Frank Gehry has become a leading architect noted for his innovative structures using industrial materials in new ways and with a certain deconstructivist approach to architecture. Philip Johnson, the dean of American architecture and a power since the 1930s, more recently joined with other architects who have been shattering all the rules, leaving behind symmetry and classic geometry in favor of distorted designs, twisted beams, and skewed angles. Johnson in 1988 showcased this style in a program at the Museum of Modern Art, and he called the show "Deconstructivist Architecture." Among the designers following this approach are Frank Gehry of California or Bernard Tschumi from France and Switzerland. Johnson says of this new architecture that it evokes "the pleasures of unease." These ideas have been utilized directly by Johnson in his design for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation building in Toronto. Today, Gehry is probably the foremost proponent if this approach.
Gehry's reputation rose greatly with the design of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, a design that has had importance for reviving the fortunes of a small city "by making it a place that people from all over the world want to visit. The benefits to the city are much greater than the cost of the building, extravagant though that might seem. The collection of art works that it houses could have been seen just as clearly in a modest and inconspicuous building that excited no one."? Ballantyne further point out that the building as it stands is not linked to any cultural tradition from northern Spain but is timed more to Los Angeles:
Its form is part of a family of shapes for buildings developed in the remarkable and idiosyncratic studio of Frank Gehry, and it recognizably belongs to his own personal tradition, which has been developing for decades. More broadly, it makes sense in the tradition of the avant-garde, that was developed in the art world, and which makes the building highly appropriate for the housing of works of avant-garde art, which again are the works not of local artists but of internationally recognized stars of the art world. So the museum's collection has more in common with the collections of contemporary art to be found in the great American cities than it does with collections of contemporary art in nearby provincial towns.
Numerous critics have pointed out the value of the building for attracting visitors, as does Dana Arnold when noting that "Frank Gehry's striking titanium-clad design for the Guggenheim in Bilbao has perhaps played as important a role in attracting visitors as the museum displays housed within."?
Germano Celant refers to the architecture of Frank Gehry as "idealized cities -- essences of urbanity which, refracted and re-presented through Gehry's aerial vision, throws open new ways of understanding the spatial and temporal dimensions of architecture."? Celant also emphasizes ways in which the buildings of Gehry seem to expand out of themselves. He is referring specifically to buildings Gehry had designed for Los Angeles when he says that they "seem to split open and break apart, to burst out of closed containers and shoot off in all linguistic directions, as if seduced by the urban eroticism of Los Angeles."? Celant says that many of these structures consist of a collection of structures making up a "house-city" marked by transparency through which one can observe details by peering through "apertures or lattices, panels or filters, through chain link or glass."?
Rosemarie Haag Bletter notes that Gehry's architecture is not easily categorized and exists outside the confines of ready-made labels. She writes, "The unruly, wild appearance of many of his buildings goes against the grain of those who admire the carefully controlled structures more typical of architectural design."? Gehry is in tune with the art of his time and collects much of it from his friends. Gehry designed the Malibu studio and residence of artist Ron Davis from 1970 to 1972 and so began his own commentary on the relationship between art and architecture:
A trapezoidal plan and elevations create a subtly enigmatic form, referring to but also exaggerating our normal perspectival perception of orthogonal architecture . . . The Ron Davis Studio is more than a restatement of perspectival representation, however. It also engages us in a dialogue with the oeuvre of Davis.
This structure thus shows Gehry's habit of linking his work with the environment in interesting ways and with the culture of the structure's surroundings.
Gehry's different approach was evident with his design of his own house in Santa Monica, suggesting his concept of materials and his use of industrial design concepts. Because this was his own house, Gehry was able to experiment greatly with the design, which is why though it was a small project, it showed more clearly than many of his earlier works what he really wanted to do. Corrugated, chain-link fencing defines exterior space, and this is a material normally seen in the context of industrial plants:
Even more than corrugated metal, the fencing material, because it does not provide for architectural enclosure, seems subversive. In his Santa Monica house Gehry used it to create a series of transparent screens in and around his building. Its presumed ugliness is transformed into gossamer webs.
While this building may have a disquieting exterior, it is no more than a renovation of an already existing building, with the exterior structured around an unexceptional California bungalow from around 1920. The exterior is marked by corrugated metal sheets pierced at the corner and along the center of the north elevation with tilted, glazed cubic forms acting as windows for the dining area and kitchen:
It looks as if crystalline formations are pushing outward through an armored shell. Higher up, at the attic level, above the entrance, chain-link screens reveal the roof of the old building nestling inside its new housing. Gehry's design generates his intended double image: a palimpsest of the house's history in which the viewer can read the old house quite literally through the forms of the new one.
As noted, Gehry became associated with the industrialized styles of much Los Angeles architecture in the 1970s and 1980s, though Gehry has always been more his own man than a member of a movement. Still, many critics see him as part of the Los Angeles group and often criticize the style without making distinctions toward different visions. Controversy eventually developed over the dedication of some to the industrial style. In the 1950s, modernists began to withdraw from the social premise of industrialism in favor of its aesthetic pleasures, while some critics questioned the aesthetic value of the style. Pierre Koenig in Los Angeles criticized the kind of structures produced by Gehry, stating, "Industry has not learned the difference between what is beautiful in its simplicity and what is ugly though equally simple."? An example cited by another observer is Frank Gehry's chain-link-covered parking garage at Santa Monica Place (1979-1981), a shopping mall that shows the sort of crudeness that bothered.
However, even if Koenig and Gehry had different views on specific industrialized materials, both shared with other Los Angeles architects the idea that industry was the future of architecture, sharing an essentially technocratic vision of the future, with a faith in the claims of expert knowledge to control building. Gehry in particular is noted for his "grand use of cheap materials [which] paralleled artists' use of them, especially Robert Rauschenberg's combine sculptures, Gordon Matta-Clark's industrial cutouts and Carl Andre's minimalist use of humble woods and metals."?
Gehry experience several years of projects he could not get or that failed for one reason or another, including the expansion of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the building of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), also in Los Angeles. He did turn two warehouses into an annex for MOCA, called the Temporary Contemporary. His early attempts at the Disney Music Hall fell apart as arguments over what should be done and how it should be funded stalled the project. The museum in Bilbao revived his career and made him known throughout the world.
Among Gehry's other major public projects are the Experience Music Project in Seattle and Disney Symphony Hall in Los Angeles. The building for the Experience Music Project is described as a freeform structure enclosed in stainless steel and painted aluminum, with a monorail track that passes through it. The design is innovative and startling and has also become a major tourist attraction and so a boon to the city in which it is found.
Disney Music Hall took a long time to come to fruition, and it has also been seen by some as a major statement of design and by others as an eyesore, the two usual reactions to Gehry's work. The hall is a metallic form of organic shapes, and it has recently undergone some renovation to tone down the glare that it produces for nearby residents. One of those responsible for raising the money for the project stated at its opening,…