Evolution of a Superstar
New York exhibit showcases architect Frank Gehry’s spiraling success.
by Mark D. Johnson
May 25, 2001
Since he wowed the world with the Bilbao Guggenheim, his buildings have become status symbols for cities around the world fortunate enough to possess them. With such high demand for his work, one might wonder if Frank Gehry’s success might lead to excessive saturation of his ideas, which some may regard as fleeting novelty. Like Wright before him, though, Gehry pays close attention to a building site’s surroundings, and his tendency to weave in more “organic” sculptural elements are grounded in his dedication to work with the site’s environment. Perhaps it is too soon to call Gehry a visionary, but upon seeing the thought that goes into his projects, he seems more than just the flavor of the month. Most of the projects include models from various stages in the development process, some of the wavy sculptural sections represented in early versions by twisted paper held in place with transparent tape.
Despite his prominence in the world of architecture, it is notable that Gehry has not a single skyscraper on his resume. The exhibit does include his entry into the New York Times headquarters design competition, and this provides a glimpse of what a Gehry skyscraper might look like, and of course it is unlike any other skyscraper you’ve ever seen. (Gehry pulled his entry from the competition two days before a winner was announced.) I think we can expect more skyscraper attempts before too long, and his smaller high-rise projects also hint at the direction he will take.
While most of his newer projects generate excitement, like the upcoming Millennium Park Band Shell in Chicago and the Disney Music Hall in Los Angeles, one recent building in particular fails to measure up: the EMP (Experience Music Project) in Seattle, which opened up in the summer of 2000. Supposedly inspired by a wrecked electric guitar, this ugly structure tries unsuccessfully to integrate several different colors and materials on a site near the Space Needle that does not allow pedestrians to get a sense of the overall effect. It just doesn’t work, at least on the outside.
Gehry is a bold architect who is willing to take risks, and his design for the new Guggenheim (see below) in New York, as viewed against the New York skyline, is sure to get a lot of attention when it is built in a couple of years. It is a large complex that will likely become a new jewel for a city that has it all, though it is so bizarre that it can only achieve that status with a good measure of controversy in a town that loves to argue.
The model for the new Guggenheim museum headquarters. Click on the image for a larger view.
Photos by Mark D. Johnson
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