The architecture and design industry is a place for innovation and creative thinking. While many architects experiment with design in a muted sense, architect Frank Gehry chooses to be flamboyant. And that is what makes his work noteworthy. Frank Gehry challenges the conventional norms of architecture by reinventing building forms. With over 50 years of building unique shapes, forms, and textures, he is one of the most celebrated architects globally. His penchant for architecture can be understood from the fact that even at the age of 92 years, he continues to work from his studio based in Los Angeles.
Gehry was born in Canada in 1929 and attended the University of Southern California’s School of Architecture. He then went on to study city planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, however, he dropped out. After graduation, he first started working with Victor Gruen Associates and Pereira and Luckman in Los Angeles. He then moved on to Paris and worked briefly with Andre Remondet. With some work experience up his sleeve, Gehry returned to California in 1962 where he started his own firm Gehry Partners LLP. Over a career spanning half a century, he has won many international awards including the Pritzker Prize in 1989 and the President Medal of Freedom in 2016.
Gehry’s Design Philosophy
Frank Gehry condemns the norm of designing buildings in linear geometric forms. He believes that a building should blend with its surroundings and appear as its natural element but still stand out from the rest. He depicts these ideas by designing fluid forms, using metallic surface finishes, and bold colours. Thus, his early building designs appear to have a sculptural and quirky design aesthetic, which would have been highly unusual in comparison to the prevailing design aesthetic of that time. Indeed his design philosophy has also become popular under the overarching design movement known as “deconstructivism”. The key principle of deconstructivism demonstrates that the form of a building need not represent its function. Therefore, undulated, folded, and angulated building facades are all elements of a deconstructed design.
Metallic building envelope and puzzled structural volumes that emphasize the human scale is an integral part of Gehry’s interpretation of deconstructivism. To support his unique design approach, he used technology to visualize the building facade development. Later in his career, he founded Gehry Technologies, which develops excellent design softwares that assist in 3D visualization and analysis.
However, as design is a creative domain sees every idea from two lenses. While a section of designers appreciated and adopted deconstructivism, there were quite a few who looked down upon the philosophy. Many consider Gehry’s buildings as an obscure design ideology with absurdly arranged forms. These critics believe Gehry’s buildings have an overwhelming scale and the design is difficult to perceive for regular people. With such drastically varying opinions, Gehry’s buildings have always been in the light of the media for good or bad. But the “Starchitect” himself refuses to be put down by this criticism and continues to paint the world in his version of deconstructivism.
Gehry’s Celebrated Work
Considering the distinctive design philosophy of Frank Gehry, his architectural style reflects this de-linearity of thought. The urge of creating a meaningful design by doing something “different” is what makes the “Gehry” version of deconstructivism striking and extraordinary. He has successfully eliminated the idea of symmetry, harmony, clean geometry, and predictable patterns in design.
Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain
The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain is one of the most iconic structures designed by Gehry. The museum building spans across an area of 24,000 square meters. Its complex swirling forms look stunning which makes this museum a popular tourist destination in the city. The construction of this building has been so impactful that Bilbao transformed to accommodate the magnanimity of the structure. The metallic built form looks similar to that of a flower but it resembles a boat which represents the past industrial life of the Bilbao port. The construction materials include limestone, glass, and titanium. The building curves are designed to capture the sunlight and wind for enhancing the interior environment.
Dancing House, Prague
Another exemplary structure by Frank Gehry is the Dancing House in Prague, the Czech Republic which is a commercial building. It is a 9-storied building that houses offices, a restaurant, and a luxury hotel with a 2 storied basement. The building gets its name from the appearance of its facade which is that of a dancing couple informally known as Fred and Ginger. It is a metaphorical representation of the dancing pair where two central pillars signify the polarities of dynamic and static movement. The structural anatomy of the Dancing House consists of metal mesh and glass cinched together with concrete columns and panels. A series of mouldings run across the building creating a swirl effect to make it appear wavier than it is.
Walt Disney Concert Hall, California
An account of Gehry’s work is incomplete without the mention of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, California. The building finds its inspiration in Gehry’s passion for sailing and gives the illusion of dynamic metal surfaces in motion. The idea was to make the surfaces look like they are being blown by the wind. Similar to the Guggenheim Museum, the Walt Disney Concert Hall has become a prime tourist destination and is a landmark structure for the city of Los Angeles. The auditorium hall is world-renowned for its acoustic system and long-span structural anatomy. The facade represents a musical movement through undulations signifying the art-dominated life of Walt Disney. Concrete, metal, and glass are the primary building materials used in the construction of the hall.
The brilliance of Frank Gehry continues to inspire contemporary architects who resonate with the idea of deconstructivism. He is a living legend whose work can be loved, or hated but not ignored. His bold statement-making buildings are no less than a craft and reflect his futuristic approach to design. With tech-integrated design and material experimentation, he continues to develop ground-breaking buildings. Gehry’s conviction towards creating sculptural buildings urges the younger breed of architects to think beyond mainstream building forms. The wave of deconstructivism that Gehry has pushed for is all set to define new design norms for the generations to come.