Canadian American architect Frank O. Gehry, one of the most formidable forces in 21st century design, is well-known for his controversial designs and his conviction that “architecture is art”. Gehry emerged as an architect at a time when Brutalist modern buildings were being erected at a rapid pace in America’s cities, and his work can be interpreted as a reaction against this style. Rather than following formulaic blueprints, his designs appear unfinished and often free-form, echoing the influence of sculpture as much as conventional urban planning.
In an experimental remodelling of his own house, the architect used some of the unromantic mainstays of suburban construction to turn the concept of the American family home inside out. Gehry converted the exterior of the house with corrugated steel, chain-link fencing and plywood, while laying bare the interior to reveal its base structural elements. Although Gehry’s renovations were unpopular with his Santa Monica neighbours, he had successfully transformed what he termed his “dumb little house with charm” into a radical, visionary showpiece. This deconstructive approach, which subverted perceptions of common motifs and raw materials, formed the foundation of Gehry’s aesthetic.
Rising to international acclaim
In 1989, at the age of 60, Gehry became the sixth American to win the Priztker Architecture Prize for a lifetime of achievement. The jury citation reads: “His sometimes controversial, but always arresting body of work, has been variously described as iconoclastic, rambunctious and impermanent, but the jury, in making this award, commends this restless spirit that has made his buildings a unique expression of contemporary society and its ambivalent values.” It added that the award should be seen as an incentive for Gehry to continue making bold and groundbreaking contributions to architecture, and not just as a celebration of his existing body of work.
Gehry’s landmark design
After receiving the accolade of the Priztker Architecture Prize, Frank O. Gehry accepted numerous commissions from around the globe and produced some of his best-known work to date. Starting in 1991, Gehry used innovative computer software to work on one of his most complex and iconic designs: The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. After outlining the structure with his usual freehand sketches, the architect was able to produce increasingly irregular shapes with the new technology, eventually producing a huge, titanium-clad building moulded together with limestone.
Moving into music: Gehry’s recent works
In the 1990s and early 2000s, Gehry became increasingly known for his forward-thinking work on music venues and concert halls. The Experience Music Project in Seattle, which culminated in 2000, saw the architect use a steel frame and colourful sheet metal to construct a building influenced by the shape of a guitar. Subsequently, Gehry was commissioned to design the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, immediately recognisable by its stainless steel curves. His interest in acoustics and music is reflected in a note he made in a 1980 edition of Contemporary Architects, in which he said: “I approach each building as a sculptural object, a spatial container, a space with light and air, a response to context and appropriateness of feeling and spirit.”
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