The John Tusa Interviews
Transcript of the John Tusa Interview with the architect Frank Gehry
JOHN TUSA: If you ask the man in the street who is the most famous architect in the world there's a pretty good chance that they'd reply Frank Gehry. He's won that reputation on the basis of two recent buildings. In 1997 the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, trailing huge curving wings of titanium along the banks of the former industrialised derelict river front, that caught the world's imagination. Buildings didn't look like that, but how wonderful, liberating, soaring, playful it was that this one did. Then last year the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles did the trick again. Yes those vast reflecting stainless steel sails cladding covering but also opening up a concert hall and all its works, only Gehry could have done it and such fame comes to few in any profession, fewer still to architects. But the rise and rise of Frank Gehry is not a simple linear narrative. Gehry is seventy-five now. Had you looked at his career reputation a decade ago you would have identified him easily enough. Then he was the man who had not yet built Bilbao, and far worse he was the man whose design for the Disney Hall was so over cost and deemed unbuildable that he was held to blame. The opening of the Guggenheim in Bilbao transformed Gehry's life in his late sixties. Los Angeles was stung into action to complete the Disney Concert Hall, and the commissions followed and the reputation grew, but the fallow years, not to mention the years when he was tarnished with the title of impracticability, give his career profile a dramatic and almost histrionic shape. Not that Gehry was a failure in the 1990s before Bilbao, he was a successful Los Angeles architect in the California style with a string of houses, offices, museums to his name. Some like the Weisman Museum in Minneapolis were already in his trademark twisted stainless steel. But his reputation was odd. When he won the prime US Architecture Award in 1981 he had to protest 'I'm not weird'. In two decades he has moved from not weird to global, stellar, a defining architect. It's an extraordinary leap.
How tough was it when you already had a reputation, but Disney looked as if it is going to drag you down, how difficult was that period?
FRANK GEHRY: What dragged it down had nothing to do with me. It's so convenient to blame the architect. It was mismanaged and we saw it coming and we warned people and nobody would listen. You know architects are infantilised by the profession. There's a professional organisation in all countries that runs the architectural profession so to speak, and they try to protect you and it's like an overprotective parent, and now in hindsight I see that this overprotection marginalizes one in the construction culture once construction is about to begin, once the buildings are put out to bid and the prices are inevitably higher and the client says I can't afford it, and the contractor says don't worry, I can save you a million dollars if you just straighten those bloody lines. The only way that you can avoid going there is to take more control and to be more parental, and the legal system and the insurance system mitigates against that. They don't want the, your lawyers will say hey wait a minute don't take more control, you're going to get blamed for every little thing, you should stay you know in the traditional architect. So that's the system, that's what went wrong and the architect's always blamed.
JOHN TUSA: Did you feel bad, I mean did you feel bitter that all this was falling on you?
FRANK GEHRY: No it was difficult but since I knew it wasn't my fault and I could prove it. I was just sorry that they weren't going to build the building.
JOHN TUSA: But you lost quite a lot of commissions at the time didn't you because of this unfair charge of Gehry's things are unbuildable?
FRANK GEHRY: That's right, I think I did, but I, I kept going, I found enough people slipped through that believed in me.
JOHN TUSA: Did you ever think that you might end up without a landmark piece of architecture to your name because of the difficulties over Disney Hall?
FRANK GEHRY: I did not set out to do land, a landmark work. I was predisposed to just doing the best work I could and getting it done as close to time and budget, and as close to technically proficient. Now in the early days I couldn't do that and young architects have that problem, because when you're doing individual work the technical architects, your peers, would rather go work for the big firms because it's financially safer for them, for them and their, them and their families, and trying to work with characters like me would be scary.
JOHN TUSA: So it is just difficult to get the support is it?
FRANK GEHRY: So it's difficult to get the support. You have to build up a credibility before the support comes to you. Now what, the thing I did from the beginning, which is I, it seemed obvious thing to do, but it was difficult since I, I didn't have any family money or anything, I just started from zero practically, I forced myself to work within the fees given, so I didn't borrow money, and I made a rule that everybody gets paid from the beginning, so today I could probably have twenty architects working in my office for free, just to be there.
JOHN TUSA: Well perhaps that's a reward for taking the attitude that you did earlier?
FRANK GEHRY: Yeah but I don't do it, it's, that's like drugs. The, for me the firms that have done that are on drugs because it's hard to get off it.
JOHN TUSA: But can I go back to this business of the landmark building. I mean I can see that yes you don't go around thinking one day there'll be a grand, a grand landmark, but you must have had in your mind the thought that there was a really major building that you were longing to build and that building within the constraints that you had to that you must have hoped that you'd break out of that...
FRANK GEHRY: I wish that I could say yes to that but it's not true. I never covet things. I mean people ask me now what would you like to do, now that you can do anything what would you like to do, and I look blank because I, I have a superstition about it maybe even that, that if I want something I'm not going to get it so just forget about that. Take what comes your way. Do the best with it. Be responsible as you can and something good will happen, and it has.
JOHN TUSA: So if fate had dealt the cards that you ended up as a successful Los Angeles largely commercial architect so be it, that wouldn't have worried you?
FRANK GEHRY: That's what I expected, kind of expected. I expected to be doing, I, because I'd worked with Gruen's office, Victor Gruen that is, and they were doing the beginnings of the shopping centre craze, which seemed very logical at the time, now in hindsight that seems like it was all wrong headed but I thought that with that experience in retail, in commercial projects, that I would come out and do those kind of projects because that's what I knew how to do and indeed I did a Santa Monica Place shopping centre in Santa Monica, which they're now going to tear down.
JOHN TUSA: Staying with you as a young man, you went to Europe, you didn't get on at Harvard, you hated it, and it's said that in Europe you came face to face particularly with French Romanesque and then South German Baroque architecture. I mean what did they really do to your sense of what architecture was about?
FRANK GEHRY: First of all I didn't hate Harvard. I loved Harvard. I got in the wrong pew. I was in City Planning because I thought that only I didn't want to, I'm a leftie do gooder liberal. I'm one of those dirty words now in America, and so I wanted to do better things for the, you know I wanted to do housing for the poor and city planning stuff and all that, so I went to Harvard and studied city planning, found myself in the middle of statistical government and all kinds of things which I wasn't well qualified or interested in. I went to Europe, was shocked to find the great architectural history that was, was denied us in school during the period I went to architectural school in the early fifties. It was denied us because of the, the, they'd thrown out the beaux- arts, they'd thrown it all out and they said modernism is it and we don't have to pay any attention to that and forget about it and we had a history of architecture class one hour a week minimal and they showed a few slides and we recognised cathedrals and a few buildings and that was it.
JOHN TUSA: Essentially they said that's old stuff, nothing to do with us now?
FRANK GEHRY: Yeah don't, don't bother. I got to Paris and saw, the first thing I saw was Notre Dame and I was really angry at my teachers, I said why didn't they tell us, look at this, and then I went to Chartres and I said holy cow and da da da da da. Now I was already interested in contemporary art at that time and the trend in contemporary art was sort of for a kind of toughness. They even used, used the expression is this tough enough, you know it's kind of strong images.
JOHN TUSA: But they're also tough.
FRANK GEHRY: They're tough but they're decorated. And when I got to Autun in, in mid France, the Romanesque church, it was like Nirvana I was, it was my eureka, here was Gislebertu's sculpture, the medieval sculptor and these very strong spaces and the decoration was tough and I could relate to it, and I just fell into the hall and started looking at all those churches and looking at the sculpture, and before I knew it I was studying the art of the time, the music of the time, the like I want to do, and I was totally captivated by that and I think underlying my work is a big chunk of inspiration from that. The other inspiration was from early college, before I experienced French, these things, was the experience of Japanese architecture.
JOHN TUSA: But did you discover that for yourself as well?
FRANK GEHRY: No, the Japanese was given to me by my teachers. They had just come back from, this was 1950, so they'd just come back from the War in Japan. They had seen the Japanese temples, they had seen the Shrine, they'd seen Itsukushima, and that wood style with the shojis and the tatami lent itself to Southern California because we had a wood culture here, a wham bam thank you ma'am kind of tract house thing that was with two by fours. So these professors came back with that fascination and they talked about it and they showed slides on it and they revelled in it. And there were great people at the time, Gordon Drake who taught at SC just before I got there, who died in a skiing accident, but he left some buildings that were expressions that came out of that, Harwell Hamilton Harris was much more, was more advanced in it, he was more involved in it and did some of the most beautiful quasi Japanese woody goodies as we called them, with trellises and beautiful, beautiful, beautiful houses.
JOHN TUSA: It, it's quite a, an amalgam and I want to get you in a moment to explain how these amalgams began to work in your mind. I want to ask you though about one element of modernism, and I'm not quite sure what place it plays if any in you and that is the Bauhaus, and I mean surely everything you do, all your buildings, they could not be further from the Bauhaus. Was there a period of conscious consideration of Mies, the Bauhaus School and then a rejection of what they stood for on your part?
FRANK GEHRY: Well I studied them, I was turned off by some of it, I, I, I loved Breuer's furniture, I, I didn't like most of Gropius's work, I thought that Breuer's public buildings were cold.
JOHN TUSA: And Mies?
FRANK GEHRY: Mies, it, it seemed far away from me. I looked at the Farnsworth House and I thought who the hell wants to live in that. You'd have to be rich to live there and deal with it and so since I was this quote unquote liberal that was a turn off to me.
JOHN TUSA: So was it actually a rejection...
FRANK GEHRY: I found him later, I find him later, and I found Corbu... later and I found the, the Bauhaus art interested me, Alberts interested me, the painting and sculpture, but I must say the architecture at first was, was not interesting.
JOHN TUSA: Now it's been said, and perhaps it's only in California that this openness to a variety of influences can take place, but people have said that one of the great characteristics of you was that you always hung out with artists. Somebody said Frank hangs out with artists, they're like food to him. So what is it that you get from them, I mean people like......
FRANK GEHRY: Well my first work, a little Danziger studio in 1964, which was the first sort of recognisable piece that I, that I did, the local architects came out against it publicly. They would say funny things about it. I don't know why.
JOHN TUSA: What did they say?
FRANK GEHRY: It was not honest, it was contrived, and the artists that I didn't know, I knew their work but I'd go to the job site and these guys would be hanging around, like Ed Moses and Ken Price and Larry Bell, etcetera. And if somebody rejects you and you don't quite get it and then all of a sudden here's people that are doing stuff that you really love and they're saying nice things to you and they're befriending you, you just go there. It's human nature. I mean I, I just think it, it was just as simple as that. It was, it was easy. I started having meals with them and inhaling stuff that I shouldn't have, and we talked about art. We talked, it was not critical of my work, they were, just sort of accepted me.
JOHN TUSA: But they did give you ideas though as well didn't they because I think ...berg said that your buildings are like objects that float apart like boats in a pond, and the sense of disconnected, apparently disconnected rooms was very much a characteristic of your early houses in LA weren't they?
FRANK GEHRY: I mean those ideas came from, about the disconnected houses came from of all people Morandi, so...
JOHN TUSA: Really.
FRANK GEHRY: Because I was looking for a way to break down the monolithic scale of contemporary, modern architecture. Modern architecture was big, lifeless, cold, and the only thing you could do to it to make it friendly was decorate it, and decoration was anathema because I was still, I was yet and ever a modernist right by, by DNA, so how do you, how do, how do you, how do you do it? How do you break through this thing, and it was interesting to me and I kept looking at the, the bottles that Morandi drew and they were buildings. They became buildings and they're still lifes and I, I don't think I'm the only architect. I think that Rossi also, Aldo Rossi did that too, so I wasn't, it wasn't a lone wolf discovery. It's just I took it somewhere else and so I started making these separate object buildings.
JOHN TUSA: Where the rooms were kind of connected but first of all you saw them as separate and distinct?
FRANK GEHRY: Right separate and distinct as a still life, as a Morandi, and the nice thing about that is it sort of, Phillip Johnson gave a lecture once that I attended where he said the greatest buildings in history are one room buildings, and that resonated with me that of course because the one room, the programme is, is not paramount, a one room building I mean it's going to be a shelter, it's going to be for something, but the programme isn't complicated so that the creation of the space isn't hampered by a bunch of toilets and circulation and stuff like that. It's pretty powerful. It's as close to the moment of truth that I believe a painter has when he faces a white canvas. I call that a moment of truth. And an architect has a hard time getting to that moment of truth because you've got building departments, sites, budgets and all that stuff. The one room building came close and I realised that and I then with the still life decided well if I did ten one room buildings and jammed them together I could make really beautiful spaces. They wouldn't have to be compromised, and that these could fit together and create a, a paradigm for a city, which breaks down the scale of the big building and becomes a language, a possibly language to take modernism somewhere where you don't have to resort to decoration. Now the cost of doing this is, is that you're adding extra perimeter to the building, it's more expensive and it's...
JOHN TUSA: And you have to do something around it. You have to connect it somehow don't you?
FRANK GEHRY: Well you, you touch them like you know.
JOHN TUSA: Yeah.
FRANK GEHRY: But I got through all that. I, you know you could rationalise that. You could, you could make it work and I did a few buildings like that. That language still is seductive for me. I still some, like in the MIT Building recently I, because it was going to be a big brick box and I broke it down.
JOHN TUSA: And said what are the components of this and look at each one in a separate way.
FRANK GEHRY: Right, and I could do that and.
JOHN TUSA: I know this goes dangerously close to saying it all went back to your home and your grandmother etcetera, etcetera, but I think you've said many times that you did play with her, with building blocks, and there's something about the way that you make buildings now that you are playing with wooden blocks I think on, on tracing paper so...
FRANK GEHRY: Well it's, it's play I think everybody, if you go to the biggest corporation in the, in the world and the boss, the Chairman of the Board comes in on one day and says you know we've got to break through this, we've got to get some ideas. Why don't we have a retreat, get together at a retreat and play with ideas.
JOHN TUSA: But most people don't dare to play.
FRANK GEHRY: But they do. I think that the most creative entrepreneurs understand that and do play, and I think that what my grandmother did when she brought the blocks in and sat on the floor with me was give me licence as an adult to play. I think that's what resonated.
JOHN TUSA: And that's still there?
FRANK GEHRY: Yeah, and I think it's crucial to any of us.
JOHN TUSA: That's a great gift.
FRANK GEHRY: It is.
JOHN TUSA: Some have said that your studio is like a place where performance art is, is taking place. I mean is that the kind of atmosphere that you want in, in your studio with your architects?
FRANK GEHRY: I want it to be loose enough that everybody thinks they can play with me. I, I wish it was what you had just described. It isn't. I have a hundred and thirty, twenty, hundred and thirty people.
JOHN TUSA: That's too many people playing.
FRANK GEHRY: And so I only play with small groups of them and there is I would say seventy percent of the office isn't playing unfortunately, but I try to include them but it's not easy.
JOHN TUSA: But at the centre of it there is you, and I wanted to get you to talk about what your activity is like when you draw. I mean there are two accounts that I've read of your drawing style. One is that your drawing is dancing effortlessly through a continuum of space, that's as you draw on paper.
FRANK GEHRY: I think Kurt Foster said that.
JOHN TUSA: Do you recognise that? Yeah, do you recognise that?
FRANK GEHRY: Yeah, I don't think of it that way. I, I know I draw without taking my pen off the page. I just keep going, and that my drawings I think of them as scribbles. I don't think they mean anything to anybody except to me, and then at the end of the day, the end of the project they wheel out these little drawings and they're damn close to what the finished building is and, and it's the drawing, the hand eye coordination which starts to generate this, the beginnings of this kind of ephemeral image, and it's the way from those drawings I organ..., it's strange what I do, I organise the space of a building.
JOHN TUSA: Even in these drawings where your pen never leaves the paper?
FRANK GEHRY: I organise the space horizontally and vertically quite often.
JOHN TUSA: So you're working in three dimensions in your mind even though you're just working on a piece of paper.
FRANK GEHRY: Right, right, and that is eas..., the guys that work with me, the guys and girls that work with me now know how to translate those drawings, so they take it into model form, and the, the people that I rely on now are the ones that can just move from that, those sketches into, into the building.
JOHN TUSA: And there's another account of you drawing which is slightly but interestingly different and that is that your pen or pencil quote "scrapes across the page as if torturing it to speak, as if the building were hidden or sunk in the pulp of the paper and can be brought to life through a series of graphic furrows".
FRANK GEHRY: I say there's that part of it too. I say that, and it feels like that. You know the Michaelangelo Slaves where you, you see the raw marble and these beautifully refined figures emerging from the rock and you could imagine Michaelangelo chip chipping with the chisel and creating this image and chiselling away and it's very similar, I think you, you find yourself searching for the image. Quite often I'll just go over and over and over and I'll draw twenty sketches sort of searching for something, so it all doesn't come just like that.
JOHN TUSA: I'm sure but what, what happens when you're stuck, when you keep on drawing, you keep on drawing and you think I still don't see the final result, there's something wrong, how do you handle that?
FRANK GEHRY: I go to the museum, look at a painting, quite often. I don't think of myself as ever being stuck. I think of that as some kind of weakness, that people say I have writer's block or artist's block or whatever. I don't let that happen, I just keep going.
JOHN TUSA: You don't like the idea of personal weakness do you?
FRANK GEHRY: No, and I don't think it, I don't think it has to be there. I think you just slog through it. I can imagine a writer not having an idea so you just write A B C, A B C, D E F, you know just keep writing and damn it something will come out of it or go, go to a concert, or go look at a painting, or....
JOHN TUSA: And let the mind think about something else.
FRANK GEHRY: Let the mind, yeah. It's just it does evolve and, and quite often, I'm sure what happened to me with the Morandi is I was struggling with this thing and then I all of a sudden I went and saw the, I went to a museum, saw the Morandi painting and said I see.
JOHN TUSA: That's it, yes.
FRANK GEHRY: I got it.
JOHN TUSA: Now you said you've got young architects who can now look at your drawings and can interpret what you're doing with the volumes and the masses, but you've, there was also this crucial breakthrough when you got on to computer aided design, I think a French system design.
FRANK GEHRY: Dasso.
JOHN TUSA: Yes for, for Dasso. Now what exactly did, did that do because I think most people say I want this computer aided, how can that be, how can that be creative, but it added to your creativity didn't it?
FRANK GEHRY: I don't use it as a design tool. I only use it as a check, a checking system as I design that evaluates the surfaces area, the volume and the floor area, and I have a constant check to make sure that I am within the parameters, the confines of what a building and budget, those are the issues that make the budget go up or down.
JOHN TUSA: So to put it crudely that it'll work.
FRANK GEHRY: Right.
JOHN TUSA: Yeah.
FRANK GEHRY: So that, those, I use the computer for that and then I use the computer as the interpreter too for the construction industry, and it's my way of, of becoming the master builder again, becoming parental, the issue I was talking about earlier. If you want to stay in the race and not be marginalized when the costs go whacko and the client says, turns it over to the contractor and says sweetie get out of the way.
JOHN TUSA: Yeah. Let me just go back to Bilbao because this business of where an idea comes from, the Guggenheim in Bilbao. I mean it's a very peculiar site after all. It's along the river. It's got a very uncomfortable road bridge at one end and then there is your linear wonderful object running along the edge of the river, but was there a moment when you kind of saw how it was, it was going to be in quite a detailed way?
FRANK GEHRY: Well a museum programme is probably strangely enough one of the simplest of architectural programmes.
JOHN TUSA: Why?
FRANK GEHRY: Because galleries, it's a bookstore, it's a, some administrative offices and storage. It's, and you know where they have parking or loading, but it's not a very complicated building type. And the philosophy comes from the museum itself. What, what kind of museum do they want. Tom Krens had the Frank Lloyd Wright Building, Frank Lloyd Wright Building...
JOHN TUSA: That's the Guggenheim in...
FRANK GEHRY: In New York.
JOHN TUSA: New York, yes.
FRANK GEHRY: Every museum curator in the world would say that doesn't work for, for art.
JOHN TUSA: It's too much of the architect and too little of the art gallery.
FRANK GEHRY: And Mr Krens had a difference of opinion. He, and his curator, Diane Waldman, who worked on it for twenty-five years said she never had a problem and that yes some shows look better than others, but they, they were able to work with it and they liked the stress of working with it, the, that, that it, it had a point of view. It's like meeting with somebody that's flabby and is neutral, or meeting with somebody that has a point of view. Here's, here's a point of view and you deal with it and they'd, they'd rather deal with it than have the absolute neutral, and the absolute neutral in its own way is toxic and people don't quite realise that the absolute neutral pretends perfection and it's, it, it becomes another kind of pedestal, an affront to the art.
JOHN TUSA: So what was the brief for Bilbao as a?...
FRANK GEHRY: The brief for Bilbao was there are dead artists and we should make classical galleries for them and there are live artists and we should make galleries that will confront them, like Frank Lloyd Wright did, and then he wanted a gallery four hundred feet long for a Flavan thing and...
JOHN TUSA: Dan Flavan the light, the light sculptor.
FRANK GEHRY: Right, and so we did all of those things and it was a matter of piecing them together along the river. We helped pick the site. There's this big bridge as you said, and all of those become contextual elements to relate to.
JOHN TUSA: But you could have solved all those problems within the gallery without creating a building which so to say did anything for Bilbao, or did anything for, for the city. Could have been a very interesting building and a fine gallery but not necessarily a piece of urban renewal.
FRANK GEHRY: And I think that's come up now with the Museum of Modern Art that the Museum, new Museum of Modern Art does do everything possible for art, but it doesn't deal with the city. It doesn't deal with those other issues.
JOHN TUSA: But were you consciously doing this for Bilbao or did this kind of happen afterwards?
FRANK GEHRY: No I was feeling, I deal with context. Bilbao was a context. I knew the city. It was a grimy industrial city, but again I loved it. It was very tough, it was very tough, and my old friend Richard Serra called me eight years before I went there and said I'm in this great town, you've got to come and see it because it's tough, tough.
JOHN TUSA: Yeah, lots of rusting metal around for him.
FRANK GEHRY: Right, so, and he was right. It had an incredible character to it and what saved it, what made it beautiful, what made it not like Gary, Indiana I should say, is that it's surrounded by these beautiful green hills, this necklace of green hills, so you had all this grime but it was contained in this soft bed of green. It's a kind of miraculous place actually.
JOHN TUSA: Has what it's done to the city exceeded what you would have dared to hope that a single building could do?
FRANK GEHRY: Well they asked for the Sydney Opera House. They, they asked for that. They said we want a building that does for Bilbao what the Sydney Opera House does for Australia, and I looked at him and I said okay. I didn't ever expect we'd achieve what we did, but it only was achieved because a certain amount of it is my talent, whatever, whatever you want to, however you want to judge that, but I had a incredible client and incredible City Government and, and people that were committed to doing something. And so you can't just, I don't think you can just go to a town and do what they call the Bilbao effect, I, we turn that down a lot. Here's a town that built an infrastructure with Norman Foster...
JOHN TUSA: The Metro system.
FRANK GEHRY: Metro.
JOHN TUSA: Yes.
FRANK GEHRY: But they were going to have Stirling do the railroad station, unfortunately he died. They never got it. But Calatrava did the airport. They cleaned up the city. They did a lot of stuff concurrently.
JOHN TUSA: Yes.
FRANK GEHRY: And they were committed and so our thing was the icing on the top, we were the, the strawberry.
JOHN TUSA: It holds everything together doesn't it?
FRANK GEHRY: We gave it the centrepiece.
JOHN TUSA: Yeah, now at what stage did you realise that because it was working and because of the reaction to the Guggenheim in Bilbao, that this was going to galvanise Los Angeles into saying if Bilbao can do it why aren't we building the Concert Hall?
FRANK GEHRY: Well I guess that passed my mind but I felt exonerated so to speak when the Bilbao thing happened, and people started coming to me and saying, saying nice things about it and Mayor Riordan at the time just, most things happen serendipitously I believe. He and I play ice hockey together. Just by coincidence I do it, he does it. We met on the rink and we talked in the locker room like the guys do and he said we've got to build that damn hall of yours, I really love it. Now this is a guy that had no eyeballs, doesn't understand art, doesn't, you know.
JOHN TUSA: So why did he want to build it?
FRANK GEHRY: He, I think he, he'd never seen anything like it and he heard about Bilbao and he heard what happened and he said we've got to build it. So he brought his, brought in his friend, and at that time my mortal enemy Eli Broad to run it, and Eli, God bless him, did it and, and we got through it and we're best friends now again, but it was dicey. What saved the whole thing in the end was Walt Disney's daughter, Diane Disney Miller.
JOHN TUSA: Who stood by it.
FRANK GEHRY: Who stood by it and she, I didn't know her. I, I'd met her but I didn't know her, and she stood by it because she saw the attack on my work as being similar to what happened to her father in the early days when the studios used to beat him up, and she related it to that and she said I'm not going to let that happen.
JOHN TUSA: That's a good client.
FRANK GEHRY: Very simple, and I, I give her credit. So Mayor Riordan, Eli Broad, Diane Disney Miller and my friend Ernest Fleischman taught me everything I know about classical music, and Disney Hall represents his thinking on music, his taste for music.
JOHN TUSA: I just want to go back to the ice rink, you took up ice hockey when you were sixty.
FRANK GEHRY: Right.
JOHN TUSA: What does that tell you, what does that tell me about you?
FRANK GEHRY: Oh God I'm not going to, I'm not going to do hang gliding I promise.
JOHN TUSA: I mean it's a contact sport for heaven's sake isn't it?
FRANK GEHRY: Well I grew, I grew up in Canada so that I was around hockey as a kid. I never took it seriously because we, we were very poor and we just, just, I was always working and doing things. My kids got interested in it, my two boys. I remarried, have two younger boys. I'm in my fifties and what do you do with them and when they reached ten years old or so they wanted to go skating and so I dragged, I said okay, I took them to a teacher and started going early in the morning with them and then I got bored and I said will you teach me too. The teacher said well you're too old. I don't want to waste my time on you, you know kind of thing, grumpy but finally he acceded to it and started teaching me how to skate. I learnt how to skate. I'm not great at it.
JOHN TUSA: But how do you play the game, I bet you're tough?
FRANK GEHRY: No I'm not very.
JOHN TUSA: No.
FRANK GEHRY: Hand-eye coordination works again though. The relationship with the stick, the puck to the goal is pure hand-eye coordination. I'm good at that.
JOHN TUSA: Someone said Gehry's desire for acceptance is forever in conflict with his drive for distinction, but actually with the Guggenheim in Bilbao and Disney you've got both acceptance and distinction.
FRANK GEHRY: Right, so what else do I need?
JOHN TUSA: What else do you need?
FRANK GEHRY: I don't.
JOHN TUSA: And I mean given what you said about signature landmark buildings, are you slightly puzzled to find that you have two world icons, for want of a better phrase, to your name?
FRANK GEHRY: Yeah. It's, you know it's luck. I, that's why I call it the magic trick because if I started to get into trying to deal with, with it it would be a waste of time to try to figure that out.
JOHN TUSA: What how it happens and why it works?
FRANK GEHRY: Yeah why it happens or why it works or, you know it's a combination of I must, I have a, I'm a gregarious personality. I, I want to please people so when I get a job I want to please the client, I want it to be something they like.
JOHN TUSA: Yeah but that doesn't mean leaning over backwards and saying...
FRANK GEHRY: No, no no.
JOHN TUSA: You know whatever you want I'll do, quite the reverse.
FRANK GEHRY: No, no quite the opposite, but they don't really want you to lean over backwards, they want you to be parental and they came for a parent and I'm going to deliver one. But in having said that I'm not, I don't arrogantly say take it or leave it. I never do that. I always work with them to evolve so by the time the building is designed they are a part of it enough that they love every part of it as much as I do, and quite often I get asked can't you push it a little further. I had one client, a German guy, who said, wow wow, and then I thought well he likes it. He looked at me and said, now do wow wow wow. So that was a great story, and I looked at him, but I think that clients who love the architecture, who, who come to people like me because they love architecture and they, they believe in its value, its intrinsic value that they're going to get something out of it get into it and, and become part of it and complicit and that's when it's most exciting. The people part of the process is the most exciting, in the end that's the best part.
JOHN TUSA: Is there a danger that because your buildings are so distinctive you can't just go on doing quotes a, you know, floating shaped aluminium curves. They say oh yes that's a Frank Gehry, that's what he does. Is that, is that a problem now for you?
FRANK GEHRY: It's not a problem for me but it's a problem for other people they, I get that every once in a while and.
JOHN TUSA: Why do you feel it isn't a problem for you?
FRANK GEHRY: Because I'm doing what I do and you know Mies Van de Rohe if you look at his buildings you could recognise them, they're all the same black steel, same corner detail, very similar and he's revered and I, to complete the loop I, I started to revere him. I think you recognise people's work. You would recognise Richard Serra wouldn't you?
JOHN TUSA: Oh yes.
FRANK GEHRY: Okay, does that make his next piece less important than the one?
JOHN TUSA: No.
FRANK GEHRY: Okay so.
JOHN TUSA: Okay.
FRANK GEHRY: Defence rests.
JOHN TUSA: What advice would you give a young architect starting out today?
FRANK GEHRY: Be themselves is the most important thing I think. Not every person has the same kinds of talents, so you discover what yours are and work with them. Don't try to be me, or try to be Frank Lloyd Wright, or try to be I M Pei. Try to be yourself. You have to understand what drives people to build buildings. There's a big economic imperative in it and you have to respect that. You have to respect it not just say the dirty old developer or the greedy developer, because I've been through it a lot with them and quite often they go broke these greedy developers and they do play thin, close to the edge, and you have to respect that they are as surprised at the end when the thing makes money sometimes as, as everybody, but they don't know it until they get there and so many things can happen, so that there is a need to kind of respect it and learn to work with it, learn to work within it and these constraints aren't so bad. There are, of course there's exceptions. There are the, the Donald Trumps of the world who you know, stay away from him.
JOHN TUSA: But that would also be part of your advice to the young architect.
FRANK GEHRY: Yeah.
JOHN TUSA: Work, use the constraints as, as a discipline however brutal that seems.
FRANK GEHRY: Right, and there are enough good clients in the world that you know if you do public museums and concert halls and stuff you're dealing with boards and, and fund raising in America, in Europe it's, it's public money, so there are different arenas you learn to play in. I don't think you have to pander, I think you have to stand up and, and let people know where you stand and you have to be patient, it takes a long time to develop a language and the proficiency and the technical proficiency to do a building like Bilbao. You can't, can't do it day one and, and I think the kids that come into architecture. When I give talks now I show all the early work, the very first, the little garage room models, the funny little houses, the failures, the stuff to show them that this language, I didn't drop out of a tree one day and there it was. It's taken years to do.
JOHN TUSA: I bet that puts them off.
FRANK GEHRY: Well there's a, everybody wants to be famous now I guess and they want it right away. They want to come out of school and some of them get there. It's strange how some kids can manipulate the system and, and become rock stars in their thirties, but I don't, I don't know whether it lasts. I don't know, I hope it does. I mean there's lots of ways to skin the cat, I don't think my way was the only way it just happened to be my time and the cards that were dealt me and I just worked with them.
JOHN TUSA: Frank Gehry thank you very much.
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