Experience Music Project
DJC.COM Special Issue © June 15, 2000
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By ANNU MANGAT
If you saw him on the street, you probably wouldn't guess that this grandfatherly, diminutive guy is the architect behind the design of Seattle's wildest architectural ride, the Experience Music Project, a high-tech rock 'n' roll museum.
Not only doesn't he look the part, but 71-year-old Frank Gehry, considered the hottest architect in the world right now, doesn't particularly like rock music or computers for that matter. He prefers classical music and working with his hands.
He's affable and approachable, yet also surprisingly blunt. Asked why he turns down commissions from New York real estate mogul Donald Trump, Gehry, on a recent visit to Seattle, said "because he's a jerk."
For EMP founders Paul Allen and his sister Jody Patton, he has kinder words, of course, saying he's "lucky to get clients like these."
Contradictions and ironies probably shouldn't be so unusual in an architect who subverts almost everything about design. Some critics say he's more of an artist than an architect. His response: "I don't think there's a gap between art and architecture."
He's been criticized for ignoring context and imposing his unusual designs on a site, but he says the Seattle Center, with its amusement park rides, is the right backdrop for the EMP. Plus, he says he wants to be a good neighbor.
And, despite his mega-star status, people's opinions about the EMP do matter to him. "I want people to like this stuff."
Gehry says the undulating, metal-clad EMP, his first commercial project in the Pacific Northwest, is "supposed to be a lot of fun. It's about rock 'n' roll." The inspiration for the design, he said, was the paraphernalia of rock's heyday -- from Jimi Hendrix's smashed guitars to the faded red pickup trucks of musicians -- and the discordant, frenetic nature of the music itself. But, he said, the references aren't literal. "I was trying to invent my own language." A Toronto native, Gehry moved to Los Angeles at the age of 18 with his family. Born Frank Owen Goldberg, Gehry changed his name in 1954. He received an undergraduate degree in architecture from the University of California at Los Angeles.
Evidence of his independent spirit surfaced in his days as a graduate student at Harvard. According to biographical accounts, a heated argument with a professor propelled his departure from school and the East Coast. Ending his brief sojourn in Harvard's department of planning, Gehry returned to Los Angeles with his wife and family in 1957.
In 1962, he an opened office in Santa Monica. His architecture has undergone an evolution from clean modernist lines, typical of his design in the '60s, to the remodel of his home in the late '70s, famous for its use of chain link fencing and corrugated steel. His current penchant is for organic, curvilinear metal shapes.
He has also experimented with the design of irregularly shaped, corrugated cardboard furniture. Named Bentwood, the furniture became commercially available in the late 1980s. In 1985, he designed a graceful 70-foot-high fish sculpture made of chain link mesh. The sculpture is one of three components of a waterfront restaurant in Kobe, Japan.
The project is one of many that incorporates Gehry's fascination with fish shapes. He designed a 160-by-100-foot golden fish sculpture, made of stone, steel and glass, for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.
Among scores of awards and accolades he's won over the years, he received in 1989 the Pritzker Architecture Prize, considered the profession's highest honor.
Among Gehry's better-known, completed projects are:
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