The ABCs of building blocks is a familiar concept in the architectural fraternity, but what happens when you overturn its entire process? This is the story of Canadian-born American architect Frank Owen Gehry.
Having migrated to Los Angeles in the late 1940s Gehry, studied architecture at the University of Southern California (1949-1951) and city planning at Harvard University (1956-57), his unique style of designing has come a long way from the then traditional style of architecture which leaned towards the Modernist movement.
Deconstructivism in architecture was the brainchild of Gehry, which he constantly experimented with through the 1960s. Deconstructivism was a form of philosophical and literary analysis that had a hierarchical pair of terms where one is the primary and the second is a derivative, for example; literal and metaphorical, intelligible and sensible, form and meaning. In architecture, it translates to demolishing this binary. This is not an avant-garde against the society rather unravelling the infinite opportunities within a form.
“To design something that one 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.” — Frank Gehry
The idea of visualising deconstruction at a macro level is not an innate skill rather an acquired one. Constantly working with materials like Gehry did in his grandfather’s workshop with wood shavings is an opportunity that led to the flamboyant structures we see today. But, investigating with materials would not suffice when the art in architecture has not been sculpted. His visit to museums and concerts brought in the rhythmic transition in his architectural style.
Inspiration goes a long way when it comes to moulding a genius into what he or she was meant to build. Artists like Ed Moses and Billy Al Bengston encouraged him to use waste material like unpainted plywood, rough concrete and corrugated metal. Launching his cardboard furniture line “Easy Edges” allowed him to experiment with these materials. But his interests always leaned towards buildings and how they would create an impact on the social fabric of a community.
Remodelling his Santa Monica home was the first milestone. Although he retained most of the existing Dutch colonial-era home, he added his creations around it. In some places, the framing, studs and joists were exposed showing the new versus old. At first glance, the house still looks like it’s under construction.
“I don’t know why people hire architects and then tell them what to do.” — Frank Gehry
Gehry and Partners, LLP
Gehry and Partners, LLP established in 1962 in LA, California, offers services in an international experience in the field of academic, commercial, museum, performance and residential projects. With a strong team of 160 employees, who have immense experience in the technical aspects of building systems and construction process and have excellent managerial abilities, Frank O Gehry designs all the projects himself.
The firm believes in an active conversation and collaboration with the clients. This is done through lengthy meetings with the client, community representatives, governments to secure a viable soluble for all parties. This is followed by programming and site options which take into consideration the larger context of the site. Simultaneously discussions regarding project schedule and budget go on side by side.
After resolving all the planning and site programming issues, the architectural design begins. Gehry starts with experimentation with many physical models and it is then presented to the client. This is supplemented with material selection and large-scale mock-up models to understand its functionality to the detail. The physical models at this stage become more refined and take shape firmly. The same is documented using a computer-based program.
The program used by Gehry and Partners is Digital Project, this software precisely calculates the surface area and provides quantity calculations and construction cost at different stages. Complete project information is given through this software during the bidding, fabrication, and construction stages, giving real-time data. At present, the organisation is dealing with 25 projects worldwide ranging from large-scale projects to small scale.
Here are some of his noteworthy projects:
1. Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, California
This building was conceptualised in 1988 and it finally opened to the public in 2003 after much criticism it faced throughout its project cycle. This building reflects Gehry’s passion for sailing and the exterior facade of this building speaks for itself. Massive stainless steel structures that resemble de-construction parts of a sailboat stand grand and dominant above Grand Avenue. This form follows the rhythm of music which also brings to the building in its entirety as a concert hall.
2. Dancing House, Prague, Czech Republic
A corner site couldn’t have been approached more creatively. These signature towers belonging to Fred and Ginger resemble a couple dancing. Cinched metal mesh, glass and concrete cylinder were materials used in collaboration with local architect Vlado Miluníc.
3. DZ Bank Building, Berlin, Germany
In Berlin, local land laws prohibit any building outshining Brandenburg Gate. Keeping this restriction in mind a massive stainless steel conference room was designed that was embedded in the atrium of the building which co-exists with the fourteen-year-old bank building.
The star architect recently renovated the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2021). This is the time when there are many changes in the interior of the museum rather than the exterior. This has been done by opening up new spaces, providing new access points and expanding downwards. With new art installations paving the way for further expansion of the museum there has been some anticipation for more contemporary elements to be added to the museum.
Gehry and Partners LLP isn’t just a brand name, nor is it propagandising a new style in architecture. This is the journey of a person whose vision for a new trend within the built environment addresses its end users, the people and the community. Communicating to the world the possibilities of how and when spaces can impact a person, not just at a physical level but how they feel in a space.