Frank Gehry has arguably been the most controversial architect of the late 20th and early 21stcentury. Just one look at his Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain is enough to give an idea about his unusual approach to architecture.
A Gehry building is like nothing else you’ve seen before. It’s outrageously creative, unique, and flamboyant. It’s a classic head-turner.
As far as I’m concerned, Gehry is the unacknowledged founder of the “Why Not? School of Architecture.”
Here are some of his other spectacular designs:
- Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA
- Dancing House in Prag
- The Experience Music Project at the Seattle Center
- Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University
I admit I used to be in awe of the incredible liberties Gehry has taken with FORM.
He has pushed the boundaries of our imagination and crash-landed on our urban landscape with the very same irreverence that Picasso has obliterated the classical form in the early 1900s and ushered in the age of Cubism.
I marveled at Gehry’s buildings thinking if Picasso were alive today and did buildings, he’d probably end up with Gehry’s creations.
However, gradually, other ideas began to take hold over the last six months.
More and more Gehry’s buildings started to look to me like architectural ego statements which sacrificed function and ecological balance on the altar of Novelty.
Gehry’s buildings do not fit in with their surroundings at all, for one thing. His “signature” usually stands out like a sore thumb in the midst of urban congestion (recommended: the DVD documentary Sketches of Frank Gehry by Sydney Pollack(2005)).
We should’ve been inoculated by now against such in-your-face bravado thanks to Anton Gaudi but here we are, in an age of continuing population increase, global warming, and limited public resources.
Asking that architectural forms serve some kind of public function is now even a more urgent request than before. And that’s where Gehry’s paradigm lets us down.
His Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA, for example, created hot spots on the surrounding pavement that at times climb up to 140 F, creating a health hazard for the pedestrians.
Why? Because his “wonderful” free-form panels modeled after crumbled sheets of paper acted like parabolic mirrors. The eternal laws of optics turned around and bit the New Form in the rear.
Again, the slanting roof of his Weatherhead School of Management building became a source of potential hazard when sheets of ice and snow started to slide off without warning in winter months. The same surfaces acted as gigantic sun tan foils in summer.
Did you know that in November, 2007, MIT filed a law suit against Gehry for the $300 million Stata Center ? “Negligent design” was cited as the reason. That’s a heavy charge directed at the brainiest architect alive from the brainiest institution in America.
As a dedicated humanist, I believe architecture should exist for and serve humans, not the other way around.
Gehry’s audacious experiment in releasing forms from their function and urban context proves this:
An iconoclast idea which can be revolutionary in one medium (painting) could well turn out to be a functional disappointment in another (urban architecture) at its best, and a breathtaking fetishism of form at worst.