Frank Gehry designed a small building filled with Hennessy

Frank Gehry designed a small building filled with Hennessy

In his latest collaboration, architect Frank Gehry tried to design something a little smaller than the building, a Hennessy XO Cognac bottle designed to celebrate the brand’s 150th anniversary. Although small in size, Jerry’s approach to the bottle adheres to the free-form principles used in his larger projects. This collaboration maintains the original shape of the bottle while encasing it in a decanter made of crushed gold, giving the product an overall Ferrero Rocher look on acid.

It was Frank Gehry who arguably created the “star architect” template that we now use to address the likes of Rem Koolhaas and Bjarke Ingels. While architects have always created products alongside their buildings, from furniture to ornaments, the path of postmodernism has been to turn buildings into products in their own right. It’s an emphasis on style more than use, which is evident in the Duck House designed by Robert Venturi, or the 432 Park Avenue skyscraper designed by Rafael Viñoly that is modeled after a trash can. Continuing this line of thinking, when Frank Gehry designs a vodka bottle or a piece of jewelry, the main thing that separates that object from being a “building” is size.

Gehry cites the main inspiration for the bottle as coming from Cognac, which he visited on a trip to the Hennessy distillery as part of the collaboration. But ultimately, Gehry’s flask shape brings to mind videos of his design process, which partly involves the architect gathering up pieces of paper and throwing them around his workbench like a disgruntled child. A process that may seem funny at first, until you see that piece of paper appear like a billion dollar building on the streets of Paris or Abu Dhabi.

We spoke with Gerry over Zoom about cognac and how it’s holding up in the pandemic.

How does the product design process differ from building design?

I’ve done smaller things before. I designed a lot of jewelry for Tiffany and I designed vodka bottles, things like that. I enjoy the challenge of doing small scale as a counterpoint to large scale. It keeps your talents sharpened, and keeps you on your toes.

Was the flask designed by hand?

So the bottle, the carafe, and the design we came up with are handmade. It’s not something you produce on this assembly line. They are made from a metal mold, but the original basic model from which the castings were taken was hand-made by kneading the metal into which the material would be cast. This bottle is something that you hold in your hand, that you hold on your hand. The dining room table that you live in your home and only take out on very special occasions. It becomes a symbol in one’s family. It speaks to a more intimate relationship with the people involved in manufacturing.

What effects did it have on the beaker?

The great statues of ancient Greece have always made me cry. They are very beautiful and are able to transfer this feeling from the hand of man centuries ago to the present through an inert material. I kind of wish we could do that. That was the intention, to make it look like it was handmade and feel special that way.

How did your visit with Hennessy to the production facilities influence the design of the carafe?

I was impressed by the amount of involvement and commitment of the people involved in making the cognac. There’s a lot of practical work that goes into this. Going through the storage areas, paying attention to the barrels, and choosing the liquid according to its production stages. The attention to detail was extraordinary. I know great wineries have a similar process, but this was on a whole other level. I wasn’t prepared for this, and I didn’t expect it. The Charente River and the city of Cognac are a fascinating site with an incredible history. The aesthetics of being there were amazingly beautiful and inviting.

How has COVID-19 affected your company?

Well, a lot of work is done over Zoom now. Or, others go into the office and make models based on what I say and then they leave and I come in. So, it’s a different environment, it’s a different process. The end result seems fine, and we’re getting there. Customers seem to understand it and work with it. I think if this continues for more than two years, it could change the game dramatically. But I think we have to be optimistic that we will prevail one way or another and find ways to overcome it. If we respect each other’s time and efforts, we can overcome them.

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