Culture

Frank Gehry: The architect of controlled chaos

He is considered one of the most important living architects of the early 21st century. At 93, the American-Canadian architect Frank Gehry continues to fascinate the world of architecture, and more broadly the world of design and the arts, with his extraordinary constructions. How to sum up a career that spans more than 6 decades? Rather than listing a grand list of exceptional architectural achievements, we decided to talk about the architect’s style through 7 major achievements. Known above all for his work as an architect, we are nevertheless starting our selection with a piece of design furniture! Enjoy your reading!

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In 1993, Frank Gehry finalized the construction of the American Center, a building that was to become the Cinémathèque française (Paris) in 2005. Construction or deconstruction? Frank Gehry’s buildings do not leave one without a reaction.

Frank Gehry was born into a rather poor family of Polish-Jewish immigrants. His father left the United States and Brooklyn to seek a better life in Canada, where he married in 1926. Frank Gehry was born in Toronto in 1929. The Gehry family returned to the United States in the late 1940s to settle in the more conciliatory climate of California, in Los Angeles. Encouraged by ceramist and glassmaker Glen Williams Lukens, Gehry junior entered the School of Architecture at the University of South California, graduating in 1954 as one of the top students in his class.

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Frank Gehry, portrait

He began his career at the end of the 1950s and worked successively in various architectural firms, but felt that he did not fit into the architectural mainstream of the time. In 1962 he set up his own architectural practice in Los Angeles, which is still active today.

Gehry’s career took off in the late 1970s, but in 1972 he designed a sinuous seat that became iconic: the Wiggle Side Chair. A tribute to Rietveld’s famous Zig-Zag chair, it is made of thick sheets of laminated cardboard and is sold for the modest price of $15. A wish of the designer to make design accessible. Despite its success, he decided to withdraw it from the market, as his goal was above all to be recognised as an architect!

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Wriggle Side Chair, design by Frank Gehry, 1972. The Wiggle Side Chair is part of the “Easy Edges” furniture series. The cardboard sheets are arranged at right angles and glued together. Cardboard, a commonplace material, takes on a new aesthetic dimension. Gehry’s sense of curvature is already apparent.
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Wriggle Side Chair, design by Frank Gehry, 1972. Detail of the backrest. A piece of furniture that is both light and strong. The “Easy Edges” furniture series is distributed by the Swiss publisher Vitra.

In 1978, Frank Gehry pulled off a coup that made him a household name. Together with his wife, he bought a rose-coloured bungalow in Dutch colonial style, which he completely remodelled in his own way. Some consider this work to be the first deconstructivist building. Gehry created an extension that is a patchwork of different materials: metal, plywood, metal fencing, corrugated iron and a wooden frame. His idea: to build a new envelope around the original house.

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Residence, Frank Gerhy’s home in Santa Monica, seen from the main entrance, wedged between angular structures created in glass, wood and aluminium
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Gerhy Residence, Frank Gerhy’s house in Santa Monica, built in 1978. The house was extended a second time in 1991 in a less deconstructive and more harmonious way.
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Gerhy Residence, Frank Gerhy’s house in Santa Monica, built in 1978. Parts of the house are trapped in sloping glass cubes.
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Gerhy Residence, Frank Gerhy’s house in Santa Monica, built in 1978.
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Residence, Frank Gerhy’s house in Santa Monica, built in 1978
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Gehry Residence, Frank Gehry’s house in Santa Monica, built in 1978. View of the interior.

With his house, Frank Gehry laid the foundations of his architectural style marked by deconstruction. He is thus linked to the deconstructivist movement. In doing so, he opposes the modernist trend in architecture led by the Bauhaus School and its most brilliant representatives (Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer) and Le Corbusier (among others), which later became the international style. It is also a world away from the very avant-garde De Stijl movement.

Let it be said that Gerhy abhors straight lines and geometric lines in general. He also rejects the link between function and form. This is why his iconoclastic style is so disturbing and controversial.

Frank Gehry is an open-minded person who loves contemporary art. The proof is in the creation, from 1985 to 1991, of the Binoculars Buildings, a group of three buildings in different styles, with a real sculpture in the shape of a pair of binoculars designed by the artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen.

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Binoculars Buildings, Venice, a district located in the west of the city of Los Angeles. Architect: Frank Gehry, 1985-1991. The famous pair of binoculars can be seen in the centre: their eyepieces act as skylights.
Photo credit: Victor Leung
Binoculars Buildings, Venice, a district in the west of the city of Los Angeles. View of the central building by artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. The twins serve as the entrance to the complex for cars and pedestrians. They are very characteristic of Oldenburg’s aesthetics applied to large-scale functional objects.

With the completion of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao (Spain) in 1997, Frank Gehry became one of the most influential and internationally recognised architects. Gehry succeeded in materialising what he had in mind: a building with organic forms and undulations, a true architectural feat that pushes the logic of deconstruction to the limit. The forms have no geometric reason and are not governed by any law!

Photo credit: Guggenheim Bilbao
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, architect: Frank Gehry, 1993-1997. An avant-garde building, a sculpture in its own right that blends into the urban landscape of the Basque city. Gehry combined three main materials: stone, glass and titanium.
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Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, architect: Frank Gehry, 1993-1997. According to the architect: “the randomness of the curves is designed to catch the light”.
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Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, architect: Frank Gehry, 1993-1997. Panoramic view of the museum.
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Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, architect: Frank Gehry, 1993-1997. The exterior of the building is made of titanium. A total of 33,000 thin sheets of titanium have been installed, changing colour according to atmospheric variations.
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Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, architect: Frank Gehry, 1993-1997. Incredible curves...
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Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, architect: Frank Gehry, 1993-1997. View of the interior, a “cathedral” of stone and glass.
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Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, architect: Frank Gehry, 1993-1997. View of the interior

Another example of the architect’s creative and unstructured genius is the Marquès de Riscal Hotel in the Rioja Alavesa region of Spain. A unique place with an avant-garde design anchored in the middle of the vineyards. The Gerhy “touch” can be found here: colossal volumes, unique perspectives between sharp angles and undulating waves, and a play on colour.

Photo credit: Thomas Mayer
View of the Marquès de Riscal Hotel, Elciego, architecture: Frank Gerhy, 2003-2006. The building is part of the new Marqués de Riscal winery complex, a Spanish group of companies dedicated to the wine industry, wedged between village and vineyards.
Photo credit: Adrian Tyler
Hotel Marquès de Riscal, Elciego, architecture: Frank Gerhy, 2003-2006. The curved lines and volutes of the roof give rhythm to the elegance of the building.
Photo credit: Adrian Tyler
Hotel Marquès de Riscal, Elciego, architecture: Frank Gerhy, 2003-2006, rear view of the building made of natural blonde sandstone, which is integrated into the village of Elciego. The building’s height, 35 metres, does not exceed that of the church tower to preserve the charm and identity of the wine village.
Photo credit: Thomas MayerHotel
Marquès de Riscal, Elciego, architecture: Frank Gerhy, 2003-2006, detail of the building.Cascades of titanium, a material much appreciated by the architect.
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Hotel Marquès de Riscal, Elciego, architecture: Frank Gerhy, 2003-2006, detail of the building. The pink titanium refers to the wine, the gold titanium to the mesh of the bottles, and the mirror-finish stainless steel refers to the cap covering the neck of the bottle.
Photo credit: Hotel Marquès de Riscal
Hotel Marquès de Riscal, Elciego, architecture: Frank Gerhy, 2003-2006, view of the interior of a room.
Photo credit: Hotel Marquès de RiscalHotel
Marquès de Riscal, Elciego, architecture: Frank Gerhy, 2003-2006, view of the panoramic terrace of the hotel restaurant.

one year later, the architect, who has become a superstar, started the construction of a building that is no less amazing: The Lou Ruvo Brain Center for Health in Las Vegas (2007-2010). Once again, we can speak of an architectural sculpture driven by movement, which, from the architect’s point of view, expresses a ‘feeling’.

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Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health Clinic, Las Vegas, architect: Frank O. Gehry, 2007-2010. A moving architecture suggested by the impression of a wave distorting the outer envelope of the building.
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Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health Clinic, Las Vegas, architect: Frank O. Gehry, 2007-2010. The building has 199 windows, all of them dissimilar! The steel envelope was laser-cut.
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Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health Clinic, Las Vegas, architect: Frank O. Gehry, 2007-2010. View of a reception area inside the building.

If Frank Gerhy makes the buildings he builds “dance” – he co-designed the aptly named Dancing House in Prague in 1996 -he also likes to practice his art in the vertical. This is the case with one of the architect’s latest great “follies”: the Luma Foundation in Arles. Anticonformist, progressive as he likes to define himself, Frank Gerhy and his work rarely leave anyone indifferent: an indelible mark in the history of contemporary architecture..

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Fondation artistique Luma, Arles, architect: Frank Gehry, 2007-2019. A pharaonic project that took ten years to complete, the Luma “Tower” is 56 m high (12 floors), its façade includes 11,000 stainless steel bricks, including 53 glass boxes. The “twisted” style that the architect likes to imprint on his buildings can be seen.
Photo credit: Iwan Baan, Adrian Deweerdt
Fondation artistique Luma, Arles, architect: Frank Gehry, 2007-2019. The Foundation is part of the Parc des Ateliers de LUMA Arles. A place of artistic life that brings together exhibitions, conferences, live performances, architecture and design..
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Fondation artistique Luma, Arles, architect: Frank Gehry, 2007-2019. At the foot of the tower is a glass rotunda inspired by the Arles arena.
Photo credit: Adrian Deweerdt
Luma Art Foundation, Arles, architect: Frank Gehry, 2007-2019. The Tour Luma at sunset: a play of reflections. 3 main materials make up the tower: steel, concrete and glass.

François Boutard