Re: Re: Sketches of Frank Gehry

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Warning: If you plan on seeing this before Sunday it might be best not to read the following. Or, in internet lingo- Spoiler alert!! 😉

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I went to see this last night. It wasn’t bad, and was a darn sight better than My Architect, that self-indulgent ‘Louis Kahn, the father I never knew’ mopefest that was out not so long ago.

It gave an interesting insight into the workings of his office and a partial insight into the workings of his mind, but I’m still not convinced he’s all that. Having a friend make the movie meant it was a bit sycophantic in places, though at least some negative comment was included among the hagiographers, mainly from Hal Foster (and, perhaps surprisingly, from Charles Jencks, who admits that he thinks some of the work is poor).

A curious theme emerged in the course of the film, though. I’m used to hearing architects talk about space as their raw material, but this seemed peripheral for Gehry compared to his love of surface. He spoke at length about painting and admitted to a desire to be a painter. In a funny way, his buildings can be viewed as paintings in 3-D as much as they can as sculptures, the latter seeming to be the accepted discourse among his fans.

What bothers me about the love of surface, though, is the quantity of structure required to support it. From a distance the buildings are undeniably spectacular, but on closer inspection there is a huge amount of structure which to me reads as visual ‘noise’ or clutter. A point is made early on in the film that none of his buildings have yet fallen down (by Ed Ruscha? I don’t recall) so, in essence, he must know what he’s doing, but that ignores the fact that with enough structure anything can be made to stand up. I first noticed this with the fish in Barcelona (1992) which is oppressively heavy up close, and it’s a characteristic that carries through much of his work from what I can gather. In other words, the buildings lack a certain lightness that you’d expect to be present from all the praise he gets (though I should admit to having seen very few of them in the flesh).

Still, overall it’s nice to see movies at least beginning to attempt to get behind the scenes of the creative process in architecture. More of it, I say, but less of a love-in would be nice in future. And more of the nuts and bolts of the workaday would have been good too, rather than the rarefied ‘creative vision’ theme being peddled. Surely even Gehry’s office needs to consider the practical and mundane stuff?

A question: how representative was his office of architectural offices in general? Not very, would be my guess. Were any architects jealous of his workplace? Or would it drive you crazy to work for him?

PS Has Dennis Hopper never heard of the phrase ‘tall poppy syndrome’?

PPS The headline of a Hal Foster article was included in the movie- ‘Why all the hoopla?’. For the curious, here it is:

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