India’s only daily art newspaper

Of Paper-bag and dancing buildings: The marvelous constructions of Frank Gehry


February 28, ON THIS DAY

Life is chaotic, dangerous, and surprising. Buildings should reflect that.

-Frank Gehry

Frank Gehry
New York Magazine

Frank Gehry, one of the oldest living architects of our time at the age of 94, has an interesting philosophy when it comes to creating buildings. This Los Angeles-based architect is well-recognized for his bizarre and unique architectural projects spread across the world, and Vanity Fair has even called him the “most important architect of our times”. His buildings are architectural masterpieces that can be called artworks in their own right, even though they look bizarre to the eye, with some looking like they have been inspired by a scrunched-up ball of paper. They reflect a simple philosophy of the architect: humans are what make the building and the world itself is reflected back through architecture. Gehry believed that architecture should never overwhelm the people using the building, the interior and exterior of a structure should not intimidate the lives of people, but should rather add to them.

Frank Gehry’s method and architectural philosophy

The “Paper-bag” building
Courtesy BBC

Gehry wanted to design something that people would want to be a part of, “something one would want to visit and enjoy in an attempt to improve one’s quality of life.” One might think that this would lead to Gehry using simple minimalist designs, but the architect felt such designs were devoid of life. He experimented with materials and stretched the boundaries of what was possible mechanically to create structures that simultaneously possessed a great sense of movement while being very open and welcoming, generating a sense of fascination for the viewer or the resident. This has led several critics to categorize his style as ‘action architecture’.

Gehry used traditional methods as well as cutting-edge tech to create his buildings; the man used to make wooden models of his buildings on one side and use CATIA (Computer Aided Three-Dimensional Interactive Application) on the other. Gehry’s unusual style and method have been of fascination to many, transforming him into a pop-culture figure; he has even made an appearance in The Simpsons, where a ball of paper inspires an iconic building. Gehry’s infamous “brown-paper bag” building, an addition to the business school at the University of Technology in Sydney, exactly reflects this idea of a crumpled ball of paper.

The Wooden models that led to the formulation of the building using CATIA
Courtesy Inhabitat

The making of the architect

Frank Gehry’s design philosophy firmly reflects in his constructions. Although the architect was born in Toronto on 28th February 1929, he moved to Los Angels after a few years, getting a degree in architecture from the University of Southern California in 1954. He studied city planning at Harvard but was disillusioned by the course as he realized that his ideals about creating socially responsible architectural structures were not going to match the academic and market ideals.

Since then Gehry has been working against the market so to speak– he does not produce typical buildings that conform to common styles and utilization. He always aims to create something atypical, embracing the idea of free-play. His first massive construction was the renovation of his own house in Santa Monia in 1977, where he used unusual materials like chain-link fences. Gehry established his own firm in 1962 and adopted CAITA, allowing him to scan handmade models and digitize the information. Gehry received the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1989 for his unique experimentation.

The Dancing House

a closer look Courtesy Wiki Commons

One of Gehry’s most well-recognized construction is the Nationale-Nederlanden building, commonly known as the Dancing House. This was designed by the Croatian-Czech architect, Vlado Milunic, in cooperation with Gehry on a site formerly destroyed by the US bombing of Prague in 1945. Vlado Milunic conceived of the idea of a project on the site and discussed it with Vaclav Havel, whose family owned the neighboring property and who went on to become the first President of the Czech Republic. Havel had hoped to turn the site into a cultural center, though it never came to be.

The building took four years of construction, ending in 1992. The project owes its unusual shape to the deconstructivist style of architecture. The twisted form is supported by ninety-nine concrete panels, each of a different size and dimension. The design is driven by aesthetic considerations like undulating moldings and unaligned windows with protruding frames, which gives the illusion of the structure being taller than the buildings around it, although it is of the same height.

The famous Hollywood musical duo of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers is represented in the building. The tower of rock is said to be Fred, and the tower of glass is Ginger. Gehry had originally planned to call the building Fred and Ginger, though he later discarded the idea. This structure invites the passerby with a certain warmth, filling the previous trauma the space occupied with new rejuvenated life.

The transformation of the space
Courtesy Wiki Commons

Gehry’s other notable works

Other famous structures designed by Gehry include the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, the Louis Vuitton Foundation, Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall. These are all humongous structures that reflect Gehry’s unique method and approach. All these buildings are left open-ended and aim to fascinate, looking akin to massive sculptures rather than usable buildings.

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Courtesy FMGB Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa

Architecture should speak of its time and place but yearn for timelessness- Frank Gehry





Building Art: The Life and Work of Frank Gehry by Paul Goldberger

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *