A collage-interview: Gehry on the Guggenheim(s)

Clog - guggenheim - 1st page

“We’re happy to have Mr. Gehry here, and we’d like to hear from Mr. Gehry what he thinks about our project.” Mr. Gehry just looked at them. °My recommendation is not to do it and to find another site. °Deadly silence.[1] They were in shock. °I thought that I was going to be kicked out.[2] Later[3], they° asked° “Well, where would you pick?”[4] We[5] showed them where the bridges intersect and the river turns. °It would be a great spot.[6]

I liked Bilbao. I liked the industrial feeling and the surrounding of green[7]. We had 10 days to finish the competition.[8] They gave each of us ten thousand dollars, and it cost me forty thousand to do it. °They said just that: they wanted a Sydney Opera House. °I said, “Well, that’s a big order. I can’t guarantee anything like that. But I’ll do my best.”° I was the wild card[9], trying °to use the energies of the city°, to produce something new.[10]

People would talk about their hopes for a commercial uplift. °I thought that these guys believed in the tooth fairy if they thought a building could do that[11]. As it worked out, had they picked another design, they wouldn’t have gotten the public recognition they’ve gotten[12].

You are not going to call me a fucking ‘starachitect’? I hate that.[13] °We did the Guggenheim Bilbao and it was a hit, right? But[14] I had never worked in an Arab country[15]. I had no context to play with°, this was a very private culture; they weren’t going to invite me home for dinner[16]. At a meeting° there was one curator° expressing his hatred of Israel to me, so you can see it’s not going to be that easy.[17] I went to a site that wasn’t even there, it was in the water, and I was told: “There’s your site. We’re gonna build an island”[18].

I was reluctant° to do it. °It’s too far, it’s a new culture, I’m too old to get into it.’[19] Tom[20] asked me to do a Guggenheim° similar to° Bilbao, but with a different mission[21]: °a museum for a globalized art culture.[22] They are in a hurry to tell that story°, in a hurry to be part of the world[23]. Once I understand the problems, °I’m opportunistic°: I try things, I see what works and what doesn’t, and then I try again[24]. °Like °a blind man, feeling my way into this culture[25].

When °they responded so favourably, °I realized that °in some way, °miraculously, °something great has been happening, °something that they like and I’m proud of[26]: °using a low-tech language[27], an architecture that responds to the place and culture[28].

Bilbao was a low-tech language too[29]. °Without Catia, °I couldn’t have built it[30]. °It’s not precious detailing, but it’s carefully detailed; that’s why we could build it so economically, because I worked with the available craft[31].



[1] Barbara Isenberg, Conversations with Frank Gehry (New York : Alfred A. Knopf) 2009, 134.

[2] Alejandro Zaera, “Conversations with Frank O. Gehry,” El Croquis, no. 74-75 (1995): 29.

[3] Isenberg, Conversations, 135.

[4] Zaera, “Conversations with Frank Gehry,” 29.

[5] “We” refers to Frank Gehry together with Thomas Krens.

[6] Isenberg, Conversations, 135.

[7] Ibid,136.

[8] Zaera, “Conversations with Frank Gehry,” 30.

[9] Isenberg, Conversations, 136.

[10] Zaera, “Conversations with Frank Gehry,” 28.

[11] Peter Aspden, “Interview: Frank Gehry,” The Financial Times, November 22, 2013, http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/1c87963c-51cb-11e3-8c42-00144feabdc0.html.

[12] Isenberg, Conversations, 136.

[13] Aspden, “Interview: Frank Gehry.”

[14] Isenberg, Conversations, 243.

[15] Benjamin Pauker, “Epiphanies from Frank Gehry,” Foreign Policy, June 24, 2013, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/06/24/epiphanies_from_frank_gehry.

[16] “Guggenheim Museum, Abu Dhabi,” 3:49, The New York Times video from in “Architects Take On Museums in Doha and Abu Dhabi,” posted on November 26, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/11/27/arts/design/museums.html.

[17] Holly Williams, “Frank Gehry: ‘Don’t call me a starchitect’,” The Independent, December 17, 2009, http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/architecture/frank-gehry-dont-call-me-a-starchitect-1842870.html.

[18] “Guggenheim Museum, Abu Dhabi,” The New York Times video.

[19] Christopher Hawthorne, “Frank Gehry considers an accomplished past and uncertain future,” The Los Angeles Times, March 1, 2009, http://www.latimes.com/local/la-et-frank-gehry1-2009mar01-story.html#page=1.

[20] “Tom” refers to Thomas Krens.

[21] “Guggenheim Museum, Abu Dhabi,” The New York Times video.

[22] Pauker, “Epiphanies from Frank Gehry.”

[23] “Frank Gehry Project to House World Art in Abu Dhabi,” part of an interview at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia on December 17, 2010, 4:55, Youtube video, posted by Fora TV on February 28, 2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCYJ3pPlkFw.

[24] Katherine Bell, “Life’s Work: Frank Gehry,” Harvard Business Review, November 2011, http://hbr.org/2011/11/frank-gehry/ar/1.

[25] “Guggenheim Museum, Abu Dhabi,” The New York Times video

[26] Ibid.

[27] “Frank Gehry on the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Museum,” 3:51, The National, posted on

November 24, 2010, http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/environment/video-frank-gehry-on-the-guggenheim-abu-dhabi-museum.

[28] Benjamin Pauker, “Epiphanies from Frank Gehry.”

[29] “Frank Gehry on the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Museum,” The National video.

[30] Aurelien Lemonier and Frédéric Migayrou (eds.), Frank Gehry (Paris: Editions Centre Pompidou) 2014, 61.

[31] Ibid, 57.