for sticking out like a sore thumb. But it started with Gehry’s own house in Santa Monica, which was built in the 1970s. To the existing Dutch colonial home, he added a postmodern edge with glass windows that looked like they were leaping out, and he subtracted the wall to reveal the joints, beams and wood.
DON’T be surprised to see the sailor in him.
In his downtime he loves sailing and some of that finds its way into his work. Look at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, with its billowing stainless steel sails; or the Guggenheim Bilbao, which looks rather like an anchored ship from the river; even the recent Louis Vuitton Fondation, which Gehry likes to call “a glass regatta”.
Photographs: Todd Eberle (Fondation Louis Vuitton); Alexandra Cabri (Frank Gehry)