Frank Gehry in His Own Words

[Excerpted from The Gehry Towers Over Eisenhower: The National Civic Art Society Report on Frank Gehry’s Eisenhower Memorial by Justin Shubow.]

Frank Gehry -- Photo Credit: Philip Greenberg

Among contemporary famous architects, Frank Gehry is to be commended for being unusually frank about his philosophy of design, his motivations, and his strengths and weaknesses. Below are some relevant quotations from him. We would be interested to see whether he said anything like this in his statement of design philosophy in the Memorial “competition.” All emphasis is added unless noted otherwise.

1. Chaos and Danger

Life is chaotic, dangerous, and surprising. Buildings should reflect that.[1]


The form [of the bench] has to be free and light. It must be structural and at the same time poetic. And a little dangerous.[2]


I do think democracy has produced chaos, especially visual. A lot of people don’t like it and yearn for nineteenth-century images, forgetting that the politics of those images were different than the democracy we love.[3]


Most of us believe in democracy, but the system has created a world that looks strange, chaotic, and different, and we do not like it. We are struggling and it is easier to go back to models which are more coherent and seem more seductive now. We have to remember that those models came under a different political time and philosophy. If we are to survive, we need to live in the present and try to work towards the future. I will reiterate what I have said many times: I cannot face my children it I tell them I have no more ideas and I have to copy something that happened before. It is like giving up and telling them there is no future for them.[4]


I think of this in terms of controlled chaos. I always relate it to democracy.[5] Democracy is pluralism, the collision of ideas. Our cities are built on a collision of thought. Look out there. There is a building by [architect I. M.] Pei, there is a bridge, there is that huge hunk in the distance. If it wasn’t for democracy it would all look like one thing. Stata [Gehry’s building at MIT] represents that idea, which is where I think we are in life now.[6]


Gehry: . . . I think people are better educated about architecture in Europe. . . . If you’re rejected in Europe, you’re rejected intelligently. Here, you’re rejected because people are scared.

Forster: That’s an interesting distinction, because you tap into the contemporary urban experience and everything associated with it, change, chaos, transformation. You would expect it to place better at home.

Gehry: But most people hate it.

Forster: Because it’s perhaps the single most unifying experience common to all people in the world. There are monstrous avatars of the metropolis on every continent.

Gehry: I’ll tell you what I think. I tell people, “This is what I do. This is what we do. I’m taking your language making it into something better. I’m taking your junk and making something with it.” But they don’t like it. It’s just like the chain-link thing. [emphasis added][7]


And I’m hoping that out of democracy comes an expression that is the consensus is democracy. How does that express itself? It expresses itself chaotically. And that chaos, we’re starting to feel, is beautiful.[8]


Forster: With the Vitra International Headquarters . . . in Birsfelden, Switzerland, you resolved the conflict by giving center stage to chaos. You changed the nature of that particular chaos completely. What you got from those pretty [Modernist] books you were studying at Harvard is something that strikes most people as rigid, sterile, and exclusive of precisely those forces generated by life in the city.

Gehry: You can see this in what I did with the campus for the Loyola Law School . . . in Los Angeles. The existing buildings on Olympic Boulevard are all part of the composition. [emphasis added][9]


So a pretty little salon with the beautiful colors seems like a chocolate sundae to me. It’s too pretty. It’s not dealing with reality. I see reality as harsher; people bite each other. My take on things comes from that point of view.[10]


In my life, I was always the quiet, nice guy, the pussycat, the “Aw, shucks,” guy. The reality is I’m an angry s.o.b., pushy, ambitious like everyone else.[11]


What’s happening is that people [who criticize his buildings] have a benign acceptance of the ordinary, but with complaint. They’re part of the reason that things are ugly but they don’t realise it. . . . So f*ck off, people.[12]

2. Aesthetics and Culture

My approach to architecture is different. I search out the work of artists, and use art as a means of inspiration. I try to rid myself and the other members of the firm, of the burden of the culture and look for new ways to approach the work. I want to be open-ended. There are no rules, no right or wrong. I’m confused as to what’s ugly and what’s pretty. [emphasis added][13]


I try to rid myself of the burden of culture,” [Gehry] explains. “I’m looking for new ways to approach the work.” His goal, Gehry sums up, is a new “no-rules architecture,” a creative revolution in which “there is no ugly or pretty, no right or wrong.” [emphasis added][14]


What is ugly and what is beautiful? I used to ask that all the time when I was a kid. And it’s still hard to define. I mean, there’s people that write about that endlessly. And I don’t think there is any—I mean, it’s something you get attuned to. You see something that is new and when you first see it, it’s off-putting. I think most human beings when they see something brand new, they run away from it.[15]


I never thought there were overriding rules in the universe that we understood that made it compelling to do architecture one way or another; anybody’s logic system was as good as another person’s.[16]

3. Los Angeles and Tradition

For me LA has been in the front line of that kind of chaotic product of democracy. We do not have any historical architecture to ground us or hold us—I will not say hold us back, because I do not think it needs to hold you back. [emphasis added][17]


My effort is to work contextually, but not to pander to tradition. I have other principles: living in my time instead of in the past; interpreting what I see and how I fit. I don’t consciously take Los Angeles with me. Maybe I do. I take me with me, whatever that is.[18]


“When Prince Charles, an outspoken critic of modernism and a promoter of historicism in design, addressed the American Institute of Architects in Washington last year, Gehry boycotted the event, even though he was slated to win an award that evening. And he disdains one of the prince’s favorite projects, Seaside, the new town in Florida with the ambience of a Victorian village. ‘I see Seaside as an elitist fantasy,’ says Gehry. ‘I think it’s like saying to your kids, ‘Look, we don’t have any new ideas, so we’re going to take ideas from the past.’ And someday, their kids are going to say to them, ‘The 21st century doesn’t work like that. Why did you lie to me? Why did you tell me it was all a pretty and sweet haven?’”[19]


Bell: What about Los Angeles, has it been a good environment for you?

Gehry: Yes, because it’s been the chaotic city built by the system we all dearly love, democracy. For better or for worse, it’s a mess.

Bell: It’s got this sprawling, uncontrolled energy.

Gehry: But it’s who we are, actually. Prince Charles isn’t in LA. He’s a nineteenth-century monarch, and he wants to live in a nineteenth-century environment that feels good to him. All of us are struggling with this environment. There’s a lot of nostalgia for the nineteenth century, especially in Hollywood. A lot of Hollywood people live in the same housing. I think LA represents an opportunity to understand what democracy creates and to work with it. It’s pretty exciting. The artists have led the way by thinking about this and using it. That’s what Jasper and Rauschenberg did-pick up the detritus of the city and use it in their art. I look at LA as an opportunity, not as a failed city.[20]

4. American Architecture

[Harvard design professor] Joseph Hudnut [whom Gehry studied under] . . . made a big impression on me and gave me something to strive for: creating an American architecture. . . . And that meant you had to find a new language, because one didn’t really exist yet.[21]

5. Federal Architecture

[Architect Michael] Graves is much more connected. You can see that it is much more acceptable to people like the Whitney Museum or the Portland people. They don’t come get people like [Peter] Eisenman, [Robert] Venturi, or Gehry. And in that sense, comparatively, of the four of us he is much more acceptable. His risks and his exploration just happen to be more in a mode that is less contentious socially and politically. One might speculate that that kind of imagery is politically related to the Reagan Administration, for instance. I don’t know. That would be a scary thought. But it could be. I could imagine that. We’re looking at kind of a return to imperial architecture.[22]


Just as there are so many extraordinary architects in London who fail to receive commissions, there are so many who are in the same dilemma in LA; it is the same everywhere. My name was put up for a courthouse, and the General Services Administration that runs the government buildings just laughed at the idea.[23] In America the President of the United States probably does not know anything about architecture, they have tended not to over the years.[24]


But that kind of taste for art and architecture doesn’t exist here in America. I’ve been exposed to British and Spanish royalty, the French government, the Japanese emperor. And I’m talking about having dinner with them, spending an evening with them, getting calls from Chirac and Mitterrand, over the years. The American government won’t even hire me to do anything. In fact we submit for courthouses every once in a while, and we get funny letters back, and people on the selection committee, the GSA (General Services Administration) guys, just guffaw to think of someone like me doing the project. We’ve got a long way to go.[25]

6. Washington, D.C. Architecture and Memorials

It’s rare I enter competitions, but this one [the Eisenhower Memorial] resonated for me. I’d been to Washington recently, walking around looking at the memorials and thinking there has got to be a better way to do this.[26]


The Lincoln Memorial is in the form of a Greek temple. What’s that got to do with Lincoln?[27]


[U.S. Archivist David] Ferriero: Is there a particular memorial that you think is good?

Gehry: Lincoln.

[Robert] Wilson: Absolutely, and Washington.

Gehry: And, uh, Maya Lin. [ed.: note he doesn’t say the name of the memorial or what it’s supposed to memorialize]

Wilson: Beautiful, what Maya did.

Gehry: She was my student, so I’m kind of biased. [editorial comment in original][28]


“A guy in the audience, possibly a graduate student, who claimed intimate native knowledge of Washington [D.C.], led the witness: Insofar as Gehry was getting to know the ‘sensibility’ here, it was important that the architect acknowledge the city’s ‘homogeneity’ and its status as a ‘one-industry town,’ the guy insisted. ‘There’s a lot of people who look alike, dress alike, talk alike….Have you given any thought to the notion,’ he asked Gehry, ‘that your new building [for the Corcoran] could provide an oasis in this homogeneous city and could function as a way of inspiring other artists?’

“The answer was less provocative than the question, but Gehry took the bait and responded with like-minded condescension: ‘I guess, secretly, I think all those things, but I wouldn’t presume to, er, proclaim it.

‘Who knows?’ Gehry continued. ‘It’s too bad there’s so much homogeneity. It doesn’t speak well for democracy.’” [emphasis added][29]

7. Statuary

I have a personal bias against bronze representations because they never quite live up to the great Greek statues that I’ve studied over the years. [emphasis added][30]


I personally have an aversion to bronze statues. The ones that have been made in my lifetime mostly aren’t very expressive. They are cold. They don’t move me or a lot of people.[31]

8. Iconic Buildings

I think history has shown that there’s a need for iconicity in public buildings because they become a source of pride for the community. . . . It’s the accumulation of these buildings as icons that identifies the community. What’s happening in the world today is everything is iconic. It seems that we’re starting a new language or paradigm for city building. And there’s now a backlash against that. But that means you go back to the 1960s where you build boxes, banality. That seems wrong.[32]

9. Craftsmanship and Junk

I’ll tell you two things about our culture that I was conscious of. One is that there was a lack of craftsmanship. I was trained by Victor Gruen to value Viennese perfection and detailing, but it was a lie. You couldn’t do it. You couldn’t even get somebody to do it. You couldn’t find craftsman who were capable of doing it. . . . On the other hand, [Robert] Rauschenberg and [Jasper] Johns and all the other artists I was talking to and looking at were using junk in their paintings and sculptures. So I consciously said, “Well, if they can make stuff that sells in the galleries out of junk, then maybe I can too.”[33]

10. Two- Versus Three-Dimensional Work

I have some things that I’ve always tried to make. I think a lot of architects have this same dream—which is to make a painterly building.[34] Because in painting there’s a feeling of immediacy. And that’s always been the elusive thing for me—to find that in architecture. When you look at an Impressionist painting, it’s so emotional. You get involved. You feel it. There are so many readings you can give of it. It’s not just one thing. And that’s always interested me. It’s the elusive thing in architecture, because in architecture you can’t get a fuzzy edge. It’s always the machines that make edges squared off. In my work I’m trying to get this painterly quality . . . .[35]


Sculpture is more definite. Painting is more ephemeral, so you can read more into it. You’re freer to interpret from paintings than you are from a 3-D object.[36]

11. Originality

[E]ven when the building is finished, it feels precarious to me. Since it doesn’t really look like something else I’ve seen, I worry that it’s some kind of bizarre thing. I feel self-conscious about it, and I want to hide. I want to crawl under the blankets. When I first saw Bilbao [Guggenheim] for the first time, I said, “Oh my God, what have I done to these people?” I think that’s a problem, but for better or worse, that’s who I am.[37]


I was looking for a way to express feeling in three-dimensional objects. I never expected Bilbao to be the, kinda, hit it turned out to be. In fact, when it opened I was very self-conscious about it, and thought, “My God, what have I done?[38]


When Bilbao was finished and I looked at it, I saw all the mistakes, I saw … They weren’t mistakes; I saw everything that I would have changed and I was embarrassed by it. I felt an embarrassment—”How could I have done that? How could I have made shapes like that or done stuff like that?” It’s taken several years to now look at it detached and say — as you walk around the corner and a piece of it works with the road and the street, and it appears to have a relationship—that I started to like it.[39]


The approach to architecture should be like science, with breakthroughs that create new information, not repetition of old ideas.[40]

12. The Classical Style

Interviewer: I wanted to ask you about the overall design [of the Eisenhower Memorial] in reference to these what look like columns. Does it harken to sort of neoclassic architecture—

[Talking Over]

Gehry: [Pointing to the Capitol building] Well, we’re looking at—

Interviewer: —the Colosseum? Yes, so that was a big part of the influence.

Gehry: Well, I had to—it didn’t start out that way. And I’m not the kind of architect that does that. But we had to hold the tapestries up. And there had to be some—and I started out with cable structures in steel, but it didn’t seem dignified and appropriate for this topic. And I started making bigger and bigger, so that they had more presence, and I ended up with these columns.[41]

[Compare what Gehry told the National Capitol Planning Commission regarding the origin of the “columns”:]

When we started with the project we were trying to land it in Washington, D.C. and, of course, the columns come to mind.[42]


I got interested in the fish image around the time everybody started doing neoclassical stuff. My anger got expressed by saying—and I don’t know why this came out of my mouth—if you’re going to go backwards, let’s go way backwards, and I started drawing fish.[43]


I don’t talk about influences when I give lectures, because my work doesn’t look as good as [the Renaissance painter] Sluter, or [the Renaissance painter] Bellini, or Vermeer. Their work is better than my regurgitations of it.[44]

13. Honesty with Clients

I believe in upfront honesty with the people who want to hire me . . . . I have no hidden agenda, and if a client goes into shock after I show him my first conceptions of a project—well, then at least we’ve cleared that part of it away and we can continue with our discussion.[45]

14. Permanence and Functionality

Life is temporal. There’s too much preening and fussing over fancy details, about an idea of perfection. It’s all phoney. We are temporary and so are all our structures. A few last through the ages with varying degrees of presence. Perhaps.[46]


In the last year four of my buildings have been torn down, and I’ve been asked to defend them. I don’t. A building refers to its time, to the things it was responding to, the people, the place. It’s either useful or it’s not. And sometimes they’re not. The reality of our lives is that you respond to things which become absolute. You react to the problems of the world. . . . How should [a building] respond? How can you respond to the price of oil? Should our buildings throw out all notions of beauty to become energy efficient? I don’t know…[47]


Bilbao did not leak. I was so proud. [Laughter] The MIT project — they were interviewing me for MIT and they sent their facilities people to Bilbao. I met them in Bilbao. . . .

They were there three days and it rained every day and they kept walking around — I noticed they were looking under things and looking for things, and they wanted to know where the buckets were hidden, you know? People put buckets out … I was clean. There wasn’t a bloody leak in the place, it was just fantastic. But you’ve got to—yeah, well up until then every building leaked, so this … [Laughter]

You’ve all heard the Frank Lloyd Wright story, when the woman called and said, “Mr. Wright, I’m sitting on the couch and the water’s pouring in on my head.” And he said, “Madam, move your chair.” [Laughter] So, some years later I was doing a building, a little house on the beach for Norton Simon, and his secretary, who was kind of a hell on wheels type lady, called me and said, “Mr. Simon’s sitting at his desk and the water’s coming in on his head.” And I told her the Frank Lloyd Wright story.[48]


[The architect Frank Lloyd Wright] was always searching for and testing new materials. He wanted to use a new kind of concrete blocks for the Ennis House in Los Angeles, for example. He was told they couldn’t be built. He ignored the intelligentsia and made them himself, and they lasted about 50 years. After that amount of time they failed, but they were fixable. The building’s an icon, but he built it for people who lived in it and loved it. They were long gone when the blocks failed.[49]


I was visiting with an artist, Michael Heizer, out in the desert near Las Vegas somewhere. He’s building this huge concrete place. And it was late in the evening. We’d had a lot to drink. We were standing out in the desert all alone and, thinking about my house, he said, “Did it ever occur to you if you built stuff more permanent, somewhere in 2000 years somebody’s going to like it?” [Laughter] So, I thought, “Yeah, that’s probably a good idea.” Luckily I started to get some clients that had a little more money, so the stuff was a little more permanent. But I just found out the world ain’t going to last that long, this guy was telling us the other day. So where do we go now? Back to—everything’s so temporary.[50]

15. User-Friendliness

Gehry: I don’t have the need like [architect Peter Eisenman] does to torture [people] when they use the building. In the Wexner Center, for example, Eisenman made it so that people who worked there would have to look down a certain way to see the view. I mean, I wouldn’t think to do that. I’m more user-friendly.

Forster: You want me to believe that?

Gehry: Well, maybe it’s not true. But it is true that I’m more giving and forgiving.[51]

16. Individuality and Self-Expression

One of my unsung heroes is [the architect] Erich Mendelsohn. . . . [I]f you go to his Einstein Tower in Potsdam, Germany you see an enormous intellect at work with a language that was personal and new. . . .

When I start my [architecture] class I ask the students to write their signatures on pieces of paper and put them on a table. I have them look at them, and I point out, “They’re all different, aren’t they? That’s you, that’s you, that’s you, that’s you.” I say, “That’s what you have to find in architecture. You have to find your signature. When you find it, you’re the only expert on it. People can say they like it or don’t like it. They can argue about it, but it’s yours.”[52]

17. Interiors

I was reported in the London Independent as having designed constipated interiors [for the American Center building in Paris] and I think there is some truth in that.[53]


The interior [of my Disney Ice rink] is better than the exterior. It’s a reversal of my usual problem.[54]

18. Views and Windows

I have struggled with windows in my other buildings. . . . It’s easier to build sculpture because everything architectural is, by definition, sculptural, because first of all, it’s three-dimensional. But I have trouble with god damned windows, too.[55]


[Speaking of the white ceramic dots on the windows of the IAC headquarters he designed in New York] So if we had every piece of glass with the dots representing a substantial portion of the piece of glass, and it’s solid, you’re looking out at the view through dots. It’s not really a bad thing. People in their offices are always busy. They’re not sitting there just looking at the view right? . . . The only problem was [CEO] Barry Diller saw the mock-ups, he didn’t like looking through the dots. . . . So then we had to come up with a way of leaving a section clear.[56]

19. Theater

Forster: Still, I wonder why you never designed sets for a film or theater production, except the setting [a chain-link scrim] for the Available Light collaboration (1983) with Lucinda Childs and John Adams at the Temporary Contemporary in Los Angeles, and the cardboard sono-tube installations and new shell for the Hollywood Bowl (1970-1982).

Gehry: Well, nobody’s asked.[57]


“The [Eisenhower] square, [Gehry] said, ‘was a theater for cars.’ Inspired by the theater idea, he has developed the concept. The two side tapestries placed along Independence Avenue will help form a ‘proscenium,’ and the longer, main tapestry parallel to the Education building functions a bit like a backdrop.”[58]


“Gehry . . . proposed a theater whose rear wall would be a drive-in for gondolas.”[59]

20. Scale and Expense

I think that people will have [to] learn to live more modestly; I think they should learn to save their money. We’ve been through a generation of excess—everybody’s got two or three cars, we’ve been flying all over the place, but now something else is happening and we’ve got to respond to it; although architects alone can’t do it.[60]


[Buildings] need to be human scale, in my opinion. They can’t just be faceless things. That’s how some modernism failed. . . . It became a language that self-destructed. What was missing was human scale.[61]


Scale is a struggle. How do you make a big monolithic building that’s humane?[62]

21. Sex and Architecture

[Describing his American Center in Paris as like going under the skirt of a ballerina.] I don’t consciously create a skirt to go under. It think it just comes up and it’s obvious. But I’m a guy, and sex and women are on my mind. Sometimes I can help it, but not always. . . . I think there’s a lot of sexual energy that goes into the design of a building, and I think it’s good energy.[63]


Ours is a typical male chauvinist pig office, although we don’t intend it to be that way, of course. It has not been easy keeping women.[64]


“At a topping-off ceremony for his Beekman Tower yesterday, 80-year old architect Frank Gehry took to the podium and made one of those slightly randy jokes that men can get away with when they’re 80. Mr. Gehry pointed his finger upright toward the 76-tower residential complex and bluntly proclaimed: ‘No Viagra.’”[65]

22. Completion

“Gehry has said, more than once, ‘Everybody likes buildings in construction better than we do finished.’”[66]


Gehry: I’m not sure if [my house in Santa Monica] is finished.

[Barbaralee] Diamondstein: You’re not sure?

Gehry: No.

Diamondstein: Is one ever sure?

Gehry: It’s confusing. I was wondering the other day what effect this had on my family. I’ve noticed my wife leaves papers and stuff around on the table so there’s a kind of chaos in the organization of how we live in the house. I was beginning to think that it had something to do with her not knowing whether I’m finished or not.[67]

23. Natural Disasters

The day after the earthquake in LA, a reporter from New York asked me if I wasn’t happier now that LA looked more like the rest of my work. I told him that I was pleased that God finally saw it my way.[68]

24. The September 11, 2001 Attacks

The attack on New York has changed our lives and our task as architects, . . . Priorities are going to change. Architecture might become marginalised because safety will become paramount. People are bound to feel apprehensive about skyscrapers . . . so we’ll have to think about installing fire escapes on the outside of buildings and improving fire-resistant materials. . . .We’ve enjoyed a period of euphoria in the last 30 years in the U.S. and in Europe for the last 10. We were happy, we enjoyed ourselves . . . That great period has perhaps ended. Now we must think more about safety.[69]

25. The World Trade Center and Public Service

[Deborah Solomon]: So, how have you managed to stay out of the debate over the twin-towers site? You’re the only architect who’s a household name in America, so naturally people wondered why your name was missing when the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation presented seven new proposals for the site last month.

[Gehry:] I was invited to be on one of the teams, but I found it demeaning that the agency paid only $40,000 for all that work. I can understand why the kids did it, but why would people my age do it? [Leading architects] Norman Foster or Richard Meier or any of those people? When you’re only paid $40,000, you’re treated as if that is your worth.

[Solomon:] But what about your sense of civic responsibility? Don’t tell me you built the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, simply to earn a buck.

[Gehry:] I refuse to work unless I get paid, so I don’t get a lot of work sometimes.

[Solomon:] But don’t you owe it to the public to try to help New York, not to mention the rest of the country?[70]

26. Global Versus National and Local Culture

“There’s also resentment that an international institution will run the place [the Guggenheim Bilbao], and show mostly international artists, not Basques (though some of the museum’s $50 million acquisition budget is earmarked for art by Basques and Spaniards). To this, Gehry replies, ‘We’re a world culture. We better get on with it.’”[71]

27. Urban Planning

There’s a lot of layer in bureaucracy that make it impossible to do creative work in cities. Add that to the economic blindness of the people that build stuff. They just want to get it up and sell it. There’s no sense of responsibility for time and to the community. Somebody’s got to re-educate those people that there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow if they follow it. What we need is a benevolent dictator. That’s who built some of the best cities. So a Robert Moses, somebody with a vision.[72] You don’t find many of them. . . .

[Speaking of modern landscape architecture] I haven’t seen anything that measures up to [Frederick Law] Olmstead yet.[73]


I want to work with groups of people . . . developing not a unilateral decision about what the city should be—I do not trust my own judgment in such a context—but how to survive . . . creating a democratic (whatever that is) model for our world. I do not like the responsibility of having the world put upon my shoulders—to solve everything in one building. I cannot accept that position, I am not capable of doing it.[74]


I accept the American city the way it is, but I have a fantasy . . . that I will slowly co-opt it.[75]

City planning? Forget it. It’s a kind of bureaucratic nonsense. It has nothing to do with ideas. It only has to do with real estate and politics.[76]


Look, I went to city planning school at Harvard and I discovered that you never got to change a f*cking thing or do anything. Urban planning is dead in the U.S.[77]


Maybe my romantic notion of democracy is that you break down the scale of the city and differentiate it so there’s not an overpowering [Nazi architect] Alber[t] Speer kind of architectural statement.[78]


[T]he issue of city building in democracy is interesting because it creates chaos, right? Everybody doing their thing makes a very chaotic environment, and if you can figure out how to work off each other—if you can get a bunch of people who respect each other’s work and play off each other, you might be able to create models for how to build sections of the city without resorting to the one architect. Like the Rockefeller Center model, which is kind of from another era.[79]


[Describing his Der Neue Zollhof building in Dusseldorf, Germany] It’s an anti-Rockefeller Center. This represents the world we’re in. There’s more individuality. It’s about democracy.[80]


The whole idea here [the Guggenheim Bilbao] was Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis,”[81] to make a visionary city.[82]


[1] Qtd. in Germano Celant, Frank Gehry (Barnes and Noble, 2000), 6. Celant is a friend of Gehry’s. As the architecture critic Paul Goldberg wrote, “I am not sure how easy it is for children to understand what Gehry means when he says: ‘Life is chaotic, dangerous and surprising. Buildings should reflect it.’” Paul Goldberger, “Master Builder,” The New York Times Nov. 19, 2000, available at Compare what Chairman Siciliano said about working for the Eisenhower administration: “The Eisenhower aura was unique—it fostered a sense of orderliness and an absence of fierce rivalry, which in part had to do with President Eisenhower’s discipline and organization.” Siciliano at 119.

[3] Qtd. in Isenberg 268.

[4] Qtd. in Individual Imagination and Cultural Conservatism at 33.

[5] Compare Gehry’s understanding of democracy with James Madison’s remarks on “pure,” i.e., popular democracy: “Hence it is that democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and in general have been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths . . . . A republic, by which I mean a government in which a scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect and promises the cure for which we are seeking.” “The Federalist No. 10,” Daily Advertiser (Nov. 22, 1787), available at

[6] Qtd. in Nancy Joyce, Building Stata: The Design and Construction of Frank O. Gehry’s Stata Center at MIT (MIT Press, 2004), xiii.

[7] Qtd. in Forster at 92.

[8] Qtd. in Sketches of Frank Gehry at 1:07:30.

[9] Qtd. in Forster at 88-9.

[10] Frank O. Gehry, Germano Celant, and Mason Andrews, Frank Gehry, Buildings and Projects (Rizzoli, 1985).

[11] Barbara McGuian, “A Maverick Master,” Newsweek Jun. 16, 1991, available at

[12] “Gehry Knocks Critics as Pavilion Opens,” The First Post (Jul. 15, 2008),1165,gehry-hits-out-at-bilbao-critics,35513.

[13] Qtd. in Janet Naim, “The Search for a ‘No Rules’ Architecture,” Architectural Record June 1976: 95. Also see Douglas Ord, The National Gallery of Canada: Ideas, Art, Architecture (McGill Queens University, 2003) 297, available at

[14] Sally Koris, “Renegade Frank Gehry Has Torn Up His House—and the Book of Architecture,” People Mar. 5, 1979, available at,,20073071,00.html

[15] Transcript from The Charlie Rose Show (CQ Transcriptions), Apr. 11, 2006.

[16] “Interview with Frank Gehry,” Volume 5, May 9, 1997, available at

[17] Frank Gehry, “Since I’m So Democratic I Accept Conformists: A Lecture on Recent Work” in Frank O. Gehry: Individual Imagination and Cultural Conservatism, Ed. Charles Jencks (Academy Editions 1995) 40.

[18] Gehry Talks at 169.

[19] McGuigan, “A Maverick Master.” Gehry has since softened in his view of the Prince, the creator of The Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment. Gehry said in 2009, “It’s ok for Prince Charles to be who he is, and want what he wants—God bless him for coming out of the closet and saying what he thinks . . . I mean some of things he likes, I like, and some of things he’s come out against, well, I’m on his side.” [ellipsis in original] Qtd. in Day “Don’t Call Me ‘Starchitect.’”

[20] Judith Bell, “Architecture with a Twist,” The World & I Jul. 1998: 94.

[21] Qtd. in Forster at 59. See, by contrast, Capitol and White House. Hudnut was the leader of the Modernist opposition to the Jefferson Memorial, which he repeatedly mocked as the “egg on a pantry shelf in the midst of a geometric Sahara.” Qtd. in Jill E. Pearlman, Inventing American modernism: Joseph Hudnut, Walter Gropius, and the Bauhaus (University of Virginia Press, 1997) 129. Hudnut also wrote, “In a period when all of the world appears to us as an organic growth, when our mode of thinking is dominated by a conception of the organic in nature—of nature as an evolving, moving, growing, and decaying order, in which human life is a necessary and essential element—we cannot possibly find in the static symbol, in formalized art of the classic period, any relation to our own needs or emotions . . . we cannot conceivable find beauty in an architecture where all is complete, where all is fulfillment—an architecture which requires a permanent order.” Id. Compare Gehry: “Well, we’re living in a world that just keeps constantly changing and evolving, and my sense is that it’s important to respond to that change. Otherwise, you lose your relationship to the dynamic of it. Now architecture does get frozen at some point. It becomes a static piece, and time goes by. Our hope is that the static piece will have some life in the changing environment.” Qtd. in Isenberg 257.

[22] Qtd. in the documentary film Beyond Utopia (Michael Blackwood Productions, 1982).

[23] He is referring to a time before the advent of the Design Excellence Program.

[24] Gehry “Since I’m So Democratic” at 40.

[25] “Interview with Frank Gehry,” Volume 5, May 9, 1997, available at

[26]“Gehry Picked to Honor Eisenhower,” The Washington Times, Apr. 2, 2009, available at

[27] David Brussat, “Coming Up: Latest Twists in Eisenhower Memorial Saga,” Architecture Here and There (Oct. 11, 2011), Compare Thomas Jefferson’s explanation (below) for choosing the name “Capitol” after the temple to Jupiter.

[28] C-SPAN video “Creation of the Eisenhower National Memorial – Oct. 5, 2011,” (first aired Nov. 20, 2011), available at Partial transcript available at David Brussat, “Coming Up: Latest Twists in Eisenhower Memorial Saga,” Architecture Here and There (Oct. 11, 2011),

[29] McKee “Washington Goes to Mr. Gehry.”

[30] Qtd. in “Honoring Eisenhower; Architect Frank Gehry Unveils Plans for a Memorial to the Former President and WWII General,” Los Angeles Times, Mar., 26 2010: A22.

[31] NCPC Transcript, Jun. 3, 2010 at 33.

[32] Wallpaper* 112-3.

[33] Qtd. in Forster at 86-8.

[34] Compare the “tapestries.”

[35] Gehry qtd. in Warren Bennis, “Frank Gehry: Artist, Leader, and ‘Neotenic,’” Journal of Management Inquiry Mar. 2003: 86-87. The “tapestries” are essentially two-dimensional in design, like a painting.

[36] Qtd. in Isenberg at 162. The Memorial’s “tapestries,” being two-dimensional, are closer to paintings than sculpture.

[37] Qtd. in Isenberg at 258.

[39] “Frank Gehry Asks: Then What?,” TED video,

[41] Video of Gehry being interviewed at the introduction of his Eisenhower Memorial design at the Dirksen Senate office Building on March 25, 2010, posted on YouTube by Todd C. Wiggins, Also posted at Racheld Tepper, “Eisenhower Family Unhappy With Gehry’s Current Memorial Design,” Huffington Post (Dec. 16, 2011) Compare: “I got interested in the fish image when everybody started doing neoclassical, postmodern stuff. I remember thinking that Greek classicism is anthropomorphic, . . . and I said ‘Well, if you’re going to go back, why don’t we go back three hundred million years to fish? If you’re going backwards, let’s go way backwards.” Gehry qtd. in Isenberg 127.

[42] NCPC Transcript, Jun. 3, 2010 at 39.

[43] Qtd. in Barbara Isenberg, “Frank Gehry’s Creative Journey,” Los Angeles Times Apr. 7, 1991, available at

[44] Gehry Talks at 43.

[45] Gehry qtd. in Paul Gapp, “A Gentle Maverick: Recognition Starts Building for L.A.’s Candid Gehry,” Chicago Tribune Mar. 15, 1987: 4.

[46] Edwin Heathcote, “The Irreverent Imperfectionist,” Finanical Times Jul. 10, 2008, available at

[47] Id.

[48] “Frank Gehry Asks: Then What?,” TED video,

[49]Qtd. in Playboy.

[50] “Frank Gehry Asks: Then What?,” TED video,

[51] Forster 92-93.

[52] Qtd. in Playboy.

[53] Gehry, “Since I’m So Democratic” 46.

[54] Gehry Talks at 180.

[55] Qtd. in Forster 70. The Department of Education has complained that the “tapestry” will block views from their building. They officially worried about the Memorial “Shrouding our headquarters’ public face with a tapestry, effectively making the Department disappear.” Letter from DOE chief of staff Margot M. Rogers to Executive Director Reddel, May 14, 2010. CFA archive.

[56] Qtd. in Isenberg at 221.

[57] Forster at 91.

[58] Philip Kennicott, “Frank Gehry refines his Eisenhower Memorial Design,” Washington Post (Jan. 20, 2011), See also Gehry’s remarks at CFA Transcript, May 20, 2010 at 35.

[59] Bletter at 132.

[60] Qtd. in Michael Day, “Frank Gehry: ‘Don’t Call Me a Starchitect’,” The Independent, Dec. 17 2009, available at

[61] Gehry Talks at 48.

[62] Id. at 140.

[63] Qtd. in Isenberg at 143.

[64] Qtd. in Isenberg at 169.

[65] Reid Pillifant, “Gehry Will Wait to Ascend His Own Tower,” New York Observer (Nov. 20, 2009),

[66] James Verini, “Gehry’s Laboratory,” Los Angeles Times Sep. 11, 2003: E34.

[67] Qtd. in Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Duke Univ., 1990) 109.

[68] Gehry, “Since I’m so Democratic” 40. After the 2005 Hurricane Katrina, as part of the Make It Right program endorsed by the movie star Brad Pitt, Gehry and other avant-garde architects designed 150 houses for victims. In an insult to the victims, some houses appear to have been designed to look permanently damaged. For photos, see and For more photos, as well a comparison to the response to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, in which 5,300 traditional cottages were built for the victims, see

[69] Gehry was in New York City at the time of the attacks. Qtd. in Elizabeth Nash, “Buildings May Never Be the Same, Says Guggenheim Architect,” The Independent Nov. 1, 2001, available at,+Says+Guggenheim+Architect&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us.

[70] Deborah Solomon, “Questions for Frank Gehry: Towering Vision,” New York Times, Jan. 5, 2003: 11. Compare Eisenhower: “It is the firm duty of each of our free citizens and of every free citizen everywhere to place the cause of his country before the comfort, the convenience of himself.” President Dwight D. Eisenhower, First Inaugural Address, available at But see Gehry’s subsequent letter to the editor: “Regarding my interview with Deborah Solomon (Jan. 5), the comments I made about the fees paid to the architectural teams that submitted proposals for ground zero were based on my opinion that when working on a commercial project that will certainly generate great financial gain, as opposed to when working solely on a memorial or something similar, everyone involved should be fairly compensated for the work. It might seem outrageous to anyone outside the profession, but I think most architects would agree that in any other situation a payment of $40,000 for this level of work wouldn’t even go far enough for us to pay our own staff members for their efforts and their long nights. I shouldn’t have chosen this situation to use as an example of my opinions about the profession in general, and I should have applauded my colleagues for the civic responsibility they’ve shown. I think those who know me understood the intent of my words. To those who were offended, I offer my most sincere apologies.” New York Times Jan. 26, 2003: 6.

[71] McGuian “Basque-ing.” Just prior to the opening of the Guggenheim Bilbao, (Basque) ETA terrorists attempted to detonate explosives at the museum. They were also armed with machine guns. They were stopped by a policeman whom they murdered.

[72] Robert Moses, who was effectively New York City’s central planner in the mid-20th-century, is arguably the most hated figure in American urban planning. His opponents accused him of favoring cars over people, and of destroying numerous traditional neighborhoods. His attempt to build a highway that would have sliced through Greenwich Village and SoHo is what galvanized Jane Jacobs and other leaders of the new urbanism. Whatever was left of Moses’ reputation was demolished by Robert Caro’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography The Power Broker (Knopf, 1974).

[73] Wallpaper* 114. Olmstead was one of the creators of the National Mall as we know it. He also designed New York’s Central Park.

[74] Qtd. in Individual Imagination and Cultural Conservatism at 35-6.

[75] Pilar Viladas, “Form follows ferment: design for the Loyola Law School, Los Angeles.” Progressive Architecture 66: 1-4 (Feb. 1, 1985) 67.

[76] “Frank Gehry Interview,” Academy of Achievement (Jun. 3, 1995)

[77] Day “Frank Gehry: ‘Don’t Call Me a Starchitect.’”

[78] Qtd. in Isenberg 207.

[79] “Frank Gehry Asks: Then What?,” TED video,

[80] Gehry Talks at 186.

[81] Metropolis is a 1927 German Expressionist film portraying a dystopian future in which there is class warfare between the tyrannical “managers” in Modernist skyscrapers and the herd-like workers living underground. The workers are literally sacrificed on the M-Machine, named after Moloch, created by a Dr. Frankenstein-like character. The protagonist lives in a skyscraper called the “New Tower of Babel.”

[82] Qtd. in McGuian “Basque-ing.” See also “Since I’m So Democratic” at 49.

2 Responses to “Frank Gehry in His Own Words”
Check out what others are saying...
  1. [...] The problems go much deeper. The memorial is planned to be large and ornate, whereas Eisenhower was a simple man with simple tastes. The memorial for a man who devoted his to public service is being designed by Frank Gehry who turned down an opportunity to work on the Twin Towers after 9/11 because the pay was not high enough. [...]

  2. [...] The problems go much deeper. The memorial is planned to be large and ornate, whereas Eisenhower was a simple man with simple tastes. The memorial for a man who devoted his to public service is being designed by Frank Gehry who turned down an opportunity to work on the Twin Towers after 9/11 because the pay was not high enough. [...]

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