“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.