Last week, one of our greatest living architects received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The 87-year old, Canadian-born Frank Gehry stood alongside such luminaries as Bill & Melinda Gates, Tom Hanks, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jordan, Ellen DeGeneres, Robert De Niro, Robert Redford, Maya Lin, Diana Ross, Lorne Michaels, Vin Scully and Cicley Tyson in receiving the honor from President Obama.
With most of the honorees, you can dial up their work on your computer to see their movies, TV shows and music. For Gehry, it’s best to see his work in person.
The most accessible destination to see his work is in his hometown of Toronto at the Art Gallery of Ontario. It’s a place where architecture is the art. The baroque staircase you see in the atrium gives the visitor the experience of being a part of the structure. While being functional, it connects the old design from the 1970s to the present. Like a lot of Gehry’s work, it’s not symmetrical. As you walk up or down it, the staircase widens and narrows.
In the United States, one of most visited designs is the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles. Construction took twelve years and $274 million for one of Gehry’s signature works.
The structure that stands out the most is the affectionately titled Fred and Ginger building in Prague. In a town that is celebrated for it’s old world charm, the original building was one of the few in the city that was bombed in World War II. You can blame the U.S. forces on that one.
Completely in 1996, the “Dancing Building” serves as the office for Dutch insurance company Nationale-Nederlanden and was once the residence of Czech president Václav Havel. Since it’s an office, it’s not open to the public, but it’s easily viewed along the Vltava River on the Rašín Embankment.
No trip to Bilbao, Spain is complete without a visit to the Guggenheim. It’s Gehry’s masterwork that transformed a city from an industrial port to an art, design and culture destination. “Some people may say my curved panels look like sails. Well, I am a sailor, so I guess I probably do use that metaphor in my work – though not consciously,” said of his work.
Back in America, Gehry’s wave and steel design contributed to the unique experience that is Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture. When I visited in 2014 it was called the Experience Music Project. It’s Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen tribute to creativity in rock music that evolved into an all-encompassing, non-conformist museum to popular culture.
As for the future, Gehry has submitted designs for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial in Washington, D.C. If its ever complete, that’s another story. As this Washington Post headline attests to — The proposed Eisenhower memorial is a monstrosity. Speaking of monstrosity, the 7 Spruce Street apartment complex in downtown New York is pretty hideous and serves the 1%-ers who live there.