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Grotto-like … Inside Zaha Hadid’s Guangzhou Opera house. Photograph: Dan Chung for the Guardian

Frank Gehry completed his first Manhattan skyscraper, 8 Spruce Street, and it proved to be a powerful and robust affair – swirling and muscular. Meanwhile, Mattel Toys launched Architect Barbie, an incarnation of the doll that wears those black-framed glasses so beloved of practitioners, as well as a dress embroidered with a city skyline. She has a pink case for drawings and a model of a pink Dream House to show clients. Is this what inspired Justin Bieber to announce that he would like to have been an architect?

It was very much Zaha Hadid’s year. She won the Stirling prize for the Evelyn Grace Academy school in Brixton, London; attended the opening of her opera house in Guangzhou, China, with its grotto-like auditorium; and completed the Riverside Museum, Glasgow’s charismatic new transport museum on the banks of the Clyde.


Jonathan Glancey

In architectural circles, the town of Owatonna, Minn. is best known for its extraordinary Louis Sullivan bank, a design whose mastery of color and ornament remains as fresh today as it was when the bank was completed in 1908.

Now, Owatonna is home to a second architectural jewel–a Frank Gehry-designed home, the Winton Guest House, which was originally built on in the suburbs of Minneapolis and has since been moved to the University of St. Thomas in the town.

Writing about the house when the move was announced in 2008, Architectural Record magazine observed: “Gehry’s innovative yet playful 2,300-square-foot house is composed of a series of diminutive spaces clustered together under various sculptural forms: a pryramidal roof defines an atrium, a wedge-shaped space shelters the bedroom and bath, a curving trapezoid shapes an office, a cube encloses a cozy fireplace alcove, and a rectangle encloses the kitchen and garage.”


Blair Kamin
Chicago Tribune

New World Center: Frank Gehry designed this home for the New World Symphony in Miami Beach (Moris Moreno for The New York Times)

Can an architect save classical music? That seems to be what Michael Tilson Thomas, the artistic director of the New World Symphony, was counting on when he hired Frank Gehry to design him a new music center.

Like others running classical music institutions today, Mr. Thomas is struggling to connect to a younger audience. The 81-year-old Mr. Gehry, who used to baby-sit for Mr. Thomas, 66, when both were living in Los Angeles, built his reputation as an architect with a knack for tapping into the popular imagination.

Together they have created a building, opening here on Tuesday, that spills over with populist ideas, sometimes to the point of distraction. Enclosed inside a simple stucco box, its raucous interior forms — a pileup of rehearsal studios joined to a 756-seat hall — are part of an effort to break down the emotional distance between performers and the public, and in doing so to pump new life into an art form that is often perceived as stuffy and old-fashioned.


Nicolai Ouroussoff
New York Times

Years in the works, a planned Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem took a significant step forward this week when the Simon Wiesenthal Center unveiled new architectural designs for the structure, saying that the museum is likely to be completed in four years.

The new design, which was created by the Israeli firm Chyutin Architects, calls for a six-story structure — three stories below ground and three above — with approximately 150,000 to 160,000 square feet of space. By comparison, the Center’s main facilities in Los Angeles total about 110,000 square feet of space.

The complex is expected to feature exhibition space, a theater, an educational center as well as an outdoor sunken area in front of the building with a garden and amphitheater.

With an estimated price tag of $100 million, the new museum is significantly less expensive than the one designed by Frank Gehry, which would have cost at least $250 million, according to the Center.

Earlier this year, Gehry and the Center decided to part ways on the project in part because the Center’s board of trustees wished to downsize the museum in response to the slumping economy.


Culture Monster
Los Angeles Times

A detail of the Stata Center at MIT. Photographer: James S. Russell/Bloomberg

The $300 million Stata Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology doesn’t look much like a research lab. Its brightly colored collision of angular and cylindrical forms seems to line-dance down dour Vassar Street in Cambridge.

Many observers assumed the 720,000-square-foot, nine-story collage couldn’t work as a research center either. Then came a lawsuit.

After the building opened in 2004, it developed several problems, including leaks, cracking bricks, mold and globs of snow crashing on the sidewalk. MIT sued Stata’s architect, Frank O. Gehry, and Beacon Skanska, its builder, in 2007 without naming a figure for damages.

The skeptics gleefully piled on. John Silber, the former president of Boston University, called it a disaster. He had put Stata on the cover of his book “Architecture of the Absurd: How ‘Genius’ Disfigured a Practical Art.”

Many commentators presumed that Gehry was heedless of practicalities, that Stata’s spectacular form was purely artistic whim and that MIT had nothing better to do than indulge its celebrity architect. Witold Rybczynski, architecture critic at the website Slate, made Stata the star of a cavalcade of alleged architectural failures last February, the implication being that bad things only happen to famous buildings.


James S. Russell

The Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas was designed by architect Frank Gehry. (Photo: Isaac Brekken, For The Times)

Frank Gehry’s buildings can look unfinished or unruly — even a bit chaotic. But they often have surprisingly direct metaphorical stories to tell.

Walt Disney Concert Hall is a joyously informal ship of state for a city keen to come together, if only for a few hours, in a collective experience. Gehry’s own house in Santa Monica, a modest pink bungalow the architect wrapped in colliding layers of corrugated metal and chain link, is an unabashed affirmation of the workaday, un-pretty built landscape of Southern California.

In the case of Gehry’s newest project, the riotously sculptural $100-million Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas, the story is about the depths — and ultimately the limits — of the human mind.


Christopher Hawthorne
Los Angeles Times

The Stata Center at M.I.T., designed by Frank Gehry (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Associated Press)

When architects cannot erect they write, and thus we can expect an imminent increase in publications by underemployed practitioners of the building art. However, good times or bad, producing books has been mandatory for architects ever since the modernist masters (and masterly self-publicists) Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier committed their ideas as well as their plans to print.

Frank Gehry, the most acclaimed American architect since Wright, is not a ­natural-born writer. To satisfy the considerable demand for personal explications of his work, Gehry, who turned 80 in February, has avoided the agony of authorship and cooperated with several interviewers on transcribed texts during the past decade. The best of them — the architectural historian Kurt Forster’s “Frank O. Gehry/Kurt W. Forster” and the curator Mildred Friedman’s “Gehry Talks” (both released in 1999) — contain valuable insights into the subject’s idiosyncratic approach to a profession he has recast as an experimental art form and advanced as a technical discipline.

Barbara Isenberg’s “Conversations With Frank Gehry” is the latest attempt to elicit the essence of his creative method in his own words. Isenberg, a Los Angeles-based writer on the arts, exhibits neither Forster’s intellectual sheen nor Friedman’s comprehensive expertise, but nonetheless offers worthwhile new information for architecture devotees and an engaging introduction for general readers.

Doubtless eager to remain in her subject’s good graces, Isenberg poses few questions of the confrontational sort that wise interrogators withhold until the end of a session, lest they be shown the door. For example, from her upbeat recapitulation of Gehry’s Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn — a large-scale mixed-use urban redevelopment centered on a professional basketball arena — you’d never know that the scheme has aroused heated opposition from community groups and planning experts, or that its future is imperiled by the current economic crisis.

Isenberg is no Oriana Fallaci, that fearless guerrilla of take-no-prisoners Q. and A., but she occasionally goads her subject into revealing responses. For example, ­Gehry (né Goldberg) is vexed by her query about his adopted surname. He defensively counters that Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn also assumed new nomenclature, and wonders, “Why are people so interested in the name change?” — an odd complaint from the biggest name in contemporary architecture.

Until the stupendous success of Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum Bilbao — which opened in 1997 and rendered his false modesty preposterous — the architect cultivated the persona of a neurotic bumbler much like Woody Allen. In “Conversations With Frank Gehry,” he finally admits it was just a pose. As he explains, “Architects in New York . . . were kind of attracted to me as long as I was subordinate to them. As soon as I came out with work that got attention, there was kind of a backlash from them. . . . They think I’m an ‘aw shucks’ guy and then I turn out to be every bit as ambitious as they are.”


Martin Filler
New York Times

Photo: New York Times

For Frank Gehry – the man who reinvented the Art Gallery of Ontario – what matters most about this week’s grand reopening is feeling the late Ken Thomson would have approved.

“It sounds terribly romantic,” the 79-year-old architect said yesterday in an exclusive phone interview with the Star, “but I had a strong feeling as David (Ken’s son) and I were working on installing his collection, we could feel Ken’s presence.”

It is a deep regret for Gehry that Thomson, who died in 2006, will not be there for the opening. And now, owing to a family medical emergency, Gehry worried he might have to cancel plans to fly here today by private plane for tonight’s black-tie thank you dinner in the AGO’s Baillie Court and tomorrow’s media conference.

How the AGO project developed, Gehry revealed, is different from what he was orginally asked to do: design a new building near the south end of Grange Park to house the Thomson collection.

If Gehry does make it to the opening, he will surely receive a hero’s welcome. And what he is most proud of is how the art looks.

“There are these fashion trends widely emulated in the gallery world,” Gehry says.

“If you love art, you have to pay attention to how you show it. Putting things on a pedestal hurts the art and I didn’t want to do that. It’s a miracle, but the galleries for Ken’s Canadian collection are the best I’ve ever done. Even with white cubic spaces we managed to give them soul.”

It’s clear from the emotion in Gehry’s voice that what matters to him more than the opinion of the world, the critics, the Toronto public or even the AGO brass is feeling he has done right by the late benefactor, who triggered this project by donating his art collection and $70 million.

These two aged titans had little in common, on the face of it, except both had once lived in Timmins, both were hockey fans and both became dominant figures in a league of their own.

Thomson grew up the privileged son of a ruling press baron, Roy Thomson, and found through collecting art a way to establish his own identity.

The future architect grew up Jewish (as Frank Goldberg) in a community of struggling immigrants.

But it was the bond between these two that enabled the project to overcome a daunting series of obstacles.

Regrets? He has a few (as the song goes).

Chief among them: “Barton Myers used to be a friend of mine. That weighs heavily on me.”

Myers, who moved to L.A. 20 years ago, is the noted architect who designed the AGO’s 1992 renovation. And Myers takes a dim view of what he calls “the destruction” of his building.

“It was not my intention to mess with Barton’s building,” says Gehry, explaining that he was originally asked to design an addition to the AGO that would have been built on land occupied by the Ontario College of Art & Design. “It was all a matter of budget constraint,” says Gehry. “The AGO would have needed an additional $100 million they didn’t think they could get. I asked Matthew Teitelbaum (CEO of the gallery) to call Barton and explain that taking down his building was not my idea.”

The upshot: “We did the best thing we could do on our budget; a very complicated way of interweaving things within a structure that had been remade many times. There are a few details I’d like to modify and maybe some parts aren’t exactly right, but on the whole I think it works surprisingly well. I’m still hoping I can get up there at some point this week. And I like to think Ken would be proud of what we’ve done.”

Martin Knelman
The Star

Saw-toothed glass dances in a conga line above leaping arcs of metal roof at the Peter B. Lewis Science Library at Princeton University. The signature hand of Frank Gehry is unmistakable.

But where are the books?

The stacks you’d expect to find in a building housing collections as varied as astrophysics, biology and statistics have largely been banished to a surprisingly small high-density storage space in the basement.

The New Jersey university, with Gehry Partners LLC, has embarked on a difficult task: to reinvent the library for an age when information largely takes on electronic rather than print form.

Lewis, 74, chairman of auto insurer Progressive Corp. and a Princeton graduate, is a longtime Gehry champion. He gave $60 million toward the building’s $74 million budget.

But is the whole idea of a library itself obsolete, as more students use the Internet to do their research from home?

“Dorm life is too distracting,” said Dorothy Pearson, Princeton’s associate university librarian for administrative services, in a phone interview. She said the students go to the library to focus on their work.

One never expects a Gehry design to be a sober monument to scholarship, and the Lewis library is no different. Its gregarious explosion of forms sits among a growing complex devoted to a broad range of sciences and related fields. It draws from them all.

Jitterbugging Skylight

The entrance is a butterfly winged vestibule that opens to a great, angular fissure of space. High overhead, a jitterbugging skylight lights a pathway through the building. The library visibly pushes itself into the fissure in great serrated sheets of glass. It almost impales a separate pair of chunky wings, one appropriately capped by a roof in the profile of a prone question mark. They house teams that concern themselves with what is replacing print: information technology, new media, and computational science and engineering.

The twisting passage is conceived as a cafe-table dotted street, paved in honey-toned Spanish limestone. Since many disciplines share the classrooms, library and a media lab, the street intends to promote collaboration and that holy grail of research: the casual hatching of a groundbreaking idea.

“Libraries are becoming more a space where people come to access data and also more of a study space, research space and to some extent, a social space,” said Gehry Partners’ Craig Webb, the library’s project designer, in a phone interview from Los Angeles.

Yellow Squiggle

Though a few reference books and print journals can be found at the entrance, the library otherwise signals its new role from the minute you step in. Its information desk — a canary yellow squiggle — invites consultation with librarians. Upstairs, students find three levels of glorious high-ceilinged, light- filled study space.

These rooms, as high as 20 feet, are dominated by the jagged planes of glass visible on the exterior. They form bays that open to vistas across the campus, and they contemplate Gehry’s spectacular roofscape. Hidden windows beautifully balance the light. These spaces are the contemporary equivalent of the cathedral-style reading rooms that are the icons of Collegiate Gothic campuses everywhere.

The architectural pyrotechnics recognize that students choose work places as much for their qualities of silence and light as for their location or connection to a given discipline.


Numerous group-study rooms encourage collaboration. The most prominent is what the Gehry team has dubbed the “treehouse,” because its arcing, overlapping ceiling forms tuck themselves among mature trees. With large tables, it resembles an upscale dining hall more than a reading room, and may prove just as noisy and freewheeling.

The Lewis bears a family resemblance to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s far larger Stata Center, a Gehry design controversial for its cost and for leaks now being litigated. While Stata is expansive and bustling, jammed with research teams that swarm the place night and day, Princeton’s library feels chillier (especially the sterile classrooms), genteel, and more introverted.

The Lewis just opened for the fall term and it’s too early to tell if it will become Princeton’s central focus of scientific inquiry. Other universities are watching, worrying about the silence gathering about their own book stacks.

Then again, as a place to curl up with a laptop — maybe even a book — it’s pretty hard to beat.

James S. Russell

New York has never been very nice to the Los Angeles architect Frank Gehry…So Mr. Gehry’s 76-story Beekman Tower, which is under construction just south of City Hall and whose latest design was released on Friday, should be considered long overdue.

Mr. Gehry’s tower…harks back to the euphoric aspirations of an earlier age without succumbing to nostalgia. Like Jean Nouvel’s recently unveiled design for a West 53rd Street tower, which suggests shards of glass tumbling from the sky, it signals that the city is finally emerging from a long period of creative exhaustion.

The design has evolved through an unusual public-private partnership. In an agreement with New York education officials, the tower’s developer, Forest City Ratner, agreed to incorporate a public elementary school into the project. Forest City was responsible for the construction of the school; the Department of Education then bought the building from the developer…

The Beekman Tower is thus a curious fusion of public and private zones. Clad in simple red brick, the school will occupy the first five floors of the building. Atop this base will be the elaborate stainless-steel form of the residential tower, which will have its own entrance along a covered porte-cochere between Beekman and Spruce Streets.

Only a few blocks from ground zero and Wall Street, the shimmering tower’s hypnotic pull will significantly reconfigure the downtown skyline.

A classical T-shaped plan and sharp corners give the building an unexpected heft. As the structure rises, its forms will step back slightly, subtly breaking down the scale and bringing to mind a series of stacked toy blocks. The pattern shifts at each break, setting the composition slightly off balance and injecting an appealing sense of vulnerability.

Yet what makes the tower so intoxicating is the exterior skin. Before dreaming up the design, Mr. Gehry checked into a room at the Four Seasons Hotel and spent days gazing out at the skyline. He experimented with dozens of configurations, from stoic to voluptuous, before opting for facades etched with a series of soft, irregular folds.

This pattern strikes a perfect note. The folds evoke rivulets of water, crinkled sheets of aluminum foil, melting ice; their effect will be heightened by light and shadow dancing across the surfaces over the course of a day.

Some of that emotion carries over to the interiors. The exterior folds are not merely decorative flourishes; they create a series of bays inside each of the apartments. The walls inside echo the dreamy, undulating pattern of the facade, as if the building were melting.

Mr. Gehry was not allowed to tinker with the layout of the actual apartments. But in today’s real estate climate, where brokers impose the most conservative limits on design to maximize profits, this detail should be considered a major victory.

If the project has a weakness, it is the disparate levels of creative energy invested in the building’s public and private spheres. Partly because of the budget constraints facing a typical public school, Mr. Gehry settled on a relatively straightforward design for the base. Its brick cladding, pierced by big industrial windows, verges on austere.

So far the school’s interiors, designed by the New York firm Swanke Hayden Connell, seem dully conventional. By contrast, the residential tower’s entrance is invested with all of Mr. Gehry’s characteristic flair. Wavy panels made of steel trelliswork hang from the entry’s ceiling; big squat columns frame views to a small public garden outside.

Such is the world we live in today. Under current circumstances the Beekman Tower is not a minor victory.

A lesser architect might have spoiled one of the most fabled views in the Manhattan skyline. Instead Mr. Gehry has designed a landmark that will hold its own against the greatest skyscrapers of New York. It may even surpass them.

Nicolai Ouroussoff
New York Times