Frank Owen Gehry

Frank Owen Gehry
Study And Initial Phase Of Life

Frank O. Gehry was born on February 28, 1929. He grew up in Toronto (Canada) and in 1947 moved his family to Los Angeles.

Obtaining his university degree in Architecture from the University of South California in1954 he then studied City Planning at the Graduate School of Design of the University of Harvard.

He continued his career as an architect over the next four decades, working on private and public buildings in America, Europe and Asia.

In 1962, Frank Gehry founded his own firm, and embarked on the design of a large variety of residential [Hillcrest Apartments (1962), Bixby Green (1969)], commercial [Kay Jewelers Stores (1963-1965), Joseph Magnin Stores (1968)], office [Rouse Company Headquarters (1974)], and institutional projects. He is the Director of Design of the firm Frank O. Gehry and Associates, Inc. (1962).

Development Of Style
During the 1960s, Frank Gehry began to redirect his architecture by fusing the Japanese and vernacular elements in his early work with the influence of painters and sculptors in a sophisticated manipulation of
  • Perspectively distorted shapes
  • Sculptural masses molded by light
  • Buildings that reveal their structures
This strategy reached its first resolution with the Malibu house (1972) for a friend, painter Ron Davis, and developed through a series of small residential projects. These houses allowed Frank Gehry especially to explore a fascination with the process of construction
  • Use of mass produced and affordable materials
  • Exposing wood frame construction
  • Using plywood, corrugated metal, and chain link metal fence as sheathing or screens
  • Breaking volumes Into incomplete geometries and partial object
At the same time, Frank Gehry engaged in the design of several larger scale buildings with often playful geometries [Concord Pavilion (1975), Mid-Atlantic Toyota Distributors (1978), Cabrillo Marine Museum (1979), Santa Monica Place Shopping Mall (1973-1979)].
Much of Gehry’s work falls within the style of Deconstructivism.
Its application tends to depart from Modernism, in its inherent criticism of culturally inherited givens such as societal goals and functional necessity.
DeCon structures are not required to reflect specific social or universal ideas, such as speed or universality of form, and they do not reflect a belief that form follows function.
Gehry’s own Santa Monica residence is a commonly cited example of deconstructivist architecture, as it was so drastically divorced from its original context, and in such a manner as to subvert its original spatial intention.
School Of Architecture
Gehry is sometimes associated with what is known as the “Los Angeles School,” or the “Santa Monica School” of architecture. The appropriateness of this designation and the existence of such a school, however, remains controversial due to the lack of a unifying philosophy or theory. This designation stems from the Los Angeles area’s producing a group of the most influential postmodern architects, including such notable Gehry contemporaries as Eric Owen Moss and Pritzker Prize-winner Thom Mayne of Morphosis, as well as the famous schools of architecture at the Southern California Institute of Architecture (co-founded by Mayne), UCLA, and USC where Gehry is a member of the Board of Directors. Gehry’s style at times seems unfinished or even crude, but his work is consistent with the California ‘funk’ art movement in the 1960s and early 1970s, which featured the use of inexpensive found objects and non-traditional media such as clay to make serious art.
Frank Gehry House, Santa Monica, California  (1978)
Style: Deconstructivist Post-Modern
Construction system : light wood frame, corrugated metal, chain link
Gehry’s design is wrapped around three sides of the old house on the ground floor, extending the house towards the street and leaving the exterior of the existing home almost untouched. The interior went through a considerable amount of changes on both of its two levels. In some places it was stripped to reveal the framing, exposing the joists and wood studs. It was repaired according to the addition, showing both old and new elements. This is especially evident when walking through the rooms of the house and passing by both new doors and older ones.
The entrance is barely discernible amidst the jutting angles of the exterior, created from wood, glass, aluminum, and chain-link fencing. The apex of the old house peeks out from within this mix of materials, giving the impression that the house is consistently under construction.
In 1991 due to the Gehry family’s growth which involved two boys, the house had to be expanded. Even though Gehry tried to maintain the same style of the house, allowing the original design to determine that of the addition, the house went through significant changes. The residence became much more “finished”.
This in turn stirred up the angry voices of those who felt strongly about the original raw deconstructivist aesthetics. Nonetheless the Gehry House is still a classic among California’s architectural works.
The Guggenheim, Bilbao, Spain  (1997)
Style: Expressionist Modern
Construction system : steel frame, titanium sheathing, limestone and glass
The museum has :
  • 10500sqm galleries
  • 25000 sqm public space
  • 50m high atrium
  • An auditorium
  • Restaurant and cafe.
The curves on the building were to appear random. Gehry says “the randomness of the curves are designed to catch the light”. When it was opened to the public in 1997, it was immediately hailed as one of the world’s most spectacular buildings in the style of Deconstructivism, although Gehry does not associate himself with that architectural movement.
Like many of Gehry’s other works, it has a structure that consists of radically sculpted, organic contours. Sited as it is in a port town, it is intended to resemble a ship. Its brilliantly reflective titanium panels resemble fish scales, echoing the other organic life (and, in particular, fish-like) forms that recur commonly in Gehry’s designs, as well as the river Nervión upon which the museum sits. Computer Aided Three Dimensional Interactive Application (CATIA) and visualizations were used heavily in the structure’s design.
Computer simulations of the building’s structure made it feasible to build shapes that architects of earlier eras would have found nearly impossible to construct. While the museum is a spectacular monument from the river, at street level it is quite modest and does not overwhelm its traditional surroundings.
The museum was opened as part of a revitalization effort for the city of Bilbao and for the Basque Country. Almost immediately after its opening, the Guggenheim Bilbao became a popular tourist attraction. It subsequently inspired other structures of similar design across the globe, such as the Cerritos Millennium Library in Cerritos, California.
The building was constructed on time and budget, which is rare for architecture of this type.
The Richard B. Fisher Center for performing arts at Bard college, New York, USA  (2003)
The building containing 2 multipurpose performance theaters, is located on the Bard College campus in an area of tall trees and open lawns. The Sosnoff theater is the primary performance space within the building. A concert shell and fore stage lift allow conversion for symphonic music performance. It has a capacity of 850-seats in orchestra section and 2 balcony sections. The theater features a wood ceiling and concert shell. The house walls are concrete providing the mass necessary for excellent acoustical reflections. The highly sculptural exterior responds to the theater’s internal organization. The stainless steel panels loosely wrap around the sides of the theater towards the proscenium creating 2 tall sky lit gathering areas on either side of the main lobby. The panels then flare out at the proscenium creating a sculptural collar like shape that rests on the simple concrete and plaster form of the stage house.
Theater 2 is a black box theater dedicated to student dance and drama productions and can accommodate up to 300 seats. The interior is clad in solid and perforated painted plywood panels. The exterior features concrete and plaster walls and an undulating roof clad in stainless steel panels.
Glazed sky lights integrated into the roof and operable windows allow natural light and ventilation into the dance and drama rehearsal rooms. Administrative offices, conference rooms and a secondary lobby and gathering area are also located adjacent to this theater. A soft brushed stainless steel was selected for the exterior cladding because of the material’s ability to reflect the light and colors of the sky and the surrounding landscape.
The Walt Disney Concert Hall , Los Angeles, California(1999-2003)
The project began as an invited design competition. The brief included:
  • an open and accessible main entrance
  • a sympathetic and inclusive attitude in the building’s relationship to the Music Center’s existing Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
  • a pedestrian scale frontage along Grand Avenue
  • a generous and open backstage area
  • a large garden.
Many design elements have evolved since the competition, most notably the Hall’s shape, the foyer size, and the consideration and subsequent elimination of a chamber hall and a 350-room hotel.
From Design start in 1987, to Construction start in 1999, to the Inauguration in 2003… it took sixteen years.
After the construction, modifications were made to the Founders Room exterior; while most of the building’s exterior was designed with stainless steel given a matte finish, the Founders Room and Children’s Amphitheater were designed with highly polished mirror-like panels. The reflective qualities of the surface were amplified by the concave sections of the Founders Room walls. Some residents of the neighboring condominiums suffered glare caused by sunlight that was reflected off these surfaces and the resulting heat made some rooms of nearby condominiums unbearably warm. After complaints from neighboring buildings and residents, the owners asked Gehry Partners to come up with a solution. Their response was a computer analysis of the building’s surfaces identifying the offending panels. In 2005 these were dulled by lightly sanding the panels to eliminate unwanted glare.
  • The concert hall lobby is accessible from the street.
  • Large operable glass panels provide maximum accessibily to various amenities including a gift shop, restaurant and café, an underground parking garage and a pre-concert performance space.
  • The focus of the design is the 2265-seat main concert hall whose interior and form are an expression of acoustical parameters. Seating surrounds the orchestra platform. The wood walls and the sail like wooden ceiling forms give one the impression of being within a great ship inside the walls of the hall.
  • Skylights and a large window at the rear of the hall allow natural light to enhance daytime concerts.
  • The exterior of the concert hall is clad  in stainless steel panels. The building’s orientation, combined with the curving and folding exterior walls, presents highly sculptural compositions.
  • A six level, 2500 car garage is located below grade with access from thee surrounding streets.

DZ Bank Building, Central Berlin

The Behrenstrasse (residential) Facade
  • Client: DG Immobilien Management GmbH
  • Area: 20,000 square meters
  • Begin Design: 1995
  • Begin Construction: 1996
  • Completion: July 2001
  • Functions: offices; conference space; residential building
  • Key feature: organic form within the atrium (conference facility)

Both the Pariser Platz facade and the Behrenstrasse facade are fairly rectilinear due to strict limitations FOGA had to follow. The facades, clad in a buff-colored limestone that matches the Brandenburg Gate, are scaled independently from one another, so that the proportions of both are appropriate to the immediate urban area within which they each exist.

The Pariser Platz facade features a series of simple, punched openings and deeply-recessed window bays, allowing the building to blend naturally into the unique urban fabric which is the setting of the Brandenburg Gate. A glass canopy covers the main entry from Pariser Platz.

The high-volume foyer immediately inside the main entry offers a view into the building’s large interior atrium, which features a curving glass ceiling and a curving glass floor.

A wood-clad arcade leads to the office elevator lobbies, which are located on either side of the atrium. Offices and conference spaces are organized around the atrium, and are oriented inward to take advantage of the natural light that floods through the glass ceiling.

The building’s primary conference hall is located within a highly sculptural shell that rests on the glass floor in the center of the atrium making it appear to float in the space. The four-story high structure, its curvy form resembling an enormous prehistoric horseâs head, is clad in stainless steel on the exterior and wood on the interior.

The beginning of the form for the Conference Room grew out of the Peter Lewis House; a 6 year project that was never realized. From 1989 to 1995, when he worked intensively on the Lewis House, Gehry used the project to experiment with free-form shapes that since have shown up in many of his most famous buildings. The room was actually booked for future conferences long before it was constructed…just from the model.

A Sky Lounge is located on the roof of the building, beneath a stainless steel collar that surrounds the Southern end of the atrium’s glass ceiling. The Sky Lounge features high ceilings and expansive glazing designed to take advantage of the building’s spectacular views of the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, and the Tiergarden.

A second, smaller interior atrium will serve the residential component of the project. This atrium promotes ventilation in the residential area and allows natural light to enter both sides of each apartment.

A reflecting pool at the bottom of the atrium adds a dynamic quality to the light, best seen from the glass elevators that service the residential area.

Experience Music Project, Seattle, Washington
The Experience Music Project is an exciting blend of exhibits, technology, media, and hands-on activities that combines the interpretive aspects of a traditional museum, educational role of a school, state-of-the-art research facilities of a specialized library, and audience-drawing qualities of performance venues and popular attractions
Exhibits and public programs are envisioned as a three-dimensional floating puzzle formed by six elements, with each piece being critical to the shape and the nature of the whole. The building itself consists of a cluster of colorful curving elements clad in a variety of materials.
The Seattle Center Monorail, a remnant of the 1962 World’s Fair that continues to provide transportation between Seattle Center and downtown Seattle, passes through the building, allowing Monorail riders to glimpse inside.
Aerospace software was used to design the undulating folds of metal found throughout the building. The 21,000 metal shingles that form the outer shell were cut by lasers guided by data generated directly from the modeling software.
In addition to 35,000 square feet of exhibition space, the building houses a restaurant, bookstore, and administrative spaces, with support and storage areas located beneath grade.
The Ray and Maria Stata Center or Building 32, MIT, 2004
  • innovative storm water retention and management system that employs biofiltration and which services several of the surrounding buildings as well as the Stata Center.
  • irrigation system connected to central weather station—system uses weather data to control water flow, identify leaks, and cut off water flow
  • light pollution reduction
  • extensive use of displacement ventilation utilizing a raised floor system
  • monitoring and controlling CO levels in garage through a demand controlled ventilation system
  • minimizing refrigerants and eliminating Halon, a fire retardant, in the building
  • operable windows for natural ventilation and individual control, and which provide an abundant use of daylight in all interior spaces
  • landscape design for Northeast Sector that uses native vegetation and water-efficient design
  • roof design that incorporates landscaping for shading and storm water retention and a white reflective surface to reduce heat island effect
  • construction waste management plan by contractor to recycle construction waste, which, for example, achieved a near 100 percent recycling rate for the demolition of the garage
  • recycled timbers from Building 20 for flooring


  • 67,000 m2 academic complex
  • flexible research facilities
  • classrooms
  • large auditorium
  • social areas along the interior “student street”
  • fitness facilities
  • childcare center


According to Boston Globe architecture columnist Robert Campbell, “the Stata is always going to look unfinished. It also looks as if it’s about to collapse. Columns tilt at scary angles. Walls teeter, swerve, and collide in random curves and angles. Materials change wherever you look: brick, mirror-surface steel, brushed aluminum, brightly colored paint, corrugated metal. Everything looks improvised, as if thrown up at the last moment. That’s the point. The Stata’s appearance is a metaphor for the freedom, daring, and creativity of the research that’s supposed to occur inside it.“ He praised Gehry for “break[ing] up the monotony of a street of concrete buildings” and being “a building like no other building.“

There are certainly many who are less enamored of the structure:

  • The use of glass for walls on the inside means that those who work in the building have to give up a sense of privacy.
  • There is also one lecture room where, because of the slight lean of the wall panels, some people have been known to experience vertigo.
  • Sound insulation is almost absent.
  • The building has also been criticized as insensitive to the needs of its inhabitants, poorly designed for day-to-day use, and at an official cost $283.5 million, overpriced.

Probably one of the more successful aspects of the building is the inner circulation system with niches for impromptu meetings and blackboards along the wall.

Former Boston University president John Silber said the building “really is a disaster.”

In 2007, MIT sued architect Frank Gehry and the construction companies, for “providing deficient design services and drawings” which caused leaks to spring, masonry to crack, mold to grow, drainage to back up, and falling ice and debris to block emergency exits.

Gehry’s Sketches
The Walt Disney Concert Hall
The Guggenheim
Gehry commonly uses sketches for first conceptual ideas and throughout his design process. He also depends on physical models in all scales and CATIA, a highly sophisticated 3d computer modeling program, to thoroughly document the design and to rationalize the bidding, fabrication and construction process. This program allows him to accurately model and fabricate the expressive and irregular shapes distinctive of his architecture.
A Gehry building begins with a sketch, and Gehry’s sketches are distinctive, fluid and expressive. Many of these first impressions of the building represent the search for form and volumes
They’re characterized by a sense of off-hand improvisation, of intuitive spontaneity. The fine line is invariably fluid, impulsive. The drawings convey no architectural mass or weight, only loose directions and shifting spatial relationships.
“As soon as I understand the scale of the building and the relationship to the site and the relationship to the client, as it becomes more and more clear to me, I start doing sketches”. 
Some of the criticism Gehry’s work has received is :
  • The buildings waste structural resources by creating functionless forms.
  • The buildings are apparently designed without accounting for the local climate.
  • The spectacle of a building often overwhelms its intended use, especially in the case of museums and arenas.
  • The buildings do not seem to belong in their surroundings.
  • The buildings are often unfriendly towards disabled people. The Art Gallery of Ontario, for example, had most ramps removed at Gehry’s behest.
  • Complex and innovative designs like Gehry’s typically go over budget.
  • Some have even described Gehry as a “one-trick pony” and an “auto-plagiarist”, referring to the similarity in style some of his buildings share.
  • MIT sued Frank Gehry’s architecture firm claiming design and construction failures in its Stata Center which has developed cracks, leaks and other problems

The Inhabitable Fish

The Standing Glass Fish, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
Dancing Fish Restaurant, Kobe
Vila Olympica in Barcelona
Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao (1997) in which Frank Gehry not just designs a single abstracted fish, but a school of them
Lewis House in Lyndhurst

Gehry is very much inspired by fish. Not only do they appear in his buildings, he created a line of jewelry, household items, and sculptures based on this motif.

Standing Glass Fish is just one of many works featuring fish which Gehry has created. The gigantic fish is made of glass plates and silicone, with the internal supporting structure of wood and steel clearly visible. It soars above a reflecting pool in a glass building built especially for it, in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

Another huge Gehry fish sculpture dominates a public garden in front of the Fishdance Restaurant in Kobe, Japan.

Other Design Works- Furniture Etc

In addition to architecture, Gehry has made a line of furniture, jewelry, various household items, sculptures, and even a glass bottle for Wyborowa Vodka. His first line of furniture, produced from 1969–1973, was called “Easy Edges”, constructed out of cardboard. Another line of furniture released in the spring of 1992 is “Bentwood Furniture”. Each piece is named after a different hockey term. He was first introduced to making furniture in 1954 while serving in the U.S. Army, where he designed furniture for the enlisted soldiers. The success of the first line led to the production of the more free-form “Experimental Edges” of 1979 and continues with current prototypes for a new series of chairs. In 1983, Frank Gehry produced a limited edition of lamps in die form of fish and snakes made out of Colorcore Formica.


1977: Arnold W. Brunner Memorial Prize in Architecture from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

1989: Pritzker Architecture Prize, perhaps the highest recognition in this field, to honour his “important contributions to humanity and to construction through architecture.”

1992: Wolf Prize in Art (Architecture from the Wolf Foundation. The same year he received the Praemium Imperiale Award from the Association of Arts of Japan to “honour the great contributions to the development, popularisation and progress of the arts”.

1994: First winner of the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Award for his lifetime contribution to the arts.”

1998: National Medal of Arts and first winner of the Friedrich Kiesler Prize.

1999: Lotos Medal of Merit of the Lotos Club and the Gold Medal of the American Institute of Architects.

2000: The Lifetime Achievement Award from the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum

2004: Woodrow Wilson Award for public service by the Woodrow Wilson Center of the Smithsonian Institution in New York City.

2006: Americans for the Arts have awarded him the Lifetime Achievement award.

Other awards:

1987: Nominated a member of the American Academy of the Arts and Letters.

1989: Council Member of the American Academy of Rome.

1991: Elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

1994: Title of Academician from the National Academy of Design.

1998: Appointed Honorary Academician by the Royal Academy of the Arts.


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