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Gehry puts his finger on…the wrong target

Media appearances are usually so sanitised, with big-name architects acting almost like film stars, that it is fascinating to watch when somebody like Frank Gehry loses his cool. ArchDaily reports an exchange with Frank Gehry at a press conference in Oviedo, Spain. Asked by a reporter to respond to critics’ claims that he produces ‘showy architecture’, Gehry gave the reporter the finger and said, ‘Let me tell you one thing. In this world we are living in, 98 percent of everything that is built and designed today is pure shit. There’s no sense of design, no respect for humanity or for anything else. They are damn buildings and that’s it.

‘Once in a while, however, there’s a small group of people who do something special. Very few. But good god, leave us alone! We are dedicated to our work. I don’t ask for work. I don’t have a publicist. I’m not waiting for anyone to call me. I work with clients who respect the art of architecture. Therefore, please don’t ask questions as stupid as that one.’

Don’t you just love his feistiness? But actually, Gehry is both right and wrong. Whether or not you are a fan of his style, Gehry’s buildings are certainly showstoppers. They are the central point, the focus of developments. And of course, we would not want all our buildings to be like that. We need the quiet buildings, the background from which the stars can emerge, the placemaking. There is nothing wrong with quiet buildings, and some of the world’s best architects design them. The problem is that so many of them are so bad. Let’s use the dreaded ‘icon’ word. When iconic architecture goes wrong, it usually does so spectacularly. If you don’t love it, you can love to hate it. And if it doesn’t work well, it may be a colossal waste of money, but it is ‘only’ an arts centre or a theatre or a swanky hotel. Was your gourmet meal a disaster? What a pity, what a waste of money. But you won’t starve.

If however your daily food is inadequate, or lacking in nutrients, or poisoned, that will have long-term implications for your health and wellbeing. And if your daily buildings – your home and office and shops and schools – are bad, then you may be too cold or too hot or unwell, or impeded in your daily life or just unhappy because your surroundings are so unappealing. It is really disastrous that so much of our everyday architecture is so bad. Gehry is right. But we don’t need more Gehrys to sort it – we probably have enough stars. We need more architects designing decent and occasionally beautiful buildings for every day. And of course, the clients and the money and the environment to let it happen. So Gehry is kind of right, but a little off target. Great to see such anger and such bad manners though.

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