Frank Gehry's Architecture

Part I

From Los Angeles to Bilbao

Each location has a “link” associated with it, which will open a marker on the Google-Earth Map.
For this to work you have to install free Google-Earth
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Frank Gehry (72) relaxing in his signature cardboard furniture at the height of his career (2001)
Photo Tim Street-Porter/Beateworks/Corbis

l'Enfant Terrible of American Architecture

Frank Owen Gehry, born Ephraim Owen Goldberg, was born February 28,1929 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
In 1947 Gehry moved to California, got a job driving a delivery truck while studying at Los Angeles City College, and eventually graduated from University of Southern California’s Architect school in 1954. After college he had numerous jobs including service in the United States Army. He then studied city planning at Harvard Graduate School of Design, and left after a year, without completing the program. In 1952, still known as Frank Goldberg, he married Anita Snyder, who he claims was the one who told him to change his name, which he did, to Frank Gehry. In 1966 he divorced Snyder. In 1975 he married Berta Isabel Aguilera, his current wife. He has two daughters from his first marriage, and two sons from his second marriage. Text: Aaron Kirman

By 2000 Frank Gehry had become one of the most celebrated and sought-after architects in the world. In 1989, he had been honoured with the Pritzker Prize for Architecture. Fourteen honorary doctorates had been bestowed on him. His Guggenheim Museum in Balbao (1995) had not only become the acclaimed building for the 21st-century but also an unqualified financial success for the owners. The town of Bilbao, an industrial nonentity in the Basque Country had suddenly turned into the tourist destination of Northern Spain.

It had not been always that way. Thirty years earlier he, an unknown, had peddled his cardboard furniture to a perplexed world. His private residence (1978), a shack-like reconstruction under corrugated zink-cladding wrapped with chicken-wire fence, had jarred the burghers of its plush, middle-class neighborhood in Santa Monica, CA. The architecture critics thought it was a joke and labled him the King of Deconstructivism. Which an angered Gehry denied. He ermphasized that his style was a manifestation of our chaotic times. He let himself be persuaded to design a social housing project in Frankfurt, Germany (1994); which ironiously led to a number of odd-shaped projects in Central Europe. Still, a critic called his "Dancing House"; in Prague (1995) a "crushed-coke bottle".

Gehry's fame spread. He built a number of "serious" commissions, in which he developed the sculptural stainless-steel cladding that would become his signature architectural style. Most notably the Frederick Weisman Museum in Mineapolis (1993) and the American Center in Paris, France (1994) which directly lead to the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum and the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

All during this period of increased building activity, Gehry labored at the design of the Walt Disney Philharmonic Hall. It took 16 years (1987-2006) to bring this project to completion. He started with a lime-stone faced design (like the one at the American Center in Paris) which turned out too costly. Gehry exchanged the limestone for stainless-steel. Still the financing client remained unmoved. Eventually in 1996, the success of Bilbao and Eli Broad of Los Angeles helped to turn the embarrassing funding impasse around. The building was inaugurated in 2003; acoustically perhaps the best concert hall in the world.

Since then Gehry has been booked for the rest of his life: a revolutionary sky-scraper, the Beekman Tower in Manhattan, a badly needed 3-billion-dollar redevelopment of Garnd Avenue in Los Angeles, another Guggenheim Museum in of all places Abu Dabhi, United Arab Emirates to be completed on Gehry's 83rd birthday in 2012.

Frank Gehry Partners, LLP, 1962-present
Los Angeles, CA 90066, 12541 Beatrice St

In 1962 together with Brian Aamoth, Terry Bell, John Bowers, Edwin Chan, Berta Gehry, Tensho Takemori, Laurence Tighe, and Craig Webb, Gehry founded Gehry Partners, LLP

Building a "sketch model" at Gehry Partners' Studio
Photo Thomas Mayer

Every project undertaken by Gehry Partners is designed personally and directly by Frank Gehry. All of the resources of the firm and the extensive experience of the firm’s partners are available to assist in the design effort and to carry this effort forward through technical development and construction administration. The firm relies on the use of Digital Project, a sophisticated 3D computer modeling program originally created for use by the aerospace industry, to thoroughly document designs and to rationalize the bidding, fabrication, and construction processes.
For a collection of models of his projects see, and an extensive photographic documentation at his studio see Thomas Mayer.

Gehry Residence 1971-78
Santa Monica, California, Washington Avenue and 22nd St

Gehry's original house with its chicken wire fences and its corrugated zink cladding,1972

Before Frank Gehry acquired international prestige as the architect of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, he “designed” his own house in Santa Monica (1971-78). The story starts when his wife, Berta, bought a small pink bungalow in a bourgeois neighbourhood. Gehry decided to redesign what he considered "a dumb little house with charm", to build around it and try "to make it more important". The result was so emotive among their neighbours that the new house was even shot at one night! Hence the chicken wire fencing.
Gehry has been called ‘the apostle of chain-link fencing and corrugated metal siding‘ (B. Adams). The appearance of the house, with blurred edges between old and new finishes, gives the appearance of being in a ongoing building process. "We are in a culture made up of fast food and advertising and throw-away and running for airplanes and catching cabs - frenetic. So, I think that those possibilities are more expressive of our culture than something finished."

The house after the chicken wire fence had come down 1978
Photo wikipedia

The Interior
Photo blogspot

One night Arthur Drexler, the then director of the Department of Architecture at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, was invited to dinner at Gehry´s house. He asked whether the peeled paint on the walls was intentional or not. At the end of the evening, Berta confessed to her husband that the guest had "thought the house was a joke". At that moment Gehry knew that his search had been successful.

When Berta and Frank first built the house, they had only one child. Later they had a second one. The children grew and they soon needed their own rooms. There have been many later additions, like the small swimming pool that Gehry had started dreaming of, or the conversion of the garage into a guesthouse for two daughters from his previous marriage who often visited.
With these recent renovations "I lost the old house!", Gehry acknowledges, referring not to the bungalow but what had been the revamped house in 1978. Text blogspot

Merriweather Post Pavilion Music Center, 1967-1974
Columbia, Maryland

The Music Pavilion
Photo blogspot

Harper House 1977
Baltimore, Maryland

The Luxury Apartment Complex

One of Gehry's early, forgettable, most conventional buildings. It also leaked badly and the outside brick sheathing had to be repaired.

Loyola Law School, 1978-2002
Los Angeles, California, (various buildings)

Charles S. Casassa Building
Photo Mary-Ann Sullivan

Established in 1920, Loyola Law School is among the first law schools established in Southern California. When Loyola chose Gehry to construct its new campus in 1978, he was a relative unknown. Loyola at the time was a law school with only one building--what is now the William M. Rains Library. Gehry transformed the Loyola campus into a series of contemporary buildings clustered around a central plaza.
Casassa houses part of the legal library, the campus bookstore, several classrooms and administrative offices. The Center for Conflict Resolution and the Center for Juvenile Law and Policy are also there. Casassa's most striking features are its orange façade, and, protruding from the façade, a metal structure that resembles a castle drawbridge.

Santa Monica Place, 1980
Santa Monica, California

Santa Monica Place Shopping Mall 2008 a few months before it was put to the wrecking ball

Air and Space Exhibit, 1982-1984
Los Angeles, California Museum of Science and Industry

The south side

Located in a park with museums, a sports arena, coliseum, and other buildings in a variety of architectural styles, the Aerospace museum is also attached on the north side to an old classically influenced Armory (which comprises the majority of the interior space). This post-modern facade is made up of an arrangement of diverse sculptural components: a large metal-skinned polygon, a glass wall with a windowed prism above it, and a plain stucco cube with a hangar door.
Text and photo Mary Sullivan

Edgemar Retail Complex, 1984
Santa Monica, California,

The courtyard

Chain link fence wrapping

Not everybody is happy with Gehry - Quote: "I was struck by how institutional and cold it looked and felt. For a neighborhood known for its friendly and relaxed architecture, Gehry really made an effort to create an impersonal-seeming shopping/cultural complex. The most bizarre detail was the chain-like fence that wrapped around one tower like an external skin.
The complex was groundbreaking in that it retained some of the site’s memory as a dairy factory, but I always found that point rather academic...."
Photos and commentary Hrag Vartanian

Frances H. Goldwyn Hollywood Regional Library,1985
Hollywood, California,

View from the street
Photo flickr

Named for the mother of Samuel Goldwyn, Jr. (the son of the movie mogul), this structure is more symmetrical than the usual Gehry work. The steel-gated entrance is at the center of the tall building, while the reading rooms are in the second story of each side unit of the structure.

Chiat/Day Building, 1985-1991
Venice, California

The Chiat/Day building.
Photo wikimapia

The binoculars were designed by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen.The Chiat/Day Building is a commercial office building located in the Venice neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. Built between 1985-1991 for advertising agency Chiat/Day (now TBWA\Chiat\Day) as its West Coast Corporate Headquarters.

Advanced Technology Laboratories (ATL), University of Iowa, 1987-1992
Iowa City

View from across the Iowa river

The University of Iowa's Advanced Technology Laboratories (ATL) represents one of Gehry's earlier experiments with stainless steel cladding, giving a glimpse of his future masterpieces in Bilbao and Los Angeles. It is a multi-disciplinary building that occupies a site adjacent to the Iowa River.

Disney Hall's First Design

Walt Disney Philharmonic Hall, 1987-1996 + 1999-2003
Los Angeles

The protracted 16-year history of the Project 1987-2003

The Walt Disney Concert Hall project was launched in 1987, when Lillian Disney, Walt's widow, donated $50 million. Frank Gehry delivered completed designs in 1991. To saitsfy Lilian's stipulation and secure a contibution by the City of Los Angeles, construction of the underground parking garage began in 1992 and was completed by 1996. The block of the garage stood around - unused - for 4 years.
Construction of the concert hall itself was stalled from 1994 to 1996 due to lack of funds. Hollywood was not interested to contribute to Lillian Disney's project.
Gehry revised the plans, and replaced the original lime-stone sheathing with a less costly stainless steel skin. When new delays forestalled work, Gehry threatened to resign from the unfinished project. But who could complete it?
In 1996 Bilbao was nearing completion, which greatly helped restart the fundraising. In 1996 Eli Broad and then-mayor Richard Riordan took the funding campaign into hand. Groundbreaking for the hall itself was held in December 1999.
Upon completion in 2003, the project had cost an estimated $274 million, which came entirely from private donations. The Disney family's contribution in addition to Liliian's original gift (who had meanwhile died in 1997) was estimated at $84.5 million, another $25 million were contributed by The Walt Disney Corporation.

Vitra Design Museum, 1989
Weil am Rhein, Germany

The museum from its sober frontal angle.
Photos wikipedia

A more photogenic view from the back.

The museum's collection, focusing on furniture and interior design, is centered around the bequest of U.S. designers Charles and Ray Eames, as well as numerous works of designers such as George Nelson, Alvar Aalto, Verner Panton, Dieter Rams, Jean Prouvé, Richard Hutten and Michael Thonet. It is one of the world's largest collections of modern furniture design, including pieces representative of all major periods and styles from the beginning of the nineteenth century onwards. (Wikipedia)

Disney Village 1992
Disney Land Paris, Seine et Marne, France

Disney Village, France at Christmas
Photo Rainer Kalinowski

Disney Village is a shopping, dining and entertainment complex in Disneyland Resort Paris, Marne-la-Vallée, France. Originally named Festival Disney, it opened April 12, 1992 with what was then called the Euro Disney Resort and originally covered an area of approximately 18,000 m².
It was designed by architect Frank Gehry with towers of oxidised silver and bronze-coloured stainless steel columns and a canopy of lights.

Center for the Visual Arts, University of Toledo, 1993
Toledo, Ohio

The center in close proximity of the Toledo Museum of Art.

lead clad exterior of the Buildings from the rear.
Photos Mary Sullivan,

The new Arts Building is physically connected with the neo-classical white marble Toledo Museum of Art, although it is difficult to see any contextual relationship. Like most of Gehry's works, this building is a fractured composition, broken into discrete volumes with rising and descending forms. The metalic facade is made of lead-coated copper, giving a fortress-like appearance to the side and rear of the building. (Wikipedia)

Frederick Weisman Museum of Art, University of Minnesota, 1993
Minneapolis, WI

The museum from the bridge (Photo Wikipedia)

The museum from the southwest.
Photo and text Mary Sullivan,

This is the first art museum designed by Gehry in its entirety - four years before Bilbao. Named for a Los Angeles businessman, art collector, philanthropist, and University of Minnesota alumnus, this building is perched on a bank overlooking the Mississippi with a view as well of downtown Minneapolis. The jagged angles echo the rocky bluffs of the Mississippi below. The irregularly placed windows offer snapshot views from the inside of the river and the the city.

American Center, Paris, 1994
(currently Cinémathèque Française)
Paris, France

The center
Photo Wikipedia

The limestone cladding which did not make it to Disney Hall in Los Angeles.

Site restrictions in some ways make this building atypical of Gehry's mature work--at least on two sides, where it follows the logic of Haussmann town-planning and observes the street line of adjacent buildings. Only on the sides facing the park was Gehry able to create the kind of sculptural forms characteristic of his later works. Similarly, the limestone and zinc pay hommage to the urban context and again differ from his titanium-clad buildings like the Guggenheim in Bilbao.
Photo 2 and Text from Mary Sullivan,

Siedlung Goldstein(1994)
Frankfurt/ Main, Germany

A 162-Flats public housing project
Photo Thomas Mayer

The Goldstein Siedlung a public, rent-controlled housing project with an artistic touch. Originally a government project (1930) (Sozialbau) for unemployed workers surrounding the former castle (14th cent) of the rebellious Grafen von Goldstein (not Jewish!). During WWIl it was a Nazi-party stronghold. Since the 1950s it boasts a Social-Democratic majority (11 000 inhabitants). - Gehry's contribution is situated on the last undeveloped part of the original government owned property.
Text from various German websites.

Energie Forum Innovation, 1995
Bad Oeynhausen, Germany

Entry side of the forum.
Photo Energy Forum

Aerial view
Photo Thomas Mayer

After his "deconstructive" beginnings in the eighties and nineties, Frank Gehry increasingly practised a very plastic form of architecture. His expressively sculptural cultural buildings, the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, his project for the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and above all the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, have shaped the architectural awareness of our period and provided exemplary artistic alternatives to the architectural canon of Modernism

"Fred & Ginger's Dancing House", 1995
Prague, Czech Republic

The Dancing House in Prague
Photo Fino Filka,

Californian architect Frank O. Gehry and his Czech co-architect Vladimir Milunic have designed an impressive building to fill a space left empty in the centre of Prague after the bombings of World War II. It is a 'dancing building' and was named "Ginger & Fred" in an allusion to the American film icons. The building is part of the tradition of deconstructive architecture (also known as catastrophe architecture): Gehry's postmodern signature is undeniably visible - and stands in marked contrast to the building's historic setting. It is thus perceived by many people to be an alien element, a Californian eye-sore in one of the few central-European cities not reduced to rubble and ashes at the end of World War II. Some say "Ginger & Fred" repeats the destruction of the cityscape on this site, where American bombs (accidentally) destroyed a building at the end of the war.
Wilfried Dechau, editor of Deutsche Bauzeitung, states that the building reminds him of a 'crushed can of Coke.' He clearly thinks that Gehry should not have marked this corner of Prague with his 'scent,' for 'this gap torn by American bombs at the end of the war should have been closed with utmost formal restraint in order to preserve (at least from the outside) the homogeneous impression of this street.'
Other critics, for instance Simonetta Carbonaro, call the building a 'Dancing Palace,' 'a new jewel in the city's architecture....'
Text by Josef Pesch reprinted in a Dutch architectural webpage

Anaheim ICE (formerly Disney ICE), 1995
Anaheim, California,

Disney ICE

Commissioned by Disney's then-CEO Michael Eisner, the facility resembles a pair of huge quonset huts, and has a wooden interior with laminated beams and braces, producing "a nautical effect that recalls the inverted ship shape of Gehry's Disney Concert Hall". It opened in 1995 (From Wikipedia)

Team Disney Administration Headquarters, 1995
Anaheim, California

TDA Headquarters
Photo mathewstraub

Team Disney Anaheim , California, is the administrative headquarters of the Disneyland Resort. It houses the offices of resort President Ed Grier. The building occupies the former site of the Global Van Lines headquarters. Disney purchased the property in the 1990s and the 1950s-era Global building was razed. Its replacement, designed by architect Frank Gehry, opened in 1995

Bilbao Museum Guggenheim 1997
Bilbao, Spain

Gehry's Architectural Breakthrough at Age 68.

Night view
Photo Bilbao website.

View from the river Nervión
Photo Wikipedia

Detail from the east
Photo Mary Sullyvan,

Instantly hailed as the most important structure of its time. On October 19, 2007 Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum Bilbao celebrated a decade of extraordinary success. With close to ninety exhibitions and over ten million visitors to its credit, the Museum Bilbao forever changed the way the world thinks about museums, and it continues to challenge our assumptions about the connections between art, architecture, and collecting. Architect Philip Johnson called it "the greatest building of our time"
The museum's design and construction serve as an object lesson in Gehry's style and method. Like much of Gehry's other works, the structure consists of radically sculpted, organic contours. Sited as it is in a port town, it is intended to resemble a ship.

Computer simulations of the building's structure made it feasible to build shapes that architects of earlier eras would have found nearly impossible to construct. It is also important to note that while the museum is a spectacular monument from the river, at street level it is quite modest and does not overwhelm its traditional surroundings. The building was constructed on time and budget, which is rare for architecture of this type.

The building's site is challenging, fronted on one side with a freight yard (the stacked up shipping containers creating serendipitous minimalist sculptures, as if emulating their upscale neighbor) and with a heavily trafficked bridge crossing the northern sector. The highrise tower, that first glimpse of the museum from afar, is intended by Gehry to balance and to integrate the preexisting bridge itself into the overall composition of the building.

Gehry has also creatively used the waterfront setting. Building out over the water and using a combination of water-filled pools and the river itself, he clouds the boundaries of both, again finding a flow between building and site. But it is more complicated than that, for from some viewpoints inside, the water feels like a protective moat, adding yet another layer of perceptions. The towering glass sheathing of the central atrium achieves a parallel result, integrating interior and exterior, while the space provides the fulcrum for the surrounding galleries, the stem from which the petals grow. Text partially from Arthur Lazere in with contributions from Bilbao's website