World renowned architect Frank Gehry flew into the UK from Los Angeles only a few hours prior to when this shot was taken. He arrived into the office in Brighton late, quite grumpy and really not in the mood for anything other than a coffee and to get his business done and back to his hotel.
With no time to set anything up or go for a walk on the beach as I had hoped I chose to get a set of portraits in the office using natural light. It must be Canadian humour or something I thought as Mr Gehry told me I have 10 seconds to get a portrait. I smiled and said “seriously”. He smiled and said “yes are you ready to shoot?”. And so he counted down from 10 pausing for a milli second with a smile in between seconds. On 3 I got the portrait which sums up Frank Gehry’s cheeky smile and sense of humour.
His sketches are infamous for their wild scrawl and has come to personify the idea of an architect as an artist “I fantasise in sketch” he explains, “the sketch isn’t the end, it’s a continual process of drawing, modelling, redrawing and remodelling. In fact I draw all the way to the end” says Gehry. “When I’m not thinking of anything I like to sketch chairs, I don’t know why I guess it’s a cathartic thing I do. I’ve designed a few that people think are ok but they’re hard”. Artist architects in the mould of Frank Gehry are mavericks by nature and his mantra of “if you know where it’s going it’s not worth doing” sums up the attitude of an artist more than any other stiff collared traditional architect.
Often with anything written about Frank O Gehry the term ‘Bilbao effect’ crops up. Anyone who has visited the Gehry inspired Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao knows what happened to Bilbao after it opened. Completed in 1997 the Bilbao Guggenheim thrust an already world renowned architect who 10 years earlier had already won the Pritzker Prize into the realms architect superstar and probably stopped thousands of locals leaving a declining city. It sucked millions of Euros out of tourist pockets and into the local economy. Gehry plays down the Bilbao effect. The effect wasn’t just about the Guggenheim he explains “It’s a political and economic commitment to changing the feeling of a city. Other Bilbao infrastructures such as Calatrava’s bridge and the metro all helped to encourage tourists into the city”. Gehry understands the ‘effect’ differently from most authorities that hunger for an international identity. He sees it more in terms of local pride. “Now the kids don’t leave and go to Madrid,” he says.
Gehry generates a lot of press, much of it gushingly flattering and the rest unflatteringly spiteful which he chooses to ignore. Gehry doesn’t have to worry and he certainly isn’t losing any sleep. He has an address book full of rich and powerful friends. Many try their luck and approach him with projects that he neither has the time or inclination to get involved with. One project in particular has found him doing a lot of soul searching. The Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem. Gehry says “I know that its an impossible goal they are trying to achieve, they are trying to make a building where people disagree with each other and hate each other form a common ground”. Whilst Gehry reveres some of those involved like Shimon Peres, he cannot reconcile himself to the more hard line elements of the Israeli government particularly as he empathises with the Palestinians. He met Arafat he reveals and found him “impressive”. Gehry grew up in a Canadian Jewish family but lists his religious beliefs as “None, Atheist, Zero”. “I know what it’s like to be beat up for killing Christ” he says.
Copyright Stewart Weir 2008