Frank O. Gehry (b. February 28th, 1929) is an American architect whose structures are often characterized by unconventional or distorted shapes that have a sculptural, fragmented, or collagelike quality. In designing public buildings, he tends to cluster small units within a larger space rather than creating monolithic structures, thus emphasizing human scale. Of particular note is his Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (1991-97) in Spain, a shimmering pile of sharply twisting, curving shapes surfaced in titanium.
Gehry was born Ephraim Owen Goldberg in Toronto, Canada. He moved with his family to Los Angeles in 1947 as a teenager and later became a naturalised U.S. citizen. Uncertain of his career direction, Gehry worked as a delivery truck driver for two years to support himself while taking a variety of courses at Los Angeles City College. Later he became interested in architecture and subsequently won scholarships to the University of Southern California where he graduated as an architect in 1954.
After his studies Gehry went to work full-time for the notable Los Angeles firm of Victor Gruen Associates, where he had apprenticed as a student, but his work at Gruen was soon interrupted by compulsory military service. After serving for a year in the United States Army, Gehry entered the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where he studied city planning, but he returned to Los Angeles without completing a graduate degree. He briefly joined the firm of Pereira and Luckman before returning to Victor Gruen. In 1961 went to Paris, where he spent a year working in the office of the French architect Andre Remondet and studied firsthand the work of the pioneer modernist Le Corbusier . In 1962 he settled again in Los Angeles and established his own firm Gehry Associates, now called Gehry Partners.
In he following years his style changed. The rebuilding of his own home epitomizes this new direction. He converted a conventional family house into a showplace for a radically new approach. He took common, cheap elements of American homebuilding, such as chain link fencing, corrugated aluminum and unfinished plywood, and used them as flamboyant expressive elements, while stripping the interior walls of the house to reveal the structural elements. Gehry's house attracted serious critical attention and he began to employ more imaginative elements in his commercial work. A series of public structures in and around Los Angeles marked his evolution away from orthodox modernist practice.
By the mid '80s, his work had attracted international attention and he was commissioned to build the Vitra furniture factory in Basel, Switzerland, as well as the Vitra Design Museum in Weil-am-Rhein, Germany. These projects established him as a major presence on the international architecture scene. His buildings displayed a penchant for whimsy and playfulness previously unknown in serious architecture. Most distinctive of all was his ability to explode familiar geometric volumes and reassemble them in original new forms of unprecedented complexity, a practice the critics dubbed "deconstructivism." His international reputation was confirmed when he received the 1989 Pritzker Prize, the world's most prestigious architecture award.
Gehry's most spectacular design to date was that of the new Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, completed in 1997. Gehry first envisioned its form, like all his works, through a simple freestyle hand sketch, but breakthroughs in computer software had enabled him to build in increasingly eccentric shapes, sweeping irregular curves that were the antithesis of the severely rectilinear International Style. Traditional modernists criticized the work as arbitrary, or gratuitously eccentric, but Philip Johnson , an eminent architecture critic and architect and former exponent of the International Style championed his work. The museum became a huge commercial success, not only for his client, the Guggenheim Foundation, but also for the city of Bilbao which suddenly started to attract people from all over the world to see Gehry's building. This phenomenon was soon called the "Bilbao Effect" and the term is now used for the attempt of a city or an institution to attract public attention through spectacular architecture to gain commercial success.
In 2010, Vanity Fair magazine polled 52 of the world's best-known architects and architectural critics, asking them to name the most significant works of architecture of the last 30 years. By an overwhelming margin they placed Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao at the top of the list.
Franks Gehry has also lent his designs to a number of products outside the field of architecture, including the Wyborovka Vodka bottle, a wristwatch for Fossil, jewelry for Tiffany & Co. and the World Cup of Hockey trophy.
- Vanity Fair: August 2010
- Academy of Achievement
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