Master of his own design: Becoming Frank Gehry

Canadian-born Frank Gehry has been called the greatest architect of our time. And yet he's still a rebel in his field. A complex and engaging man, who's been open about his disdain for the media, gave IDEAS producer Mary Lynk a rare chance to talk with him in California.
Canadian architect Frank Gehry outside the Walt Disney Concert Hall. ( REUTERS/Robert Galbraith)
Listen to the full episode53:58

Canadian-born Frank Gehry has been called the greatest architect of our time. And yet he's still a rebel in his field. His sensual, sculptural buildings reject the cold minimalism and glass boxes of Modernism, and the ornate flourishes of post-modernism. A complex and engaging man, who's been open about his disdain for the media, he gave IDEAS producer Mary Lynk the rare chance to talk with him in California. This episode is part 2 of a series called Master of his own design: Conversations with Frank Gehry. It originally aired October 13, 2017.

Frank Gehry on the question of mortality 2:03

Understanding the creative genius of Frank Gehry

(Andy Hines)
To understand the creative genius of Frank Gehry is to understand the importance of asking: why? Frank Gehry 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?

On Modernism
"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

(Andy Hines)
Frank Gehry: Afterwards [with] the old Jewish guys hanging around, I started talking to them about the Maftir and the meaning of it, and what I had just said — thinking that they understood it, so we could discuss it. They didn't know what the fuck I was talking about — they were just waiting for the Schnapps.

And I really got pissed off and I went home, and I said forget it.   

Mary LynkAnd 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 on why he has gone to a psychoanalyst for most of his life. 0:41

Web Extra | Frank Gehry talks about a building that moves him to tears
Frank Gehry talks about a building that moves him to tears (videographer Andy Hines) 0:59

Web Extra | Frank Gehry on why creators must take risks
Frank Gehry on why creatives must take risks. (videographer Andy Hines) 1:18

Frank Gehry lives in Los Angeles. His company is called Gehry Partners, LLP

Related websites:

Further reading:

  • 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.


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