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Book: Gehry Draws

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gdrawing.jpgThis is not your pretty-color-photo architecture portfolio books . As the title suggests, it is mostly a book of Gehry's drawings, all of which are about as detailed on the one shown here; in other words, it is many, many pages of scribbling. Ignoring the pretentious-art-historian essay at the start of the collection that compares Gehry's sketches to Durer's works and extols Gehry's use of grundlinie, the truth is that many of Gehry's sketches are thirty-second efforts (p. 126). I would prefer if the book focused more on the models, but then it wouldn't be called Gehry Draws. Also, as the models are built by his staff, it is really only the drawings that can be said to be Gehry's work.

This is not to say that the drawings are not interesting. At first I was put back by having to look at scribbly sketches, but after awhile you get a sense of the rhythm and form Gehry was trying to communicate. I still find it impressive that his staff can look at the drawings and translate them into 3-D models, then again, I don't have Gehry standing next to me to pantomime the form in the drawing. It is these models that are the key to the book -- the juxtaposition between drawings and models makes the models Rosetta Stones for scribble interpretation. Also, the models are pretty.

I most enjoyed the section on the Lewis Residence, which was a house designed in collaboration with Philip Johnson and Richard Serra (among others) but was never built. Six years were spent iterating the design for the house and it reads as a transition point into the trademark wavy style -- Serra's influence on Gehry becomes more obvious. Gehry has described the project as being like a research fellowship where they got to hone their physical- and computer-modelling techniques.

There are occassional quotes by Gehry and his staff in the book (though they are poorly edited tnough to have frequenty spelling errors). I especially like Gehry's quote, "There was a period when I used to look into my wastepaper basket and fantasize buildings and forms," as well as this quote about designing the office space for MIT's Stata Center:

We then made models showing [the MIT faculty] the ways different cultures might deal with this problem. We had a scheme based on a traditional Japanese house with panels that could open to combine spaces and close shut for privacy. They hated that because there was no hierarchy. Then we gave them a scheme based on a colonial American house with a central hall and rooms around the bottom and rooms around the top. But they didn't like that either; it was too formal. Then one of our team members made an "orangutan village" around a tree with elders higher up and the children below it. At first they were insulted. They thought we were calling them apes. But in the end they chose the orangutan village.

more quotes in the extended review

p. 120

I used to think that we architects were crusaders, that we were going to save the world. Boy, did I get that beaten out of me early. Nobody really cared. That was personal stuff, about making your own mud pies and showing them to somebody and getting approval. I think once you realize that's what you're doing, once you accept that, then you can contribute something and not sit around worrying about it.

What happens as a matter of course, though, is that , when you make your own mud pies and they become intriguing for a wider range of people, you get some power. Then you are asked to comment on other areas of the world and you become part of a forum that can influence other things. The trouble is that you can abuse that position if you assume that expertise comes with the approval, if you take advantage of that kind of pseudo-expertise. Architects, after all, are not social scientists.

p. 184

Every architect I talk to is concerned with social issues -- housing the poor and solar energy, not that they know anything about solar energy, they just pick up on it, like it was good for mankind. Every few weeks there's a new one. Pollution. Toxicity, that's a good one. We were using lead coating on one of our buildings and were told there may be a problem -- but no one really had a clue. Finally someone said, "If you lick the building for six months, you'll die!"

I don't feel I have any messianic social statements to make. The problems in Los Angeles, for example -- the growing tension between Black and Latino communities, homelessness, the trouble on the freeways -- are problems for us as people, they're not necessarily within the architect's capacity to deal with. We ought to stick to what we're best at. Architecture isn't a social science, it's an art.

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This page contains a single entry from kwc blog posted on November 4, 2005 12:17 AM.

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