To create buildings that move: NPR

To create buildings that move: NPR

Frank Gehry designed the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. “I love going to Bilbao,” he says. “People come up and hug me.” “We all need love.”

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Through swoops, sculpture and extraordinary materials, Frank Gehry changed the course of architecture. His creations, such as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, created a new architectural language.

At 86 years old, Gehry is honored with medals and museum exhibitions. He unveiled a major river project in Los Angeles, and on Tuesday, Paul Goldberger, the former architecture critic for New York times And The New Yorkerwill be published The Art of Building: The Life and Work of Frank Gehry, Great new biography of Jerry.

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Written by Paul Goldberger

Goldberger and Jerry have known each other for about 40 years. Jerry jokes that the autobiography “came close” to catching him, and it even helped him learn a little about himself.

“I think I have an ego somewhere,” he says. “I didn’t realize I was rejecting things the way I was doing.”

He shied away from big jobs – wanting more cooperation, or more control. “I think I’m ambitious,” Jerry admits, adding that the work satisfies him artistically and emotionally.

“I really want to make architecture,” he says. “I love the relationship with clients.” “I love going to Bilbao and people coming up and hugging me. We all need love. It’s nice to get it for doing things like this.”

Gehry’s bold, glowing buildings capture movement, energy and light. He’s received criticism from architects and other critics over the years who say that buildings don’t work indoors, or that they’re too difficult to construct—but he stubbornly and passionately sticks to one goal: to create buildings that inspire emotion.

“If you look at a great bronze work of art dating back to 600 BC that makes you cry, you will find that an artist was able to convey emotion across time and space over the years and up until today,” he says.

Light reflects off sparkling steel panels at Walt Disney’s Gehry Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

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Light reflects off sparkling steel panels at Walt Disney’s Gehry Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

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He believes architecture can do that too.

Art and beauty have been in Jerry’s DNA from the beginning. Born in Toronto, as a young child he watched live carp swim in his grandmother’s bathtub on their way to becoming gefilte fish. He loved the shapes and movements they made. Later, fish became a staple of the buildings he designed. After he moved to Los Angeles at 18, his closest friends were artists, not architects.

Jerry stands next to his fish lamps at an exhibition opening in London in 2013. As a child, Jerry used to watch carp swimming in his grandmother’s bathtub, before they turned into gefilte fish.

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Jerry stands next to his fish lamps at an exhibition opening in London in 2013. As a child, Jerry used to watch carp swimming in his grandmother’s bathtub, before they turned into gefilte fish.

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“Their commitment to ordinary materials, to new ways of solving problems, to making beauty out of the ordinary, influenced him very deeply,” says biographer Paul Goldberger.

Take chain-link fencing, the primary barrier on construction sites and tennis courts. Jerry used it early on, in homes and commercial projects, and was ridiculed for it.

“I found the material that everyone hates,” he says. It was a material that “was used everywhere by all cultures around the world, and this disconnect between those two ideas interested me, so I started looking at how to make a chain link – because I hated it too – why not try to make it beautiful?”

As the years passed, the materials Jerry used became more complex. The Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris was built using weathered glass and wood. Before that, he made the Disney Sensory Ballroom out of flexible stainless steel. Glowing silver titanium swirls in the curves of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

With 12 massive glass “sails,” the Louis Vuitton Foundation takes the shape of a sailboat among the trees of the Boulogne Forest in Paris.

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With 12 massive glass “sails,” the Louis Vuitton Foundation takes the shape of a sailboat among the trees of the Boulogne Forest in Paris.

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“I was trying to express emotion,” he explains. “The curves were taken from fish – they were about a sense of movement with inert materials, which is what the Greeks did, what the Indian cultures did. We live in a culture, in a time where movement is widespread. Everything is moving. And so if we hold on to that and use it as part of our language, our language Architecturally, there will be some resonance to it.”


Movement, emotion and unusual materials go against current thinking. These lifelong themes of Jerry changed when digital technology came along. Goldberger says the digital age allowed Gehry to connect with his artist friends through architecture.

“Frank was trying to envision in his head shapes, forms and curves that were not particularly achievable by engineers,” Goldberger explains.

Aviation industry programs allowed Jerry to turn his dreams into realities. He and his staff were able to engineer what sometimes started as squiggly lines on paper and turn them into structures that could last. They created exciting buildings that had never been seen before.

Jerry, 86, says his work can never be perfect: “By definition, it can’t be because we are flawed creatures.” But that hasn’t stopped him from creating inspiring structures for decades.

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Jerry, 86, says his work can never be perfect: “By definition, it can’t be because we are flawed creatures.” But that hasn’t stopped him from creating inspiring structures for decades.

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Fame and admiration swept Frank Gehry. But Goldberger posts a revealing quote that shows Jerry couldn’t be more thrilled with his accomplishment. “I wish I could live in the place people create for me,” he said. “I want to be famous, but I don’t trust it.”

Jerry feels that his work was never perfect, never finished.

“It can never be perfect,” he says. “By definition, it can’t because we are flawed creatures.”

The Art of Building: The Life and Work of Frank Gehry It is an insightful portrait of a “defective creature” that helped transform the architecture of our time.

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