Frank Owen Gehry, (February 28, 1929) is a Canadian-born American architect, residing in Los Angeles.
A number of his buildings, including his private residence, have become world-renowned attractions. His works are cited as being among the most important works of contemporary architecture in the 2010 World Architecture Survey, which led Vanity Fair to label him as “the most important architect of our age”.
Gehry’s best-known works include the titanium-clad Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain; Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles; Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris, France; MIT Ray and Maria Stata Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts; The Vontz Center for Molecular Studies on the University of Cincinnati campus; Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle; New World Center in Miami Beach; Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis; Dancing House in Prague; the Vitra Design Museum and the Marta Herford Museum in Germany; the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto; the Cinémathèque Française in Paris; and 8 Spruce Street in New York City.
It was his private residence in Santa Monica, California, that jump-started his career. Gehry is also the designer of the future National Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial.
Gehry was born Frank Owen Goldberg on February 28, 1929, in Toronto, Ontario, to parents Sadie Thelma (née Kaplanski/Caplan) and Irving Goldberg. His father was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Russian Jewish parents, and his mother was a Polish Jewish immigrant born in Łódź. A creative child, he was encouraged by his grandmother, Leah Caplan, with whom he would build little cities out of scraps of wood. With these scraps from her husband’s hardware store, she entertained him for hours, building imaginary houses and futuristic cities on the living room floor.
His use of corrugated steel, chain-link fencing, unpainted plywood and other utilitarian or “everyday” materials was partly inspired by spending Saturday mornings at his grandfather’s hardware store. He would spend time drawing with his father, while his mother introduced him to the world of art. “So, the creative genes were there”, Gehry says. “But my father thought I was a dreamer, I wasn’t gonna amount to anything. It was my mother who thought I was just reticent to do things. She would push me.”
He was given the Hebrew name “Ephraim” by his grandfather but only used it at his bar mitzvah.
In 1947, his family immigrated to the United States settling in California. Gehry got a job driving a delivery truck, and studied at Los Angeles City College, eventually to graduate from the University of Southern California’s School of Architecture. During that time, he became a member of Alpha Epsilon Pi.
According to Gehry, “I was a truck driver in L.A., going to City College, and I tried radio announcing, which I wasn’t very good at. I tried chemical engineering, which I wasn’t very good at and didn’t like, and then I remembered. You know, somehow, I just started wracking my brain about, ‘What do I like?’ Where was I? What made me excited? And I remembered art, that I loved going to museums and I loved looking at paintings, loved listening to music. Those things came from my mother, who took me to concerts and museums. I remembered Grandma and the blocks, and just on a hunch, I tried some architecture classes.” Gehry graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture degree from USC in 1954.
After graduating from college, he spent time away from the field of architecture in numerous other jobs, including service in the United States Army. In the fall of 1956, he moved his family to Cambridge, where he studied city planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. He left before completing the program, disheartened and underwhelmed. Gehry’s left-wing ideas about socially responsible architecture were under-realized, and the final straw occurred when he sat in on a discussion of one professor’s “secret project in progress”—a palace that he was designing for right-wing Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista (1901–1973).
Gehry returned to Los Angeles to work for Victor Gruen Associates, to whom he had been apprenticed while at the USC School of Architecture. In 1957 he was given the chance to design his first private residence at the age of 28, with friend and old classmate Greg Walsh. Construction was done by another neighbour across the street from his wife’s family, Charlie Sockler. Built-in Idyllwild, California, for his wife Anita’s family neighbour Melvin David, “The David Cabin”, shows features that were to become synonymous with later work. The over 2,000 sq ft (190 m2) mountain retreat has unique design features with strong Asian influences, stemming from his earliest inspirations at the time like Shosoin Treasure House in Nara, Japan, among others. Beams protrude from the exterior sides, vertical grain douglas fir detail, and exposed, unfinished ceiling beams are prominent features.
In 1961, he moved to Paris where he worked for architect Andre Remondet. In 1962, Gehry established a practice in Los Angeles which became Frank Gehry and Associates in 1967 and then Gehry Partners in 2001. Gehry’s earliest commissions were all in Southern California, where he designed a number of innovative commercial structures such as Santa Monica Place (1980) and residential buildings such as the eccentric Norton House (1984) in Venice, California.
Among these works, however, Gehry’s most notable design may be the renovation of his own Santa Monica residence. Originally built in 1920 and purchased by Gehry in 1977, the house features a metallic exterior wrapped around the original building that leaves many of the original details visible. Gehry still resides there.
Other completed buildings designed by Gehry during the 1980s include the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium (1981) in San Pedro and the California Aerospace Museum (1984) at the California Museum of Science and Industry in Los Angeles.
In 2014, two significant, long-awaited museums designed by Gehry opened: the Biomuseo, a biodiversity museum in Panama City, Panama, and the Fondation Louis Vuitton, a modern art museum in the Bois de Boulogne park in Paris, France, which opened to some rave reviews.
Also, in 2014, Gehry was commissioned by River LA, formerly known as the Los Angeles River Revitalization Corporation, a nonprofit group founded by the city of Los Angeles in 2009 to coordinate river policy, to devise a wide-ranging new plan for the river.
In February 2015 the new building for the University of Technology Sydney was officially opened, with a façade constructed from more than 320,000 hand-placed bricks and glass slabs, and costing AU$180 million. Gehry said he would not design a building like the “crumpled paper bag” again.
Gehry told the French newspaper La Croix in November 2016 that President of France François Hollande had assured the architect that he could relocate to France if Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. The following month Gehry said that he had no plans to move. He and Trump exchanged words in 2010 when Gehry’s 8 Spruce Street, originally known as Beekman Tower, was built 1 foot (0.30 m) taller than the nearby Trump Building, which until then had been New York City’s tallest residential building.
Said to “defy categorisation”, Gehry’s work reflects a spirit of experimentation coupled with a respect for the demands of professional practice and has remained largely unaligned with broader stylistic tendencies or movements. With his earliest educational influences rooted in modernism, Gehry’s work has sought to escape modernist stylistic tropes while still remaining interested in some of its underlying transformative agendas. Continually working between given circumstances and unanticipated materializations, he has been assessed as someone who “made us produce buildings that are fun, sculpturally exciting, good experiences” although his approach may become “less relevant as pressure mounts to do more with less”.
Gehry is sometimes associated with what is known as the “Los Angeles School” or the “Santa Monica School” of architecture. The appropriateness of this designation and the existence of such a school, however, remains controversial due to the lack of a unifying philosophy or theory. This designation stems from the Los Angeles area’s producing a group of the most influential postmodern architects, including such notable Gehry contemporaries as Eric Owen Moss and Pritzker Prize-winner Thom Mayne of Morphosis, as well as the famous schools of architecture at the Southern California Institute of Architecture (co‑founded by Mayne), UCLA, and USC where Gehry is a member of the board of directors.
Gehry’s style at times seems unfinished or even crude, but his work is consistent with the California “funk” art movement in the 1960s and early 1970s, which featured the use of inexpensive found objects and non-traditional media such as clay to make serious art. His works always have at least some element of deconstructivism. Gehry has been called “the apostle of chain-link fencing and corrugated metal siding”. However, a retrospective exhibit at New York’s Whitney Museum in 1988 revealed that he is also a sophisticated classical artist, who knows European art history and contemporary sculpture and painting.
In 1952, Gehry (then Goldberg) married Anita Snyder. According to an interview with Gehry on the genealogy program Finding Your Roots, he changed his name in 1956 to Frank O. Gehry in part because of the antisemitism he had experienced as a child and as an undergraduate at USC. Gehry and Snyder divorced in 1966.
He married his current wife, Panamanian Berta Isabel Aguilera, in 1975. He has two daughters from his first marriage and two sons from his second marriage.
Having grown up in Canada, Gehry is an avid fan of ice hockey. He began a hockey league in his office, FOG (which stands for Frank Owen Gehry), though he no longer plays with them. In 2004, he designed the trophy for the World Cup of Hockey. Gehry holds dual citizenship in Canada and the United States. He lives in Santa Monica, California, and continues to practice out of Los Angeles.
Gehry is known for his sometimes-cantankerous personality. During a trip to Oviedo, Spain, to accept the prestigious Prince of Asturias Award in October 2014, he received a significant amount of attention, both positive and negative, for publicly flipping off a reporter at a press conference who accused him of being a “showy” architect.
Gehry is a member of the California Yacht Club in Marina Del Rey, California, and enjoys sailing with his fibreglass-hulled yacht, “Foggy”. Gehry also serves on the Leadership Council of The New York Stem Cell Foundation.