Los Angeles, Frank Gehry’s home for nearly seven decades, has been a source of inspiration and a frequent canvas choice for the architect’s work. Gehry, born Frank Goldberg, moved to Los Angeles with his family when he was 18 and later studied at the University of Southern California, earning a degree in architecture in 1954. He opened his office in Los Angeles in 1962 and his firm was known for the unique residences it designed, including Gehry’s own house. He later found worldwide success in the late 1980s after designing prominent buildings in Europe and in 1989 winning the Pritzker Prize, the top award in the field. His reputation as a world-renown architect was further solidified in 1997 when his Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, with its abstract curved steel exterior, debuted to widespread acclaim. Over the next two decades, Gehry and his firm were in high demand, working on everything from a 76-story skyscraper in New York to a performing arts venue in Chicago, an art gallery in London, and the highly regarded concert hall in Los Angeles.
Last year, the Gehry-designed Louis Vuitton Foundation opened in Paris and received similar high marks. From a distance, it looks like an alien structure dropped into Bois de Boulogne, a large park just outside the center of Paris. Yet, the building engages nicely with it environment. Several terraces allow expansive views of the park, the nearby La Defense business distinct, and the heart of Paris, including the Eiffel Tower. To coincide with this building’s debut, an exhibition was held at the Centre Pompidou highlighting the architect’s career through models and sketches of his work, attempting to create a chronology and context of his diverse career. Fittingly, this exhibition has now moved to Los Angeles, Gehry’s long-time home. On display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art through March 20, 2016, the collection shows his contribution to the city’s architecture as well as the worldwide reach of his designs. The show’s maze of unconventional forms also demonstrates how important technological innovation has been to the realization of his work.
The exhibition provides a unique opportunity to see many of the large models that Gehry and his partners use in their work. Some of the ones on display are for buildings that are currently in the planning or construction stage, allowing a preview of things to come. Among these are Facebook’s new campus, a renovation of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and a community center in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles.
Walking through the models, the ambition and radicalism of Gehry’s designs become even more apparent. Starting in the late 1980s, he experimented with computers to allow his more complex ideas to be translated into blueprints. With the advance of computing power and other technological evolutions in the 1990s, he was able to take advantage of an adapted version of CATIA (Computer Aided Three-Dimensional Interactive Application by Dassault Systèmes, used in aeronautics and the automobile industry) to digitally manipulate three-dimension representations. This revolutionized the forms that he was able to create and further advanced his work. The results were seen in the fish sculpture he created for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona as well as the Guggenheim in Bilbao. The evolution continues. Gehry Technologies, founded by the architect in 2002, remains dedicated to research into digital technology that creates a seamless bridge between architects and building contractors. The fruit of such research can be seen in the increasing number
of complicated, abstract building designs over the past fifteen years. Gehry’s own Walt Disney Concert Hall and Louis Vuitton Foundation could not have been constructed without this technological progression.
Frank Gehry’s relationship with Los Angeles has informed a large part of his work and he continues to work on important projects here. The scope of Gehry’s work in the 1960s through 1980s ranged from housing projects to shopping malls and large industrial sites. His firm also did studies on urban renewals and concepts of how to restructure city centers, the latter of which will come into play in his future work in downtown Los Angeles, Watts, and at the Los Angeles River. One of his great L.A. triumphs is the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Before working on the Bilbao museum, with which it shares some general similarities, Gehry won the commission of a new symphony hall in Los Angeles in 1988. Although the project was first envisioned then, issues of funding and city planning caused the building to be delayed for some time, which allowed Gehry to refine his initial design further using newly available technology. Upon its completion in 2003, the concert hall was lauded as a second masterpiece by the architect. Today, he finds himself again focused on Los Angeles. He is designing a community center in Watts, an area in the Southern part of Los Angeles infamous for the 1965 unrest. Business and commercial developments in the Hollywood and Downtown neighborhoods are under construction and in the final planning stages. An even grander undertaking is Gehry’s work on the Los Angeles River restoration project, announced this past summer. Once relegated to dystopian nightmares with its concrete capped appearance that resemble a giant storm drain, the river has recently been the focus of campaigns by environmentalists and developers to revitalize the river into something more natural, aesthetically pleasing, and resident-friendly. A new riverfront district could expand both the footprint of downtown and the amount of open park space in the city.
Because of this long relationshp between Gehry and L.A., one is tempted to connect the evolution of his work with part of the evolution of Los Angeles. His early work from the 1970s, often composed of function-based segments could parallel the deconstructed Los Angeles of that era, in which the city was confronting the challenges of a fragmented society as well as a physical environment plagued by smog and other byproducts of post-WWII industrialization. Gehry created architecture that used “industrial” materials like chain-linked fences and other exposed metals. He also designed
buildings to reflect the surrounding environment. So much of Los Angeles’ past had been trying to tame the natural environment to fit the needs of residents; Gehry directly addressed the “gritty” realities of the city that Los Angeles had become. But the fragmentation in Los Angeles from the 1960s through the 1992 riots has slowly reversed as the city has sought to bring its citizens together through rail lines, improved police practices, and redevelopment of blighted parts of the city. This process is tenuous and fragile, however. Gehry’s Disney Concert Hall, which opened in 2003, could be seen as representative of this new era. The building’s exterior is a prominent example of fragmentation and unusual shapes, but unlike earlier designs, it is all part of a unified whole. The interior, consequently, provides a tranquil space, perfectly suited for visitors. (In the Los Angeles Times, architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne wrote that Gehry’s genius lies in large part on his mastery of interior spaces, including rooms that “show a real sensitivity to human scale, light and the way the body moves through architectural space.”) As the city tries harder to bring people together, his 2003 building captures this idea. Gehry is already responsible for the most notable piece of civic architecture in Los Angeles. If he can similarly succeed in transforming the Los Angeles River, understanding the competing concerns and creating a plan that is consistent with the river’s history in all of its complexity, he will have made a significant mark on the city’s public space. auction now stretches over three full days, packing a full auditorium of buyers and lookers, and providing great deals and record prices for wonderful cars. On the grounds or in a huge tent before and during the auction itself, there is the ability for ticket holders to walk the grounds and see most of the cars that will be going up for auction. In other parts of the venue, traditionally there are two seminars, one each on Friday and Saturday.