“Sketches of Frank Gehry” is an inspiring and entertaining documentary movie. It explored the life and the work of renowned architect Frank Gehry in a very intimate and sincere way. I found some of the questions that were being asked as well as people’s opinions from different perspectives on Frank’s work and personalities quite intriguing.
I was interested in the parts when people talked about the architect-client relationship. Thirty minutes in the movie, Mr. Milton Wexler, Frank’s therapist, talked about this as Frank “took on more adult roles” of being the teacher. “Instead of trying to seduce his client.. He began to teach them… to tell them what they needed to see, how they needed to see it.” I always think the same way, it is not about the impressive forms and renderings, it is about understanding the client and create the design that work for them. Later in the movie, Barry Diller, one of Frank’s corporate client, talk about how his dream, his vision of sailing a boat on Hudson river and seeing his building elegantly lie next to the river and how Frank turned that vision into the form and the chosen type of glass for the IAC Headquarter building. It was really a excellent example of client-architect relationship.
Another important point that Frank made was when his talked about his early day of practicing architecture. He said “I grew up as a modernist, Decoration is a sin, that is the mantra of modernism.” And he raised the question which was very interesting to me, “So if you cannot use decoration then how do you humanize a building, how do you humanize a thing?” And he answer was Materials, “Materials could be expressive”. That may not new but I still find it is brilliant.
And as I said, what I liked about the movie was that it created an overall intimate, informal atmosphere. I liked it when Frank was being sincere about his personality, “‘Cause I have this conflict about that you know, I want to be… Oh, shucks, I want to be a nice guy. I don’t want to be in your face, and yet I am in your face. I am ambitious.” Or when he see his design as his children but he would only be there, maybe no more than four times in the rest of his life. I can see and share that feeling. I think it is one of the most amazing thing that bound many architects to this discipline.
There are more interesting things in the movie but I would use this last paragraph to reflect on Kourtney’s blog of the movie. I can see it when Kourtney wrote about Gehry’s “arbitrary whimsical design approach”, since it seems to be that way to me too. However, I think people do thing differently and we could not just base our judgment on whether we like their approach or not. I do not think that Gehry’s design process could be seen similar to “first year studio doing the Art and Music Interpretation” as Kourtney said. And actually, he responded to that himself, “If all we have to do to become famous architects is first year work then why are we still here five years later?”. My thought is that, there is a secret ingredient for that seem-to-be first year studio design approach. It is the years working in the profession, it is understanding the clients, it is the passion, talent and fortune.
In term of context, it is controversy when talked about Frank’s work. Criticism often includes complaints that he design does not seem to belong the surroundings. On the other hand, Juan Ignacio Vidarte, Director of Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, talked about the Frank’s design of the museum, “it was like an object from outer space but which had landed here a century ago. So it’s foreign, in the sense that it has nothing to do with any of the building which are around. But at the same time, there is a quality of it which makes it belong to its place… You take this out of here and nobody would understand the city now”. And also, Frank did talk about how his design move in the Walt Disney Concert Hall project was to preserve the iconic importance of the Chandler, the adjacent building.
To sum up, I like the movie and respect Frank in a professional manner. He does what he does best and keeps moving forward consistently. He was over 70 when the movie was making but still actively involved in the design process. It is still true even up to now.