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Frank Gehry, Deconstructivist Architect

(1929 - )

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Architect Frank Gehry

Architect Frank Gehry

Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images
Cardboard chair designed by Frank Gehry in the 1970s

Easy Edges Wiggle Side Chair of layered corrugated cardboard, circa 1972. Photo courtesy PriceGrabber.com

Colorful Frank Gehry Biodiversity Museum of Panama City as seen from the Panama Canal

Biomuseo, Biodiversity Museum of Panama City as seen from the Panama Canal

Photo © Linda Garrison at cruises.about.com. Used with permission.

Inventive and irreverent, Frank Gehry has been surrounded by controversy for most of his career. Using unorthodox materials like corrugated metal and chain link, Gehry creates unexpected, twisted forms that break conventions of building design. His work has been called radical, playful, organic, and sensual.

Background:

Born: February 28, 1929 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Birth Name: Frank Owen Goldberg. Given the Hebrew name Ephraim.

Left Canada: Moved with his Polish/Russian parents to southern California in 1947. Chose U.S. citizenship when he turned 21.

Education:

  • Los Angeles City College
  • University of Southern California. Architecture degree completed in 1954
  • Harvard Graduate School of Design. Studied city planning for one year.

Personal Life: From 1952 to 1966, married to Anita Snyder, with whom he has two daughters. Frank Goldberg's name change to Frank Gehry is generally attributed to his first wife's encouragement. Gehry divorced Snyder and married Berta Isabel Aguilera in 1975. They have two sons.

Career of Frank Gehry:

Buildings: Frank Gehry established his Los Angeles practice in 1962. Early in his career, he designed houses inspired by modern architects such as Richard Neutra and Frank Lloyd Wright. Gehry's admiration of Louis Kahn's work influenced his 1965 box-like design of the Danziger House, a studio/residence for designer Lou Danziger. With this work, Gehry began to be noticed as an architect. As his career expanded, Gehry became known for massive, iconoclastic projects that attracted attention and controversy. Many of Gehry's buildings have become tourist attractions, drawing visitors from around the world.

Furniture: Gehry had success in the 1970s with his line of Easy Edges chairs made from bent laminated cardboard. By 1991, Gehry was using bent laminated maple to produce the Power Play Armchair. These designs are part of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) collection in NYC.

Memorials: The Eisenhower Memorial Commission chose Frank Gehry's design for the Washington, D.C. memorial honoring Dwight D. Eisenhower's command of the Allied Forces in Europe in World War II and as the 34th President of the United States.

Gehry Designs: Because architecture takes so long to become realized, Gehry often turns to the "quick fix" of designing smaller products, including jewelry, trophies, and even liquor bottles. From 2003 to 2006 Gehry's partnership with Tiffany & Co. released the exclusive jewelry collection that included the sterling silver Torque Ring. In 2004 the Canada-born Gehry designed a trophy for the international World Cup of Ice Hockey tournament. Also in 2004, the Polish side of Gehry designed a twisty vodka bottle for Wyborowa Exquisite, also of Polish descent (see PDF product marketing).

Gehry's Businesses:

Famous Gehry Buildings:

Awards:

  • 1977: Arnold W. Brunner Memorial Prize in Architecture, American Academy of Arts and Letters
  • 1989: Pritzker Architecture Prize
  • 1992: Wolf Prize in Art, the Wolf Foundation
  • 1992: Praemium Imperiale Award, Japan Art Association
  • 1994: Dorothy and Lillian Gish Award for lifetime contribution to the arts
  • 1998: National Medal of Arts
  • 1998: Friedrich Kiesler Prize
  • 1999: Lotos Medal of Merit, Lotos Club
  • 1999: Gold Medal, American Institute of Architects
  • 2000: Lifetime Achievement Award, Americans for the Arts
  • More than 100 awards from the American Institute of Architects
  • Numerous honorary doctorates and honorary titles

Deconstructivist Architecture:

In 1988, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City used Gehry's Santa Monica house as an example of a new architecture they called deconstructivism. Deconstruction breaks down the parts of a piece so their organization appears disorganized and chaotic. Unexpected details and building materials tend to create a visual disorientation and disharmony.

Source: MoMA Press Release, June 1988, pages 1 and 3. PDF accessed online February 20, 2012

Learn more about Gehry's House:

In His Own Words:

"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. To this container, this sculpture, the user brings his baggage, his program, and interacts with it to accommodate his needs. If he can't do that, I've failed."—from the 1980 edition of "Contemporary Architects"
"Building a building is like berthing the Queen Mary in a small slip at a marina. There are lots of wheels and turbines and thousands of people involved, and the architect is the guy at the helm who has to visualize everything going on and organize it all in his head. Architecture is anticipating, working with and understanding all of the craftsmen, what they can do and what they can't do, and making it all come together. I think of the final product as a dream image, and it's always elusive. You can have a sense of what the building should look like and you can try to capture it. But you never quite do."—Conversations With Frank Gehry by Barbara Isenberg, p. 62

Explore Frank Gehry's Life and Works:

For an intimate look at Frank Gehry's creative process, see these excerpts from the Playboy magazine Interview With Frank Gehry.

For more insights, see Conversations With Frank Gehry by journalist Barbara Isenberg. The book includes interiews with Gehry and a fascinating collection of sketches, renderings, and photographs of his works.

The documentary Sketches of Frank Gehry is a personal profile of Frank Gehry by his friend, the Oscar-winning filmmaker Sydney Pollack.

TED Talks (video discussions) include:

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