Friday, July 24, 2009
THERE'S BEEN a certain amount of talk on the internet about an encounter at the Aspen Ideas Festival between Frank Gehry and Fred Kent, President of Project for Public Spaces. Since James Fallow's initial post about this, a video has gone up on the web here.
Gehry lives in world of starchitecture and celebrity where he's often treated like a visiting god. Plus, he grew up in an architectural culture that encouraged egotism on the architect's part, hangs out with egocentric artists in Los Angeles and works for corporate CEOs who think they deserve $250 million golden parachutes. He wouldn't put it that way, of course, but I've known enough Starchitects to see how much they follow the Howard Roark paradigm, whether they think so or not.
About three-quarters of the way through the video, questions are taken from the audience, and Kent introduces himself as "the Department of Corrections," who has to [emphasis mine] go around the world fixing the work of Starchitects, including Gehry's – an introduction guaranteed to get Gehry's back up.
Kent correctly says that we have a problem today of "iconic" buildings that don't make places or create a sense of place. "What I'm trying to do," he says, "is to challenge you to be able to do that," which are obviously fightin' words. "I'm sorry but I have to go and fix [your] places."
At that point, Gehry calls Kent "pompous" and waves him away in a dismissive fashion that upset Fallows. But no one, least of all a "legendary architect" (as the Aspen Ideas Festival calls him), likes to be so negatively characterized.
What's interesting is that the next question from the audience gets Gehry talking about the role iconic and background buildings play in the city. Interesting because it suggests that there was a possible conversation between Gehry and Kent, and interesting because it shows that Gehry, who almost always designs iconic buildings, regardless of program, doesn't necessarily think that's the best way to make cities.
Two examples of iconic Gehry buildings that would be better background buildings are MIT's Stata Center and the residential towers at Atlantic Yards. 'There is certainly a place in the built environment for modest construction," Gehry says, "certainly in housing."
In a stream of consciousness he continues, "the planning becomes more important, the creation of public spaces, the buildings become more background, and a lot of the buildings that should have been more background have been layered with all kinds of junk and so called decoration and people seem to want that and so that's kinda what I'm talking about." (It would also be interesting to know what he means by "all kinds of junk" and "people seem to want that.")
I'm not a Gehry expert, but I've seen a number of his buildings, and the only one I wouldn't call "iconic" is his DZ Bank in Berlin (above), where the local planning authorities required that he make a sober street wall. Consequently, the "architecture" is in an interior court, and that's where most of the online photos are from, even though the general public is not allowed in the court.
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Gehry calling someone "pompous." Maybe he needs someone to tell him all about pots and kettles.
Posted by: Kenf at Jul 24, 2009 1:16:06 PM
What I read from Fallows didn't give Kent a pass for the hostility of his questioning, but it did make the point that encountering at least one person like that was par for the course in an open forum. For Gehry to merely wave him away -- literally -- with a gesture that suggested that he was a mere peasant was what was so jaw-dropping.
Posted by: Reid Davis at Jul 31, 2009 10:33:24 AM