Master of his own design: Becoming Frank Gehry
To understand the creative genius of Frank Gehry is to understand the importance of asking: why? He was brought up in the Jewish tradition of always questioning, always looking for a deeper meaning — and that is how he approaches the design process. Gehry became famous in his late 60s, when his extraordinary design for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain became a reality twenty years ago. In this episode, the architect provocateur reflects on his childhood — including the abusive relationship he had with his father, whom he loved dearly. Frank Gehry is now 88: what does mortality mean to an artist who can't stop creating?
"Somehow the Modern movement took off. With some people worrying about humanity, and then 98% of the world didn't care. Just: wham, bam, thank you ma'am… It created a cold environment."
On the Talmud and creativity
The Talmud starts with the word 'why'. And so [in] the Jewish religion, all those guys sit around the table and ask "why?". [The] Rabbi [says], this guy did this and why that guy? And then they argue whether he did it or not. And they do that for weeks and months and years of their lives. That curiosity, asking why about everything, is embedded in our lives from childhood, if you're in a Jewish family that teaches Talmud. So I think a lot of creativity in the Jews comes from that beginning.
On why he stopped being religious on the day of his Bar Mitzvah in March 1942
And I really got pissed off and I went home, and I said forget it.
Mary Lynk: And you stop believing then, do you think?
Frank Gehry: I stop being involved, yeah. I don't know about believing. My closest friend in high school, Ross Honsberger, who just passed away — he was a Christian, not religious, came from a quasi-German [family], his mother and father were dour, you never really talk to them much.
He loved coming to my house. He loved my mother. He used to hang out with us all the time. And so he and I decided to challenge religion: atheism versus theism, and we wrote a thing. He wrote it mostly, and I have a copy of it somewhere. We went through the Bible and found inconsistencies and contradictions and we listed them. I think we had 135 or something. I suspect it was New Testament we were jamming with. So we became known for that. The word got around and so none of the girls would go out with us — you couldn't get them to go to the dance with us, or anything (laughs).
Frank Gehry lives in Los Angeles. His company is called Gehry Partners, LLP.
Web Extra | Frank Gehry talks about a building that moves him to tears
- 29 Spectacular Buildings designed by Frank Gehry
- Architecture in the age of Gehry
- Notre-Dame du Haut – one of Frank Gehry's favourite pieces of architecture is the chapel by Le Corbusier, in Ronchamp, France.
- Frank Gehry, Frédéric Migayrou (Editor), Aurélien Lemonier (Editor), Prestel Publishing, 2014. (Catalogue created in conjunction with the exhibition Frank Gehry, first held at the Centre Pompidou, Paris.)
- Building Art: The Life and Work of Frank Gehry. Biography by Paul Goldberger, Published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.
**This episode was produced by Mary Lynk.