But Does it Transform?


Last night I watched a documentary about architect Frank Gehry, titled Sketches of Frank Gehry.

I’ve been interested in his work since the Experience Music Project (EMP) went up at the Seattle Center. Notice that I used the word “interested”, which can have both positive and negative connotations. Make no mind, this is intentional.

As I watched this documentary I saw buildings that were extremely beautiful, such as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao that heads this post, and Maggie’s Center in Scotland. I love the intricacies and forms of these pieces (they are certainly more art than architecture), and it was fantastic to hear Gehry explain the thought and creativity that went into them. It’s really intriguing to explore the artist mind, and see what their thought process involves. The film showed portions of a building design where Gehry and his crew were discussing options, and it almost felt like they were all expressing themselves on a sublevel of human communication. They used illogical phrases and very rarely expressed a full idea. I’m sure part of that is the time they’ve spent together and how well the understand each other. But it’s also a connection that I haven’t ever felt myself in that regard. Unfortunately, for all the talk about insight and thoughtfulness, one of the big feelings I got from these scenes is that Gehry’s sort of flying by the seat of his pants. If he didn’t like something he just tried to add something else goofy to make it “flow” more.

I don’t think I’m alone in this thought, either. What was interesting about this documentary was how they did a good job of showing the detractors and vocal dislike of some if not all of Gehry’s work. The filmmaker interviewed a couple of individuals that were anti-Gehry, or at the very least the movement that Gehry seems to have started. I respected the film more for taking both sides of the story. And it’s not an extremely small minority we’re talking about here. From what I can find, there seem to be quite a few critics of his work. I remember well as the EMP was going up, how local newspapers would write regular articles and polls about how the building would look and what an eyesore it would be. In the end I’m inclined to agree with them, at least as it comes to that example. I don’t like the look of the EMP (outside, at least). I think it’s overdone, and in some regard it’s an example of how Gehry seems sometimes to be mimicking himself with some of his designs. It just seems redundant. I suppose just like the royal family, each successive iteration runs a higher risk of ending up retarded.


~ by nhak on August 23, 2007.

4 Responses to “But Does it Transform?”

  1. While I haven’t seen the documentary Nhak is referring to, I am somewhat familiar with Gehry’s work and place myself on the “he’s awesome” side of the argument. I can appreciate how polarizing a building like the EMP can be, but for me, that just supports the notion that it’s a good design. Any building that can evoke such an immediate and strong emotion, good or bad, is doing something. It’s not just existing for function, it’s living for form. I want more buildings like that, and I want more designers and architects like Gehry (and Pei and Saarinen and Safdie and…) who are willing to push the notion of space.

    Most critique of the EMP comes down to aesthetics, and you’re just as well off arguing the merits of red versus green. Rarely does the conversation go beyond “It’s ugly!”.

  2. I like the EMP design myself, but I can also see why some people don’t like it. When it first went up, one of the guys on the morning radio show I listened to said it was “like a bad mescaline weekend at Frank Lloyd Wright’s place.” While I like it, I loved that description too.

    I’m going to have to watch that documentary. It sounds interesting. I had seen clips of it, but from the clips it seemed like it didn’t critique him at all.

  3. I think part of my problem may be that I’m a bit of a minimalist. This often goes together well with modernism, but sometimes you come across them clashing, much like the EMP. I just find it too garish and obese, especially for the setting.

    I really do like a fair amount of Gehry’s work, and I think it’s unfortunate that my own city ends up with the piece I’m the least pleased with.

    Now the Seattle Central Library on the other hand, that thing is beautiful inside and out. I may need to learn more about Rem Koolhaas next.

  4. It’s interesting how you use the phrase “more art than architecture”. I hear that often and wonder when exactly the distinction was made.

    On a different note I’m not a fan of the EMP, but I think it’s more to do with how it fits in it’s enviornment more than the building itself. I kind of like the idea behind the design, if not the application. That didn’t make much sense did it?

    Maybe I should just watch the documentary and not post worthless comments.

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