The weird architectural world of Frank Gehry
If architecture is an artform (it is), and if all great art stimulates debate, perhaps there has been nothing quite as arty as the works of Frank Gehry. The Canadian-born American’s long and storied career, and multiple works, has been discussed, deconstructed and reassembled again for over five decades.
Projects undertaken by Frank Gehry range from the super-tall to the super-small and all feature his inimitable style. Deconstructivism, inspired by ideas conceived by French philosopher Jacques Derrida, runs through the DNA of every Gehry building.
Those already familiar with his work will know the score. Fragmentation; manipulation of skins or building surfaces; non rectilinear shapes; distortions; bulges; a playful disregard for established norms; Gehry employed all of these devices when designing everything from exhibition centres to private residences across his career.
It’s a career that has gained Gehry massive praise – Vanity Fair has called him “the most important architect of our lifetimes” – and a fair share of scathing criticism. Art historian Hal Foster suggests Gehry’s work is primarily an exercise in kowtowing to big business and corporate interests. Foster’s remarks may sting a touch more resonantly as Gehry left a course at the Harvard School of Design in the fifties after his affordable, socially-minded projects were discouraged in favour of more lavish affairs.
Still, art is art. One man’s apple is another man’s orange when it comes to such a subjective concept. Besides, deconstructivist godfather Derrida claimed there was no such thing as actual, empirical truth anyway.
The only way to form a real judgement of an artist’s work is to experience for yourself. And while we can’t bring you Gehry’s works in person, WorldBuild365 can bring the proverbial mountain to you via our blog. We’ve picked out three projects we feel give a solid impression of the controversial architect’s divisive style.
So take a deep breath as we plunge into the weird, and wonderful, world of Frank Gehry.
Guggenheim Bilbao – Bilbao, Spain
For younger architecture fans, their first exposure to the works of Frank Gehry was probably the avalanche of titanium, stone and glass that form the Guggenheim in Bilbao. Seemingly built by stealth, going largely unnoticed by the press at the time, it opened to a fanfare of publicity and cemented Gehry a new generation of fans (and detractors of course).
It’s easy to see why. To the uninitiated, Guggenheim Bilbao represents a lurid blend of forms, juxtapositions and competition that, frankly, is a bit of a mess. To others, its soaring volumes, slinky, serpentine curves and shining finish offered a breath of fresh air compared with the usual fusty museum halls.
Gehry has something of a love affair with metal, and many of his projects feature metal facading, skins or cladding in some capacity or other. Use of titanium at the Guggenheim Bilbao somehow makes this already eye-popping collection of shapes even more resplendent and attention-commanding.
Not only that, but the museum’s construction helped reinvigorate the local economy by creating plenty of jobs and bringing in the tourist bucks. Bilbao was once a struggling industrial city – now it’s a cultural hotspot. So, it looks like Gehry’s social conscious still informs his work – even if said work is a multimillion dollar cultural centre instead of affordable housing.
Dancing House – Prague, Czech Republic
Sure, corporations may be seen as heartless to some, but when their coffers are overflowing it can lead to some certainly interesting developments. Dancing House in Prague, this time a joint operation between Gehry and local boy Vlado Milunić, was built on corporate cash courtesy of Dutch bank ING.
Quite why it was ING’s interests to fund an iconic building for Prague is a mystery. Still, it certainly attracts attention to the Czech Republic’s capital – despite the seemingly endless supply of stunning historic buildings in the city centre.
Stars of stage and screen Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, and their fancy footwork, fired Gehry’s imagination when it came to designing Dancing House. A glass tower warps and wraps itself around a reciprocal concrete structure, presenting two figures locked in a balletic embrace. Curved pillars support the glass section, and offer a more feminine, curvy “Ginger” clasping tightly to “Fred”.
At first glance, Dancing House’s subtleties could be lost, particularly the adjoining “arms”. But like much of Gehry’s work this particular development needs further scrutiny. Or not – depending on your point of view of course.
Museum of Pop Culture – Seattle, Washington, United States
Another maddening medley of shapes, forms and functions, the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) has, according to the Seattle Times, stirred “debate, curiosity, and no small measure of snarkiness” since it was unveiled in 2000. A mishmash of planes, materials and colours were employed by Gehry to create this temple to modern music and culture.
In spite of outside appearances, some logic went into the MoPOP’s voluptuous exteriors. Fender Stratocasters, the ground-breaking guitar favoured by West Coast Seattle boy Jimi Hendrix, and other suitably curvaceous guitar shapes were brought in-studio and examined in depth to ensure a musical note rang throughout the architecture itself.
The building itself is meant to provide a physical representation of people’s engagement with music, as it started as the Experience Music Project before being renamed in 2016. Its metallic facades, for example, bursting with colour, rippling across the breeze, suggests flowing soundwaves blasting out of some speakers. It’s easy to picture the MoPoP as the physical residue from a screeching guitar amp.
Once again, this Gehry development was funded via corporate cash. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen fronted the funding. It doesn’t do much for Gehry’s reputation as an architect focussed solely on corporate projects, does it? Still, a man who once described 98% of modern architecture as “s**t” is only going to invite criticism.
So what are your thoughts on the work of Frank Gehry? Unfairly maligned or a man out of touch with the practical, less showy aspects of architecture? Let us know what you think.