Gehry explains his deep portfolio

Famed architect Frank Gehry led a capacity crowd on a virtual tour of his portfolio Thursday night, touching on works both prominent (EuroDisney) and, well, less than prominent (a bus stop in California).

Known for buildings like the Guggenheim Museum in Spain and the recently-completed Disney Concert Hall in California, Gehry received the Pritzker Prize — often referred to as architecture’s Nobel Prize — in 1989. School of Architecture Dean Robert Stern called him “without question the world’s most admired architect.”

“I have known Frank Gehry for 30 years and I have watched his trajectory with awe and admiration,” Stern said while introducing the talk. “His architecture is popular and profound.”

During his talk, Gehry stood before a filled-to-capacity Hastings Hall as nearly 100 other people, unable to get a seat, either gave up or watched his lecture upstairs on closed-circuit television. The crowd was so substantial that School of Architecture administrators had to check IDs to ensure that only graduate architecture students and a few faculty members were in attendance.

Before beginning his slide show, Gehry apologized to his colleagues for shifting the focus from his famous projects to his earlier designs — in his words, ” for showing dumb stuff from when I was a kid.”

As he showed slides of works completed and uncompleted — works ranging from apartments to skyscrapers to cardboard chairs — Gehry recollected his thoughts during each project’s design process. Sometimes, he said, his architectural goal was as specific as the desire to imitate the way a pile of sticks is picked up by the wind; sometimes it was as vague as wanting a building to “have something to do with the sky”; and sometimes, as with a model for a gigantic, see-through glass fish, he simply wanted to have fun.

Whether describing his professional successes or failures, Gehry spoke candidly and with a wry, self-deprecating wit. Discussing one of his uncompleted designs — a Coloradan ski house made entirely of bent black copper — Gehry explained that when his client’s neighbors saw the model for the project, they immediately sold their homes. Another not-so-successful design was a Japanese building that did reach the construction stage but was, as Gehry put it, “something I’d like to forget.” And even some of his successful projects, Gehry noted, did not entirely work out as expected — for example, “a love nest for a friend — who shouldn’t have had a love nest.”

Though generally short on advice, Gehry did tell his audience that, overall, taking a risk on a project is well worth it.

“You don’t know what’s going to happen, so sometimes, you’ve got to give it a shot,” he said.

After the talk, Michael Rey ARC ’05 said he appreciated hearing Gehry discuss such a wide range of his work.

“It was interesting to see his development, how he’s gone through such a struggle,” Rey said. “The way he creates forms has always been intriguing.”

Zaha Hadid speaks to Frank Gehry, who delivered a lecture about his portfolio at the Yale School of Architecture Thursday. Both architects are winners of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, considered the highest award in the field.
Leo Stevens
Zaha Hadid speaks to Frank Gehry, who delivered a lecture about his portfolio at the Yale School of Architecture Thursday. Both architects are winners of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, considered the highest award in the field.

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