Architect Gehry on creativity, originality and getting one’s way in the end

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Frank O. Gehry earned international renown for his design for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao (1997).

Prodded by Pulitzer Prize-winning architectural critic Paul Goldberger, Pritzker Prize-winning architect Frank O. Gehry shared insights about the work behind his work with an overflow audience at the Yale School of Architecture on April 12.

Gehry, the Eero Saarinen Visiting Professor at Yale, discussed the balance he seeks to achieve between the creative, intuitive side of his art and the formal constraints of his architectural practice, and the importance of conveying “feeling” through his work.

He described the meditative process of ruminating about a project, using models as his “main design tool”— Goldberger’s term. After considering the model for a very long time, from a range of perspectives, Gehry said. “If it looks like something I’ve done before, I discard it.”

Gehry commented on the informality of his office, in which “kids [young architects in his studio] are free to play.” But when Goldberger asked, “You’re not really laid back, are you?” The architect replied, “No. I’m a control freak about work.”

“You try to run a business and creative enterprise and keep a balance,” Gehry summed up.

The 83-year-old, ruddy-cheeked architect — whose design for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain catapulted him to international stardom in 1997 — reminisced throughout about his life-long personal and professional relationships with artists.

To illustrate the peculiar creative dynamic between artist and architect, Gehry pointed to his design for the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. His original plan for the project called for a series of columns, without bases or capitals, to stand erect in front of the building, evoking classical halls of justice. His design called for one of the columns to be lying on the ground, as if toppled, symbolizing the fallibility of justice. The client, representing Loyola Law School, did not permit the fallen column in the final design.

“But I got my way, anyway,” chuckled the architect. Thanks to Claes Oldenburg, an artist who has collaborated with Gehry on several projects, visitors to this “pre-Bilbao” landmark can see Oldenburg’s sculpture “Toppling Ladder with Spilling Paint” permanently teetering on the verge of collapse next to Gehry’s solid columns.

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