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Frank Gehry is a world-renowned architect originally from Canada, now living in the United States. Gehry’s impressive architecture career began with the unique design of his own house, which included unconventional building materials like corrugated steel and chain-link fences. His fame solidified internationally with the debut of The Guggenheim Museum he designed in Bilbao, Spain.

Youth and Education

Frank Gehry was born Ephraim Owen Goldberg on February 28, 1929, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.[1] Irving Goldberg, his father, was from Brooklyn, New York, and the child of Russian-Jewish parents. He sold slot machines and pinball machines as a traveling salesman. Sadie Thelma Caplan/Kaplanski, her mother, descended from Polish-Jewish immigrant parents and took Gehry to concerts and art exhibits. His grandmother encouraged his creative nature as a child by helping him build cities out of wood scraps from his grandfather’s hardware store.

Young Frank Gehry spent many Saturday mornings in his grandfather’s hardware store viewing the ordinary materials that later featured in his unique architecture and other structures.

The Goldberg family suffered financial losses in the mid-1940s and, after Irving suffered a heart attack in 1947, they relocated to Los Angeles, California.[2] Irving Goldberg changed their last name to Gehry when they immigrated to the U.S.[3] Frank Gehry began driving trucks in L.A. to pay for classes at City College, having graduated high school in Canada just before they left. He became interested in architecture and enrolled in the University of Southern California to study it, graduating with a Bachelors in 1954.[4]

Marriage and Family

Frank Gehry met and married Anita Snyder, a stenographer, in 1952. Snyder helped pay for Gehry’s schooling while in Los Angeles. They produced two daughters, Leslie and Brina, before divorcing after 16 years of marriage. Gehry married his second wife in 1975, Berta Isabel Aguilera and they bore two sons. Berta, a native of Panama, works as Gehry’s design firm’s chief financial officer.[5]

Early Career

Frank Gehry apprenticed with Victor Gruen Associates while studying his degree and they employed him immediately upon his graduation.[6] He was soon drafted and served in the U.S. Army for a year. He then enrolled in the Havard Graduate School of Design, but returned to Los Angeles prior to completing the degree.[7] He worked a brief time at Pereira and Lucian before transferring to his old job at Gruen Associates until 1960. The Gehry family relocated to Paris, France in 1961, where Frank started at the architectural firm of Andre Remondet. He studied Balthasar Neumann and the famous LeCorbusier in person before returning to Los Angeles in 1962 to start his own business, Gehry Associates.[8] Now Gehry Partners, LLP, Frank Gehry initially employed the well-known International Style for his projects, but felt the pull of Santa Monica, California’s growing avant-garde art scene. His peers became artists like Ed Ruscha, Bob Irwin, Ed Kienholz, and Ed Moses.

The Frank Gehry House

Gehry first received national attention with his furniture line Easy Edges, built of corrugated cardboard. He built houses for his artist friends and many commercial buildings through the 1970s, including the Santa Monica Place mall and the Cabrillo Marine Museum.[9][10]

One of Gehry’s most well-known pieces is his own home in Santa Monica that he purchased in 1977. The Frank Gehry house, originally built in 1920, features many of Gehry’s preferred industrial elements, uncommon to most U.S. residences. He included exterior features like unfinished plywood, chain link fencing, and corrugated aluminum and, on the inside, he took down the walls to expose the structure of the house.

The Frank Gehry House showcases Gehry’s eclectic collection of materials and design ideas that earned him worldwide fame.

Although many of Gehry’s neighbors did not approve, the house earned him favorable national attention. It also allowed him to incorporate more industrial elements in his commercial projects. Some examples that reveal the transition are the Loyola University Law School, California Aerospace Museum, and the Hollywood branch of the Frances Goldwyn Library. Gehry often included strange, ornamental Formica fish in these and other designs, like the many lamps he created that feature fish and snakes.[11]

Famous Frank Gehry Structures

By the mid-1980s, Frank Gehry was well-known in Europe. He received requests to design the Vitra Design Museum sound in Weil-am-Rhein, German, and the Vitra Furniture Factory building in Basel, Switzerland. Gehry’s techniques became known as “deconstructivism,” the reassembling of common geometric elements into new, complex forms. In 1989, Gehry won the most prestigious architecture award in the world, the Pritzker Prize.

The first, large-scale work Gehry created in the U.S. was the University of Minnesota’s Weisman Art Museum in 1990. The Chiat Day Headquarters in Venice, California saw Gehry collaborating with Coosje van Bruggen and Claes Oldenburg to design a pair of oversized binoculars as the entrance to the building.

Two of Gehry’s biggest and most recognized works were completed in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The Guggenheim Museum built in Bilbao, Spain may be Gehry’s most famous work. It took several years to draft and build due to the groundbreaking designs using odd shapes and irregular angles created on a computer. In 2004, Frank Gehry finally completed the Los Angeles Walt Disney Concert Hall, first proposed in 1989. Further designs by Gehry include a Fossil wristwatch, the Hockey World Cup trophy, and a Wyborovka Vodka Bottle.[12]

Later Years

Frank Gehry continues to create prolifically and has since the start of the new century. He has participated in the design of Miami Beach, Florida’s New World Symphony concert Hall, Brooklyn, New York’s Barclays Center Sports Arena, and a new branch of the Guggenheim Museum opening in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Gehry also plans to revamp the long passage between Disney Hall and Los Angeles City Hall in California.

Gehry finished one of his most impressive architecture designs in 2014, the Fondation Louis Vuitton located in Paris. The building is more than 126,000 square feet and the unique steel and glass framework enclosing it is referred to as The Verrière by Gehry.

In 2016, U.S. President Barack Obama honored Frank Gehry by awarding him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor for a U.S. civilian. President Obama stated, “From his pioneering use of technology to the dozens of awe-inspiring sights that bear his signature style, to his public service as a citizen artist through his work with Turnaround Arts, Frank Gehry has proven himself an exemplar of American innovation.”[13]

References

Bibliography


Chollet, L. B. (2001). The Essential Frank O. Gehry. New York, NY: Harry N. Abrams.

The Hyatt Foundation. (2017). Biography - Frank Gehry (1989 Laureate). The Pritzker Architecture Prize.[1]


O’Connell, K. (2016, December 1). Frank O. Gehry. American Academy of Achievement[2]

Footnotes

  1. O’Connell, 2016
  2. Chollet, 2001
  3. O’Connell, 2016
  4. O’Connell, 2016
  5. Chollet, 2001
  6. The Hyatt Foundation, 2017
  7. O’Connell, 2016
  8. The Hyatt Foundation, 2017
  9. O’Connell, 2016
  10. The Hyatt Foundation, 2017
  11. O’Connell, 2016
  12. O’Connell, 2016
  13. O’Connell, 2016

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