As a line of students circled around the Lipstick in the Morse College courtyard, a small, dignified man headed toward the entrance to the Morse Master’s House, swinging a wooden cane as he walked.

Before entering the Master’s House, he paused long enough to send whispers through the waiting crowd of over 100 onlookers.

The cause of the subtle commotion was Frank O. Gehry, a world-renowned architect with a decidedly contemporary edge, and the guest speaker at yesterday’s Morse Master’s Tea.

“People think I crumple up paper and put it into the computer,” Gehry said in reference to his unconventional style.

Gehry said that design projects do not happen overnight, but instead involve extended communication with the client, discussions of budget, and an investigation of the building site.

“The context is a very important issue — now every architect says that,” Gehry said, emphasizing that considering the context does not mean one should surrender to it.

When designing a building, Gehry explained that he tries to consider the effect that his design will have on the buildings surrounding the site, without sacrificing his own vision.

“One thing I have to say about being so fastidious about the existing buildings — is that they tend to get torn down and you’re left all alone,” Gehry said.

Gehry, whose work includes the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, spoke extensively about designing a museum that artists would want to show work in. He said many architects make the mistake of trying to design a building that will not detract from the art displayed inside.

“I look at the endless, endless neutral white galleries that are built,” Gehry said. “The extreme minimal perfection becomes a pedestal, whether you like it or not.”

An audience member’s question shifted the topic from museums to the World Trade Center site.

“I don’t think anything should be built there for a long time,” Gehry said.

He added that discussion of building a memorial on the site made sense in some respects.

“If one could build a beautiful space rather than 5 acres worth of grass — it would function as an important place for those who lost loved ones,” he said.

Gehry, who currently teaches “Advanced Design Studio” at the Yale Architecture School, said he gave his students this year the task of designing a one-room memorial for the site.

“What’s interesting in architecture for me is ‘then what?’ When you solve all those problems, what do you do with it?” Gehry said. “With one-room buildings, you don’t have to worry about the plumbing and that kind of stuff. You have to face yourself.”

Afterward, several students said the talk fulfilled their expectations.

“I really love his work, so it’s exciting to hear about his process, seeing how much he emphasized relations with contractors,” Karen Siegel ’02 said.

Brooke Sprague ’03 said she thought the talk was understandable to people who have not studied architecture.

“Frank Gehry is basically an architecture superstar,” Sprague said.