Gehry to Planners: Drop Dead

From Catherine V on flickr

From Catherine V on flickr

Can’t help but mention this – from the UK’s Independent, a conversation with architect (but not a fucking starchitect, damn it) Frank Gehry: (hat tip – planetizen)

“I don’t know who invented that fucking word ‘starchitect’. In fact a journalist invented it, I think. I am not a ‘star-chitect’, I am an ar-chitect…” Just 10 minutes into the interview, Frank Owen Gehry, the world’s most feted building designer, is already a bit irate. A short, owlish man, who looks younger than his 80 years, he speaks quietly when left to his own devices, and meanders, never quite finishing one train of thought before it segues into the next. When he is tackling something more contentious, though, he relaxes and becomes animated. His head rises and so does his voice. He even smiles. This is a man who likes a scrap.


But other charges are a little harder to dismiss – or at least they rile him rather more. Shouldn’t he make some more socially relevant buildings? Aren’t his designs too extravagant? Times are tough, after all. This lights the touchpaper as effectively as the s-word. “We are architects … We serve customers!” he barks. “I can’t just decide myself what’s being built. Someone decides what they want, then I work for them. Look, I went to city planning school at Harvard and I discovered that you never got to change a fucking thing or do anything. Urban planning is dead in the US.”

So that’s urban planning dealt with. Gehry doesn’t really do discussion.

Thanks for the kind words, Frank. Infrastructurist chimes in with their thoughts:

Is urban planning in fact dead in the U.S.?

Short answer: No, but it has some serious health problems. When you consider the massive projects in areas like Tysons Corner and the efforts of New York’s Janette Sadik-Khan, it’s clear that innovation in urban planning hasn’t entirely met its demise — though granted, there are certainly problems with our accepted paradigms for city planning, such as the idea that cars should be the locus of urban design.

It’s always interesting to me to see what ideas and topics people will pawn off on the faceless profession of ‘urban planning.’  So, the field gets no credit for innovative policies and designs, yet has to bear the burden of past mistakes and zoning codes?  In the comments, BeyondDC nails the real reason planning and planners are so important:

Only an egomaniac would think Gehry’s stylistic contributions to pop culture make a bigger difference than writing the laws that guide development. Please.

It’s easy to think you’re providing real change when you’re creating shiny titanium monuments, but that doesn’t do much for the everyday spaces we inhabit and use on a daily basis.  Planning isn’t (and shouldn’t be) about doing what Gehry’s done for architecture – deconstructing buildings and making everything a bright shiny object – so it’s no wonder he thinks the profession is dead.  That’s not how cities work, nor is it how they are built.

But, if we’re in need of a new sculpture or a new monument, we know just who to ask.

3 comments to Gehry to Planners: Drop Dead

  • I saw this on GGW and, in honesty, I’m not sure I see the great insult. I actually really liked the interview. In the time I’ve been around GGW, my respect for Gehry has substantially increased. I’ve seen his buildings work really well, and I’ve seen people hate on him for no reason other than his fame. Maybe more so, people hate on him for 2-3 buildings that they’ve never seen. I don’t get it. As he points out, his management practices are remarkably effective, but people only talk about the costs of his buildings when they go over budget. People want to see his buildings as baubles.

    Perhaps he’s clueless. I’m sure he wants more freedom than planning affords. But I have seen, as a few commenters mentioned on the post, a lot of people see these grand plans that give hope and promise to an area, but then find them trampled under foot. Even in the Safeway debate, the comprehensive plan has become a sort of joke. The political failure of Miami 21 is perhaps a bigger-scale problem. Think also of Nir Buras’ grand urban plans So it’s not terribly surprising that someone with as artistic a temperament as his would be frustrated.

    You know, the press doesn’t get into the details of window detailing. Much urban planning is like that, just as much architecture is. But while architects get the flashy face on top of the endless red-lining, city planners get very little public notice. It’s as though everything is sausage stuffing in planning now – and this is what he sees.

    I do see, however see the insult in denigrating his buildings, most of which are not shiny and are not monuments. I really wouldn’t like to be called a starchitect either. I’m not bothered by your takedown of old man Goldberg (my employer, who is Jewish, brings up his real name all the time), but I am a little disappointed at the beating of old horses.

  • Alex Block

    I guess where I take the ‘insult’ (and that might be a little strong, as planners get ‘insulted’ all the time) is that the kinds of methods he uses to change things via architecture won’t work to change things via planning. They won’t work on a large scale. It’s a tension that always exists between planning and design. The troubles that Atlantic Yards has run into bear this out, to some degree.

    The point is, even with the political failure of something like Miami 21 (which I’m not giving up on yet) is an attempt to change the system in which cities operate and develop, while Gehry’s work just does an end-run around that.

    I actually like a lot of Gehry’s buildings for what they are (my junior prom was held in one of his buildings, actually), but I find it funny that he bashes planning as a field – because if we were to apply his methods to planning, I don’t think the end result would be positive at all.

    I guess that’s part of the tension between architecture and urbanism, between planning and design. That, and his cranky old man attitude caught my eye.

  • I think the word is dismissed, really.

    That said, Gehry might design a great greenfield city.

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