rekitecture-101-1-30-15-header

Was Gehry right?

Frank Gehry

rekitectureLast October at a press conference American superstar architect Frank Gehry said that “98 percent of what gets designed today is pure …” well, you can fill in the rest.  Suffice it to say he’s not impressed with the 98%.  He was probably having a real bad day and felt a bit cranky.  But was he right?  How do you feel about the buildings you see around you and use every day?

Architecture has been around since the beginning of time.  Similarly, it has been said that “there is nothing new under the sun”.  Technology changes and is ever evolving.  Thanks to new materials we can design buildings that reach higher and span further, enclosed in forms never before seen.  But there are common denominators between buildings old and new.

A couple thousand years ago an architect named Vitruvius wrote a book about architecture called “De Architectura”, known today as “The Ten Books on Architecture”.  In this book he describes three elements that are necessary for a building to be successful; “firmitas, utilitas, venustas”, or “firmness, commodity and delight”.  In other words, the building must be structurally sound (firmness), functional (commodity) and beautiful (delight).  Through the ages, these three elements have stood the test of time.  They are inseparable.  I believe a building is truly successful when it exceeds the user’s expectations in all three categories.  But of the three, beauty is the one that people love to talk about the most.  It’s not just the exterior of the building, but also the spaces within that make the difference between a good building and one that is exciting and makes you want to go inside.

rekitecture-101-1-30-15-5Even Frank Lloyd Wright paraphrased Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu when he said “The space within becomes the reality of the building”.  (See photo of Wright’s Guggenheim museum at right).

We’ve all heard that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.  This, of course, is true of many things.  What does beautiful architecture mean to you?  Why do you like some spaces and not others?  What draws you to a building or a space?  What would make buildings better?

Welcome to rekitecture 101 (pronounced “architecture”), a forum for the exchange of ideas and views on architecture and the built environment.  Periodically I will present vignettes from a variety of building types and spaces around the world.  But I want to know is this: what is your favorite building? Was it a house, a church, a theater?  Tell me what you liked best about it and how you felt when you were inside.  You don’t have to be a professional to share an opinion – architecture is for everyone to enjoy.  I really want to know what you think.

rek

 

Richard Emerson Kaufman is an experienced Architect with Harcourt & Kaufman Architects proficient in designing commercial, residential and institutional architecture throughout California and the West.  He is committed to helping clients find creative, workable solutions that are cost effective and environmentally responsible.  He may be reached at rick@hkarchs.com

 

DISCLAIMER

The views and opinions expressed in rektitecture 101 are the thoughts of architect Richard Emerson Kaufman of Harcourt & Kaufman Architects (www.hkarchs.com).  rektitecture 101 does not represent or endorse the accuracy of reliability of any information or content contained on, distributed through or linked, downloaded or accessed.  The content is for information and discussion purposes only.

 

16 replies
  1. DOUG HARING
    DOUG HARING says:

    Frank Gehry confuses arrogance with ability. Some of his own work should be included on his own s#%@ list. When I was in Paris in 1996 I specifically went to visit his French American Center. It had started out in the basement of a church and grow so large in membership that it felt the need to expand. Gehry’s building was ridiculously expense to run and maintain that it had to be abandoned. Even his early Seattle Music building is overly redundant. beneath the different colored metal shells are steel struts that are imbedded in a concrete structure.
    While FLW’s Guggenheim was first seen as a shite tornado on 5th Avenues parade of museums, it is nothing compare to the overblown, bulbous, elephantine dropped into Bilbao, Spain.

    Reply
    • Rick Kaufman
      Rick Kaufman says:

      I’m not a great fan of Frank Gehry. I find a lot of his work a bit silly (French American Center included). I felt the same after looking at some photographs of Walt Disney Symphony Hall just after it opened in LA. (I learned a great lesson regarding reality vs. architectural photography, the subject of an upcoming blog). However, when I visited his work I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the architecture with its ever-changing spaces. Many of them were beautiful and I found myself wanting to know “what’s around the corner?” Although I can’t attest to the functionality of the building (from this visitor’s standpoint, it works) I liked it.

      We’ve all known architects who “catch a wave” and continue to ride it for the remainder of their careers. Is this the fault of the architect? Partially. But some responsibility rests upon the owner, who may (for whatever reason) want a piece of the current trend. Does Gehry have the capability of doing anything other than a curved line? Most likely he does. (The Eisenhower Memorial has some redeeming qualities). Perhaps the other question should be asked, does he want to?

      BTW: I don’t necessarily agree with Gehry’s statement either; there are too many influences that affect the outcome of a building, not the least of which include quality, cost and time. With these factors (including workmanship) the architect cannot always be the source of bad design.

      Reply
  2. Carlo Priska, D.Arch., AIA Principal at Carlo Priska & Assoc. Architects Planners
    Carlo Priska, D.Arch., AIA Principal at Carlo Priska & Assoc. Architects Planners says:

    I think Franks attitude towards the built environment is misplaced. Yes beauty, functionality and habitability is in the eyes of the beholder. The beholder is the one with the purse. If one of the functions does not work than the beauty is gone. Not everyone can afford the fees Frank is able to get, so we have to tone down our whims as to what to provide and take our clients desires into account. Just the fact that one is been sued means that someone made an error in the design parameters.
    As Architects our primary responsibility aside from life safety is client satisfaction, not at the initial sight of the structure but at it functionality for that client. throughout its use for that client. If the structure leaks than the client may as well not have the structure and sit out in the weather to conduct their business.
    My experience has taught me that people have a very difficult time existing in a piece of art, so it is important to keep in mind what and who we are building for.

    Reply
    • Rick Kaufman
      Rick Kaufman says:

      Carlo I remember my professors debating with us about the ups and downs of designing an architectural “piece of art”. They cited the central space in the Guggenheim museum located in New York City as an example of architecture that doesn’t work. Their premise was that the architecture overwhelmed the art it was intended to display. In other words, there were too many distractions and people were having a tough time concentrating on the artwork. I visited the museum shortly afterwards and absolutely loved it. I had no problem with distractions, and found Wright’s solution to be unique (realizing that the spiral interior could be limiting in terms of flexibility, but also realizing that other portions of the building are more flexible).

      On that same trip I toured Pei’s East Wing of the National Gallery, which had just opened. The same criticisms were made about this building as well. But like the Guggenheim Museum, I loved this building as well. I saw no conflict between the architecture and the exhibits; in point of fact I thought the artwork was enhanced by the architecture.

      I’m not necessarily a fan of Frank Gehry. I find a lot of his work a bit silly. I felt the same after looking at some photographs of Walt Disney Symphony Hall just after it opened in LA. (I learned a great lesson regarding reality vs. architectural photography, the subject of an upcoming blog). However, when I visited his work I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the architecture with its ever-changing spaces. Many of them were beautiful and I found myself wanting to know “what’s around the corner?”. Although I can’t attest to the functionality of the building (from this visitor’s standpoint, it works) I liked it.

      I didn’t mean to write a treatise here, but I remember asking Garrett Eckbo why he designed a park in Carmel, California the way he did. His response stuck with me: “You need to include emotion as well as logic in design”. At the end of the day (and no matter the size or scope of the building) the architect, owner and contractor need to provide a sturdy, well-built building that is functional and beautiful to look at.

      Reply
  3. Jonathan Kuhn, Principal, Jonathan Kuhn Architect
    Jonathan Kuhn, Principal, Jonathan Kuhn Architect says:

    Gehry is incapable of lifting his head off his own desk. Most of his ‘thought’ (and money) goes into a curving roof line or similar element. Step into the Performing Arts Center at Bard College and you’ll soon realize that what is truly on display is only his ego.

    Reply
    • Rick Kaufman
      Rick Kaufman says:

      Jonathan I’m not necessarily a fan of Frank Gehry. I find a lot of his work a bit silly. I felt the same after looking at some photographs of Walt Disney Symphony Hall just after it opened in LA. (I learned a great lesson regarding reality vs. architectural photography, the subject of an upcoming blog). However, when I visited his work I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the architecture with its ever-changing spaces. Many of them were beautiful and I found myself wanting to know “what’s around the corner?” Although I can’t attest to the functionality of the building (from this visitor’s standpoint, it works) I liked it.

      I haven’t visited Gehry’s work at Bard College. I looked briefly at some photographs and it looks busy. There are some parts of it that look interesting. But I do see your point.

      We’ve all known architects who “catch a wave” and continue to ride it for the remainder of their careers. Is this the fault of the architect? Partially. But some responsibility rests upon the owner, who may (for whatever reason) want a piece of the current trend. Does Gehry have the capability of doing anything other than a curved line? Most likely he does. (The Eisenhower Memorial has some redeeming qualities). Perhaps the other question should be asked, does he want to?

      Reply
  4. Mark Lymer, MARC Architecture
    Mark Lymer, MARC Architecture says:

    on the other hand, Gehry has done the hardest thing you can do in the arts. develop a style that can only be ascribed to one person. similar to a Pollack painting, no one can do a drip painting without paying dues to Pollock. same with Gehry’s wavy forms. You don’t have to like them. on a PBS foodie show, with Gwyn Paltrow (?) filmed in Spain, she actually asked Gehry where the idea for those forms came from at Bilbao. he replied “i wanted to find a material that i could use for the walls and roof, both.” i thought that was a simple, straightforward reply and idea that he accomplished. btw: I interviewed Steven Izenour when I was editor of the Arizona St U. college of arch paper back in the 80’s so, yeh, i read Venturi’s book.

    Reply
    • Rick Kaufman
      Rick Kaufman says:

      Mark I’m not necessarily a fan of Frank Gehry. I find a lot of his work a bit silly. I felt the same after looking at some photographs of Walt Disney Symphony Hall just after it opened in LA. (I learned a great lesson regarding reality vs. architectural photography, the subject of an upcoming blog). However, when I visited his work I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the architecture with its ever-changing spaces. Many of them were beautiful and I found myself wanting to know “what’s around the corner?” Although I can’t attest to the functionality of the building (from this visitor’s standpoint, it works) I liked it.

      We’ve all known architects who “catch a wave” and continue to ride it for the remainder of their careers. Is this the fault of the architect? Partially. But some responsibility rests upon the owner, who may (for whatever reason) want a piece of the current trend. Does Gehry have the capability of doing anything other than a curved line? Most likely he does. (The Eisenhower Memorial has some redeeming qualities). Perhaps the other question should be asked, does he want to?

      BTW: ASU – good school.

      Reply
      • Mark Lymer, MARC Architecture
        Mark Lymer, MARC Architecture says:

        RK- your website didn’t say where you went to school. I toured Disney one afternoon with arch buddy. We found some detail issues that just didn’t understand why….And i also toured the Rock thing in Seattle years ago, and noticed the framing was a separate building from the skin. seemed kinda fake to me, but hey -decoration! and that is what the wavy forms are. Think we can use a more decoration, i’m just not a brutalist. my buddy studied at UCLA, but also Berkeley, and that building is pretty well…brutal. Do think the Prague housing by Gehry is brilliant, Fred and Ginger dancing. altho recently read/heard somewhere, ‘you can’t dance about architecture’. The arch du jour now is Snowhetta. I wrote a letter to the editor of the Architects Newspaper a couple years ago, West Coast edition, that got published, basically saying, “well i understand going to Finland to hire an architect, there aren’t any architects in the Bay Area.” ugh……I’m a big ‘go local’ kind of guy, but it’s an uphill battle. Also wrote to the DC Public Library System afew years ago about their selection process for new facilities. They hired a guy out of England, in DC! to design a new 12,000 community library!!!! Did I hear back, no. One of my classmates with his own firm in DC wrote back, “once it falls apart, then a local can come in and pick up the pieces.” I had a meeting with the local Dir of Pub Services in Tempe, AZ about the on-call list. Once again, not so local. I proposed an alternate process. OOPS! the city attorneys reviewed the state law, and put the kabosh on that idea. State laws in AZ have been abysmal lately when it comes to the development industry. Meathead legislators, that know zero about the topic, sponsoring bills, because someone promised them a few thou, that end up costing every building department in the state, county,city tens of thou to comply….ugh. one of my heroes in fine art is Picasso, he was a restless explorer of ideas in his art until he died at 92. (my first degree is fine art, painting/drawing)

        Reply
      • Mark Lymer, MARC Architecture
        Mark Lymer, MARC Architecture says:

        recommendation: File under architecture, by Herbert Muschamp….my all time fave arch book read. funny as hell. short too! I’ve had two first editions, the cover in corrugated cardboard, given both away. oh well. sad he died so young.

        oh, picked up Complexity and Contradiction at Goodwill a few weeks ago. kinda funny to see it there. Also AIA guide to Chicago and Historic Buildings of Nebraska….all $2 ea.

        from website Designers and books: Véronique Vienne
        On Véronique Vienne’s Book List

        Herbert Muschamp, who eventually became the architecture critic for the New York Times between 1992 and 2004, was only 27 years old when he wrote this quirky manifesto. Printed on craft paper and bundled like a small parcel between two corrugated cardboard covers, it weighs only nine ounces, no heavier than a couple of twigs. Since 1975, when I bought it, the book got even drier and lighter, as the wood fibers in the paper pulp lost all their humidity. Today, the little volume resonates like a sound box. Instinctively, you drum your fingers on its cover. You riffle through its pages to hear them flutter. You hold its spine cradled in the palm of your hand as if it were the bow of a musical instrument.

        The sensuality of the book is reinforced by its design. The text is set in a friendly typewriter font, the lines are generously leaded, and the columns are just the right width. Short notes in the margins, printed in rich chocolate brown, provide a welcome distraction. The layout is so unassuming and legible it soothes your eyeballs—which is a good thing, considering the audacious, contentious, and insolent nature of Mr. Muschamp’s prose.

        An iconoclast, the author of File Under Architecture intended to deliver a series of scathing comments on modern architects, their arrogance and posturing. His tirades would have been wearisome if they weren’t studded with gems like “In the morning, all of Rome smells of coffee, which isn’t something that was cleverly planned,” or “New York is a cultural capital not because the best artists live there, but because the quickest critics do.”

        Muschamp was the quickest of them all, the first and the most fearless when it came to debunking the hypocrisy of the architecture establishment. Toward the end of his tenure at the Times, people at dinner parties in Manhattan loved to trash his brilliant reviews. While defending him, I got into a number of ugly fights with individuals whose taste I otherwise held in high regard.

        File Under Architecture revealed Muschamp’s uncanny ability to package his thoughts in a manner both seductive and provocative. As an object, the book is hard to put down. You want to caress it, pat it, fondle it. While its content might challenge your ability to sit still, its visual appeal will lull you into a gentle daze. You’ll read on, skipping paragraphs here and there yet unable to interrupt the movement of your eyes as they skim over the surface of the soft brown pages.

        Reply
  5. Gayle Martin, Author and Publisher at Good Oak Press, LLC
    Gayle Martin, Author and Publisher at Good Oak Press, LLC says:

    Okay, time for a “non professional” to jump in on this discussion. The cynic in me would argue that the “98% of what gets designed today is pure …” would apply to more than just architecture, but I’ll stay on topic. To me, architecture is more than just structure, functionality and beauty. It’s also a refection of the culture and the times of the people who designed it. This is why historic architecture is one of my passions.

    Today’s architecture, at least as I perceive it, is about all glass and steel and interesting lines. It may be a reflection of our “high tech” society, but I see it as hard and cold, and it feels about as inviting to me as diving into a vat of ice water. Again, a reflection of a society where people seem to be more interested in reading their latest Facebook posts on their iPhones than sitting down and having a real conversation with a live human being.

    What makes my heart sing is to walk into a restored historic building, such as the Hotel Congress, here in Tucson, where I now live. There’s just a certain warmth, and a certain feeling, that I get in old buildings. It’s hard for me to describe, as it’s something intangible. I’ll simply end my comment by saying that few things in life are more heartbreaking to me than to see a beautiful, historic building razed and replaced with a hard, cold, so-called modern structure.

    Reply
  6. Daniel Barry, Member at American Institute of Architects
    Daniel Barry, Member at American Institute of Architects says:

    Without going too far into the subject of “the super-star designer”, I would comment that Gehry’s work has evolved considerably from his early work (think chain-link), and that his mature style is certainly legitimate and respectable, even if it doesn’t tickle everyone’s fancy. It seems that certain architects can enjoy a great deal of design latitude once they achieve celebrity status. Owners of a certain category see themselves as Patrons of the Arts as much as facility owners. What is wrong with that? Art history is studded with Patron-Artist relationships like that. Call it an ego-trip if you like, but this phenomenon is anything but new.

    Reply
  7. Richard Podulka, Architect at Health Resources and Services Administration
    Richard Podulka, Architect at Health Resources and Services Administration says:

    My only experience with a Gehry building is the Peter B. Lewis building on the Case campus in Cleveland. The sf cost of that building skyrocketed during construction. Gehry himself said in an interview that he stayed awake at night worrying about the roof and whether it might leak. People have complained about its siting and final design and it’s cost. Despite all it’s flaws I thoroughly enjoy the siting. It makes the building tangible if not dangerous.

    But, the most astonishing thing, whether you like his work or no,t is that he convinces his clients that his design is what they want and what they should pay for. I understand that Louis Kahn was very effective in convincing clients to accept his designs. That ability,I believe, far outweighs any design ability. As H.H. Richardson would say the most important thing in architecture is to get the job.

    Great designers must have the opportunity to make buildings, many buildings, because not all they create is good. The more jobs the more opportunities to develop one’s ideas.

    Reply
  8. Edward J. Shannon, ArCH/NCARB/LEED GA, Architect at Imprint Architects
    Edward J. Shannon, ArCH/NCARB/LEED GA, Architect at Imprint Architects says:

    I guess if one agrees with Gehry, the question then becomes, Why? Why is 98% of what is currently built substandard (paraphrasing)? Is it because architects are poorly trained or incompetent? If one takes that position, One has to again ask, why? But, more importantly, this position points to a dismal future for architects. Sorry, I worked hard to become an architect and I know of no architect “slackers”. Ours is a rigorous education and a challenging occupation on a daily basis. Simply put, Architects are not incompetent boobs!

    Or, is current architecture substandard because there just is not a sophisticated client base? Hmmm… let’s think about this. Why don’t most clients “get” the things we do? Are they just not educated? Do WE (the architecture profession) need to educate them. Is there any way to force the general public to like what we like? If only they did value architecture, we would have a world filled with avant-garde objects, one more spectacular than the next! Architects would be much higher paid as everyone would want a monumental object designed by a heroic individual. The really good architects would have decades long waiting lists and the demands for “great” architecture would trickle down so that EVERY architect could express themselves as they saw fit. Practicing architecture would be just like we were taught it would be in architecture school! If you design….they will come…..

    Well, I don’t buy that position either.

    Indeed, I don’t share Mr. Gehry’s view that 98% of all that is built is poop. While I think there could be a lot of improvements, I think there a lot of hard working, talented architects designing buildings that reflect popular tastes and values. They – the population at large – do not value fine art, literature, classical music, poetry Yes, people tend to like familiar forms so, deal with it! And, many people favor the suburban landscape. We – architects – need to deal with this too.

    I do not see the current state of the built environment as an “all or nothing” situation. I think “pop-architecture” – the shopping center, single family house, etc. has improved dramatically! Look at a typical shopping center from the 1960s or 70s. Pretty non-descript. Most of today’s developer buildings have some character. No it is rare that it has great architectural merit, but most have some forethought and design put into them. Architects – and especially academia – need to accept that! I’ll take today’s PoMo influenced Target store over yesterday’s cheap, utilitarian K-Mart!

    Let’s serve the public and not side with Mr. Gehry and his arrogant position.

    Reply

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