Frank O. Gehry: Breaking the Boundaries
Ephraim Owen Goldberg, born in Toronto on February 28, 1929, has been one of the most visionary and intuitive architects of the 20th century. After moving to California at the age of 18, he studied at the Los Angeles city college and thereafter graduated from U.S.C. School of Architecture in 1954. He also studied city planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design but did not complete the program. It was at this time that he met and married his first wife Anita Snyder at whose insistence he changed his name to Frank
Owen Gehry. In 1967, he created his own firm, Frank O. Gehry and Associates in Los Angeles.
Frank O. Gehry's work has spanned more than 4 decades, and his buildings have explored the sensitives of the spatial and functional context within which they exist. His architecture is unique in its interpretation of form, texture, color and their interplay, and it is in these powerful expressions of pure geometry that he has invented a new, bolder style of architecture. His formalistic journeys are sketches tranlated to dynamic and bold forms and exciting interiors spaces. Gehry has excelled in his innovative and often surprising ways of using materials and surfaces.
His architecture has been described as everything from deconstructive to organic. The use of CATIA software, developed with Dessault, an aircraft manufacturer, has been customized by him in order to create exact and fluid masses helping him to explore newer and more innovative forms and construction methodologies while retaining the designer's control over the construction.
Gehry's own house and its extension was what catapulted his practice from a principally theoretical base to an avant garde architectural firm. One aspect of his work that reflects in all his projects is his love for the 'process of
design evolution' and his
stress on the buildability and viability of his ideas. Some of his other acclaimed projects include The Vitra Design Museum (1989), The Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao (1997), The Experience Music Project, Seattle (2000), The Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles (2003) among others.
Gehry residence was the first project where Frank O. Gehry's post-structuralist design vocabulary was displayed as the project in itself was designed as a series of disparate layers that interact with each other to form spaces and volumes. The eclectic use of materials like a chain-link fence, plywood, steel and glass were a derivative of the hetergeneous urban fabric of Los Angeles.
Another project, though unrealized, is identified by Gehry as his most important work and was the crucible for several design ideas including some that culminated in the Guggenheim, Bilbao. This was the Lewis Residence, on which he worked for ten years, and it was the beginning of an architectural style now associated with Gehry.
The Guggenheim Museum at Bilbao was what made Gehry an architectural icon, and his innovative ise of titanium sheathing, and the highly evolved structural system designed and resolved on CATIA made this a watershed project for global architecture. The spatial quality of the design and its resonance with its different yet compatible context has made this titanium clad monument a sculpture in itself.
The Experience Music Project in Seattle heralded a paradigm shift in the behavior of Gehry's volumes as diverse colors and textures were used to define different functional groupings. This controversial project has gained Gehry the dubious acclaim for allegedly designing buildings that overwhelm their function and are designed largely as a juxtaposed collage of 'cool' forms rather than a functionally responsive, built environment.
However, a counterpoint to this school of thought is the established fact the Guggenheim Museum at Bilbao has actually contributed to the revitalization of the Basque city of Bilbao. He has always strived for his architecture to be uplifting
and for it to make the experience of the space as important as its function. Bilbao marks the mature phase of Gehry's cubist sensibilty as he translates two dimensional cubist depictions into three dimensional spaces.
The Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, but it is often referred to as the copy of the Bilbao Guggenheim that was actually designed a few years earlier that was constructed later. This concert hall was designed to function as a multipurpose performance arena, and the building was designed around the need for the perfect acoustical space. The metal skin of this project was thicker and did not balloon like that of Bilbao giving the building a 'machined' look.
An interior designing project that defines Gehry's design philosophy was the Conde Nast cafeteria of New York City, completed in 2000. Every seat in this 260 seater cafeteria is individually sculpted, and an island in the center of the space is surrounded by individually designed glass curtains. Such a design vocabulary is possible only as a result of a high degree of technical research by the Gehry design team, which has become a hallmark of Gehry and Associates.
Gehry has distinguished himself with a few furniture designs created throughout his career. He launced the value-based Easy Edge chair series constructed from laminated cardboard. In the 1980s, he created his Experimental Edges modern furniture, again out of corrugated and laminated cardboard. The Experimental Edges series was "art furniture" and used materials such as a corrugated iron, plaster, industrial girders and wicker.
The early 1990s brought the development of Gehry's sculptural and gallery-ready Cross Check series from Knoll International. This collection of bentwood tables and chairs was a radically inventive use of materials; the chairs were made of woven strips of maple taking inspiration from bushel baskets and required no additional structural support. He also designed a series of Fish, modern Lamps using Color Core Formica, which is now in private and museum collections.
In early 2004, Gehry completed his year-long collaboration with Emeco to create the SuperlightTM Chair, a dynamic new aluminum design that was launched at Milan's 2004 Salone Internazionale del Mobile. Inspired by Gio Ponti's Superleggera Chair, the Superlight illustrates Gehry's architectural fascination with aluminum as both structure and skin and his proficiency in meshing components of engineering and modern design.
In conclusion, one may try to label Gehry's architecture but shall fail miserably as it is entirely his own functionality and formality. Some aspects of expressionist modernism and post structuralism can be detected in his works. His work is an architecture of exploration that seems to result in surprising yet exhilarating solutions. His architecture seems to mock yet embrace the city it inhabits, and his building forever move forward by extending the boundaries of engineered fluidity. He shall be remembered as the only architect whose work could elevated the self esteem of a people and as one who could engineer a sculpture.