Frank Owen Gehry, original name Ephraim Owen Goldberg, also called Frank O. Gehry was born on February 28, 1929, in Toronto Canada. This Canadian American architect and designer whose original, sculptural, and often audacious work won him worldwide renown.
In 1947 Gehry and his family immigrated to Los Angeles, where he soon began taking night classes at Los Angeles City College. In the next few years, he studied architecture at the University of Southern California (1949-51; 1954) and city planning at Harvard University (1956-57). After he worked for several architectural firms, including those of Victor Gruen in Los Angeles and Andre Remondet in Paris, he established his own company, Frank O. Gehry & Associates, in 1962. Its successor was Gehry Partners in 2002.
Gehry reacted like many of his contemporaries against the cold and often rigid Modernist buildings that dotted many cityscapes, so he began to experiment with unusual expressive devices and to search for a personal vocabulary. In his early work, he built unique, quirky structures that emphasized human scales and contextual integrity. These experiments are best represented by the “renovations” he made to his own home (1978 and 1994) in Santa Monica, California.
What Gehry did was strip the two-story home down to its frame and then build a chain link and corrugated steel frame around it, complete with asymmetrical protrusions of steel rod and glass. He created the typical bungalow and the architectural norms it embodied appear to have exploded wide open. Gehry continued those design experiments in two popular lines of corrugated cardboard furniture, Easy Edges (1969-73) and Experimental Edges (1979-82). His ability to undermine the viewer’s expectations of traditional materials and form led him to be grouped with the deconstructivist movement in architecture, although his play upon architectural tradition also caused him to be linked to postmodernism.
Gehry treated each new commission as “a sculptural object, a spatial container, a space with light and air,” and he was rewarded with commissions the world over throughout the 1980s and nineties. These works possessed the deconstructed quality of his Santa Monica home but began to display a pristine grandeur that suited his increasingly public projects. Notable structures from the period include the following:
- Vitra Furniture Museum and Factory, Weil am Rhein, Germany (1987)
- American Center, Paris, France (1994)
- Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, United States (1993)
Gehry’s reputation soared in the late 1990s. By that time, his trademark style had become creating buildings that resemble undulating free-form sculptures. This form reached its peak in his Guggenheim Bilbao (1997) in Spain. This structure caused a museum building boom in the early 21st century. In that structure, Gehry combined curvaceous titanium forms with interconnecting limestone masses to create a sculptural feat of engineering. He further explored those concerns in the Experience Music Project (1995-2000; renamed the Museum of Pop Culture in 2016) in Seattle. It is constructed of a fabricated steel frame wrapped in colorful sheet metal. The structure was, according to Gehry, modeled on the shape of a guitar, particularly a smashed electric guitar. As with the Guggenheim structure, he employed cutting-edge computer technology to uncover the engineering solutions that could bring his sculptural sketches to life. Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles was designed before the Bilbao Museum but was completed in 2003 to great acclaim. Gehry was also in high demand in the 21st century. He designed several cultural institutions including:
- Performing Arts Center for Bards College, Annandale-On-Hudson, New York
- Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Chicago’s Millennium Park
- New World Center for the New World Symphony orchestral academy, Miami Beach, Florida
For his 2008 renovation of the Art Museum of Ontario in Toronto, Gehry retained the original building (1918) but removed an artistically unsuccessful entryway that had been added in the 1990s. Although the updated museum shows many characteristics Gehry touches, one critic called it “one of Mr. Gehry’s most gentle and self-possessed designs.”
As the 21st century progressed, Gehry continued to receive numerous large-scale commissions. His building for the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health (2010) in Las Vegas is a pile of collapsed stainless-steel facades. In 2012 he completed his first skyscraper, 8 Spruce Street, a 76-story residential tower in New York City. By the mid-2010s Gehry had cemented his audacious style, but he proved that he could still surprise audiences. He notably experimented with different forms and materials to create the jewel-like building for the Foundation Louis Vuitton (2014) in the Bois de Boulogne, Paris. His other projects from the decade include the brightly colored Biomuseo (2014), a biodiversity museum in Panama City, Panama, and a number of buildings for Facebook (2015 and 2018) in Palo Alto, California.
The 2020s saw the completion of the long-awaited Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial (2020) in Washington, D.C.; a renovation and extension of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2021); a tower for the LUMA Arles campus (2021), France; and housing development (2022) at Battersea Power Station, London. Gehry also worked on a number of projects throughout his adopted hometown. For the Judith and Thomas L. Beckmen YOLA Center (2021), Gehry repurposed a mid-century bank to create a permanent home for the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles, and he designed a building pro bono for the Children’s Institute (2022), an organization providing social services for local families. Gehry also built The Grans (2022), a pair of skyscrapers across from his Walt Disney Concert Hall comprising mixed-income residences, retail space, and a hotel.
Although there was some critical opinion that was divided over his radical structures, Gehry’s work made architecture popular. He was talked about in a manner not seen in the United States since Frank Lloyd Wright. Among the many awards won by Gehry are the Pritzker Architecture Prize (1989), the Japan Art Association’s Premium Imperiale Prize for Architecture (1992), the National Medal of the Arts (1998), the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal (1999), the Gold Medal for Architecture from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (2002), and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2016).
It is not often the case that architects grow to become household names. But Frank Gehry has never lived by any frequent practice. The award-winning architect has spent more than a half-century disrupting the very meaning of design within architecture. From the iconic Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (which Philip Johnson called “the greatest building of our time”) to the Foundation Louis Vuitton in Paris, Gehry has proven time and again that the force that is produced when a whimsical design is done masterfully.
Frank Gehry is an architect who has spent more than fifty years creating the most remarkable structures with his most unconventional and dynamic use of forms, colors, and shapes. Gehry still lives and works in Los Angeles. He is admired and revered by architects all over the world.
We at Scarano Architect, PLLC, have much respect for Frank Gehry and his many fine additions to the world of architecture and design. We are also available to assist you with all your design and building needs. Check out our website and feel free to contact us anytime.