The Complicated Career of Architect Frank Gehry


How do I feel about Frank Gehry? My opinions on him both seem more relevant and less relevant than my opinions on other architects. They’re more relevant than my opinions on the obscure architects that no one outside of architectural circles has ever heard of, since Frank Gehry has been described as one of the most important architects of our time. On the other hand, the simple fact that he is considered so important more or less manages to make my opinions seem unimportant. He’s going to continue to make all of these buildings, and they are going to continue to receive critical acclaim. However, my two cents is at least worth that much.

Some people would say that Frank Gehry has invented the quintessential modern buildings. A lot of his buildings more or less look like giant modern art sculptures, which is a good thing if you actually like modern art sculptures. I never liked them, and I never understood why a sculpture that didn’t look like anything and didn’t take any real technical skill to make was considered to be on par with something like Michelangelo’s David. These sculptures don’t get any more impressive to me just because they’re really large.

In fact, the large and ugly outdoor modern art sculptures that we’ve had to endure thanks to Frank Gehry are so much worse than the modern art sculptures in modern art museums that it isn’t even funny. The modern art sculptures in museums have the advantage of actually being contained. You don’t have to go and look at them if you don’t want to, and you can move onto something else in the museum if you’re still here for the art. Frank Gehry buildings are outdoors, and they occupy a good portion of the landscape in a given city block. You’d have to walk around blindfolded in order to avoid them. A lot of them can be seen from very far away, so it feels like they own a good portion of the horizon. It amazes me that his buildings are considered some of the best in the world, and yet a lot of people still refuse to have windmills in their cities because the sight of windmills somehow offends them.

It is true that taste is subjective. A lot of people obviously love Frank Gehry’s buildings, and I can’t objectively say that there’s anything wrong with them. I acknowledge that. However, there are at least some objective standards in architecture, which isn’t the same as other sorts of art. A sculpture doesn’t do anything, and it isn’t supposed to do anything. You can waste a lot of materials making a sculpture, and at least all you did was create a really unsightly sculpture.

When Frank Gehry wastes building materials for the sake of constructing a building that looks like a lot of folded up and unrolled napkins, he’s wasting materials on a much bigger scale. He’s also wasting them in a way that can be legitimately harmful. His Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, CA looks like a paper hat wrapped in ribbons, which makes it easy to recognize. It also creates so much glare when the sun hits it from a certain direction that it’s like looking into a magnifying glass that’s being operated by an evil god. I don’t know how many car accidents it has caused, but I do think that everyone who gets into an accident in the area should consider suing Frank Gehry. The building was an eyesore anyway, but now it is an eyesore in a much more literal sense.

To be fair, not all of Frank Gehry’s work is as bad as the Walt Disney Concert Hall. However, he really seems to have a thing for completely useless building forms and buildings that look more like paper airplanes than houses. When people think of bizarre modern architecture, he’s usually one of the first people who comes to mind, and that’s not always a good thing even for them. That means he’s more or less helped set the standard for the way modern buildings can look.

I’ve actually seen residences that appear to be designed according to his principles. He’s created academic buildings and, appropriately enough, art galleries. I do not want to see architecture get remade in his image. I can only hope that his work will be dismissed as a kitschy twentieth century art fad in the future, and that his buildings will be replaced by whatever future styles become popular.