Frank Gehry:

By Lindsay M. Mielecki

EDP 180 H

 Fall 2001


“When everybody else is ready for the ending, I’m just ready to begin,” Frank Gehry once wrote.  “It’s been the story of my life” (qtd. in Templer, 1999, pp.1)


Laying the Foundation

            Born on 28 February 1929 in Toronto, Canada, Frank O. Goldberg entered a household with a strong Polish and Jewish heritage.  Twenty years earlier, Thelma Caplanski left Poland with her parents, a couple with deep religious morals.  Once they settled in Toronto, the two decided to change their last name to Caplan.  The owner of a hardware store, her father was also the president of a synagogue.  His wife, Frank’s grandmother, was said to have good visual abilities.  Thelma would continue working with the Jewish community through a Yiddish theater and the Jewish Women’s Organization as she raised Frank.  Like several of Howard Gardner’s figures, Frank was close with his mother and grandmother. 

            Frank’s father, Irving Goldberg was born to Polish immigrants in Brooklyn, New York.  He lived a hard life and had to work as a kid after his father died when he was 11.  Since Irving liked to fight on the streets for money, Frank would learn these skills at a later age.  Frank would later be a boxer and participated in full contact karate.   When Irving moved to Canada as he moved from job to job, he met Thelma and they ultimately got married.

            A good student, Frank went to a Hebrew school and his best subject was math; he even spoke Yiddish (Hines, 1986).  In later years, his French schooling would give him an advantage while he worked in Europe (Hines, 1986; Templer, 1999).  For seven years, he worked in his grandfather’s hardware store where he began to notice the variety of supplies that surrounded him.  With the assistance of his grandmother, Frank would take home extra scraps and they would build small cities together.  The Goldberg family relocated to Timmins, Ontario during Frank’s adolescent years.  Unfortunately, during these times, Frank saw how mean kids can be as he was given the nickname “Fish”.  People did not accept his religion, Judaism, and the nickname was supposed to put him down but Frank would later use that as a basis for his some of his creations.  During this time, he explored atheism because of these difficulties (Hines, 1986). 


Finding and Designing Love

After Frank’s father grew sick, the Goldberg family moved to Los Angeles where some of the family already resided.  Ironically, they lived in an apartment that was close to where the Loyola Law School would be built in later years, according to Frank’s blueprints.  At this time, the family was struggling for money and Frank had to find a job.  He worked as a delivery truck man who installed breakfast nooks.  It was through this job that Frank would meet Anita Snyder, a woman who he married later in 1952.  Two years later, with the permission of his family, Frank decided to change their last name to Gehry.  The couple had two daughters and the three followed Gehry to an army base in Georgia (Hines, 1986) and then to Paris (Hines, 1986; Templer, 1999).  Eventually, got divorced in 1966.  Frank’s relationship problems are similar to those that Gardner refers to in his geniuses’ lives (Hines, 1986).  Yet, Frank got remarried ten years later to Berta Isabel Aquilera, an immigrant from Panama.  She picked out the present house that the family lives in and the one that Frank redesigned (Eisenman, 1991; Hines, 1986).  They share two sons, Alejandro and Sami (Eisenman, 1991).


Building an Education

            While attending the Los Angeles City College, Frank continued his work while trying to uplift his negative spirit.  Soon, he was a part-time student at the University of South California. Originally, Frank was going to art school but he changed his mind. Once he was a full time student, Frank began to realize that architecture was a field he could thrive in.  Frank met architect student Arnold Schreir by way of his first mentor and it was with him that he created his first work, a house addition.  Also, he had sketches published in Cross-Cultural Magazine; its editor was his art professor. 

            After graduation, Frank joined the army, with the title of Private First Class, and his family left California for Fort Benning, Georgia.  His skill was recognized and soon he was designing furniture.  This was the first peak into what would be an amazing collection of furniture for the young architect.  Then, he worked with different materials to create sculpture-like creations on the base; these concepts resurfaced later also.  Once Frank left the service, he studied City Planning at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.  Part way through the year, he decided he was unhappy with the major due to its vagueness so he just finished out one year there (Hines, 1986).


Mentors as Support Beams

            While attending U.S.C., Frank worked for Victor Gruen Associates and he returned there shortly after leaving Harvard.  In Los Angeles, Frank also apprenticed with Pereira and Luckman.  Frank left Los Angeles for Europe; in Paris, he worked with Andre Remondet.  After a year, in 1962, he returned with his family and created his own firm, Frank O. Gehry and Associates, Inc. (Levene et al.., 1995; Hines, 1986).  One of Frank’s peers, Gregory Walsh, who he attended college with, became an associate (Hines, 1986).  In time, Frank would employee about 140 employees in eight countries (Guggenheim).  His main office in Manhattan would span over 1,000 square feet (Temko, 1993). 

            Over the years, Frank has collaborated with many of his colleagues and peers.  In Barcelona, Spain, he worked with Skidmore Owings and Merrill.  Also, Frank befriended architecture Peter Eisenman, who wrote Peter Eisenman and Frank Gehry, a book including a dialogue between the two architects.  Because Frank seemed to understand artists, he joined sculptures Claes Oldenburg, Coosje van Bruggen (Hines, 1986; Templer, 1999), and Richard Serra in exhibitions.  Plus, he found acceptance in friends like artists Kenny Price, Ed Moses, and Ron Davis.  Frank explained how he felt like “an outsider” with some of his architect peers because he does not always follow their rules (qtd. in Templer, 1999, pp. 2?).  It wasn’t until later when Frank began to receive awards from his peers that he would feel accepted.  Yet, he did not let the lack of support from his architect peers halt his designing.  Frank even said once, in 1984, that “being accepted isn’t everything” (qtd. in Temko, 1993, pp. 255).   


A Blueprint of His Architecture

            Frank built his reputation slowly and it began with furniture.  He won himself a name with Easy Edges, an affordable furniture line.  It consisted of “fully functional chairs, stools, tables, and one ottoman [which] were life-size squiggles rendered in laminated cardboard” (Templer, 1999).  After this line came out, Frank designed a second line titled Rough Edges.  These pieces were not as smooth and flowing like Easy Edges.  They were more expensive than the first line because less were built.  Later, Frank would produce another line called the Gehry Collection (Templer, 1999).



                        (Rough Edges)                                                          (Easy Edges)


Frank’s career began to take an even bigger step towards fame when one of his artist friends asked for his help.  For this friend, Ron Davis, Frank built him a new house with an art studio.  Together, they worked on the plans for it and tried to incorporate Davis’ art and style.  Here, Frank began to develop his own personal style also as he started to use natural materials.  It was finished in 1972 (Bletter, 1986).     


(Ron Davis’ Studio)

            After Berta and Frank Gehry bought a pink house in Santa Monica, California, he remodeled it by using an interesting combination of metals, fencing, concrete, wood, and glass in 1978 (Templer, 1999).  To blend together the remodeled parts of his house and the existing house, Frank worked on the original interior.  He exposed the wooden support beams (Architect, 2001).  The Gehry house used to attract tourists and students alike who came to see the new piece of art so he later remodeled the house more to seclude it from visitors on the street (Templer, 1999).


(Frank Gehry’s House)


            Steadily, Frank began to get more acknowledgement as an architect and he received more jobs.  From the early 1970’s, Frank has been commissioned to build many houses, museums, institutes, restaurants, and office buildings.  Each job meant something new; from learning how to incorporate chain link fencing into houses to building a house on a slope to making single rooms merge as one house, Frank has proved he is a master in his field (Bletter, 1986).  Frank explained his mentality when he said, “I approach each building as a sculptural object, a spatial container, a space with light and air, a response to context and appropriateness of feeling and spirit” (Pritzker, 2001). 

            In 1984, Frank began work on a special project with his artist friends Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen.  Camp Good Time was going to be up in the Santa Monica Mountains.  The challenge was that it was for children with cancer and the camp had to be very uplifting, as its name indicated (Bruggen, 1986).  They used a theme that combined sailing and simple representations of fun.  For example, the kitchen and dining room was in the shape of a milk can.  Rooftops looked like sails and an upside ship provided shade (Bruggen, 1986; Temko, 1993).  Unfortunately, the camp this team developed was never built because some of the supervisors decided it was not the type of camp that children would really like.  The drawings for the camp are beautiful and are another true testiment to Frank’s artsy, architect talent (Bruggen, 1986).

            Frank started to draw some sketches for the Chiat/Day building, a building, which was to house a well-known advertising firm.  He knew that this needed to make a statement and eventually called on Claes and Coosje again.  Together, they designed the binoculars, which would serve as the main entryway into the structure (Architect, 2001 ; Bruggen, 1986).  Inside, the building was airy and full of skylights to keep the offices and meeting rooms full of light (Architect, 2001 ).  On one side of the binoculars are copper beams that look like the branches of trees.  The other side is rounded and resembles a piece of a boat (Bruggen, 1986).  Finished in 1991, the Chiat/Day building has a “surprising façade”, which is one of the reasons that it is “one of Gehry’s most recognizable commissions” (Architect, 2001).


(The Chiat/Day Building)


            Frank’s Nationale-Nederlanden building has earned itself the nickname “Fred and Ginger”, which describes the image the building creates.  Yet again, Frank designed a building like no other with curves that caused a feeling of movement, almost like dancing.  This seven story building is a corner in Prague in the Czech Republic (Templer, 1999).  Built by a bridge, “Fred and Ginger” look out over a river.  Ginger is a dress made out of glass panels that then have a link to a cylinder, or Fred.  The windows in the building move up and down, an idea Gehry had used only once before (Architect, 2001 ). 



    (Glass “Dress”)                     (“Moving” Windows)                    (“Fred and Ginger”)


            Its titanium exterior reflects the sunlight that shines down on city of Bilbao, Spain.  This museum, the Guggenheim Museum, has given the city a name and attracted tourists from around the world.  Finished in 1997, the building was the turning point in Frank’s career (Architect, 2001).  Mixing glass, limestone, and mostly titanium, Frank made the building have flowing appearance.  The Guggenheim was the first time that he used titanium, which created more critics and admirers of Frank.  Some look at it like art, as a sculpture itself.  So many people were impressed with the finished product that the field of architecture was changed by this museum.  People began to realize that architects are vital in creating an atmosphere through a building for any company.  Frank’s wonderful work put him in the running for some important job offers and it also brought his skill to the attention of several award committees and juries (Templer, 1999).  Yet, writer Karen Templer says, “There’s no reason to believe that, when all is said and done, his Guggenheim will stand out as his masterwork.  After all, this is Frank Gehry” (1999).     



        (Guggenheim Museum under construction)                               (Titanium Curves)

File written by Adobe Photoshop® 5.0

(Guggenheim Museum at night)


            When Walt Disney’s wife, Lillian, donated 50 million dollars in his memory to built a concert hall for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the business people involved knew this project was huge.  After holding an architect competition, the jury picked Frank Gehry.  At this point, Jury chair Nicolas Koshalek explained, “[Frank] is at a period in his career in which he has the potential to design one of the greatest buildings of the twentieth century.  He is an architect of the highest ability…” (qtd. in Eisenman, 1991).  Frank’s sketches and models for the buildings were unbelievable.  Surrounding the building with gardens, Frank put skylights throughout the ceiling to allow light in to shine down on the beautiful pipe organ and the many rooms inside.  There was a gift shop, a restaurant, a museum, an amphitheater, and a six level underground parking lot.  Holding over 2,400 people, the concert hall has a platform for the musicians underneath a ceiling that resembles a boat.  For the musicians, Frank created a lounge, excerise room, dressing rooms, practice rooms, and a café.  The outside was going to remind people of a graceful flower (Eisenman, 1991).  Due to Frank’s reputation with working with metals as exteriors to his buildings, the chairpeople on behalf of Lillian Disney, wanted the original limestone outside to be changed to metal.  Luckily, this change occurred before construction and now the Disney Concert Hall is awaiting its grand opening in 2002 (Templer, 1999).


(Disney Concert Hall)

Designing Patterns

            After designing many buildings and creating many sculptures, Frank has demonstrated several patterns in objects and styles that he enjoys using.  Due to his old school-time nickname “Fish”, Frank found himself using them as his trademark.  For example, he has a line of lamps in the shape of fish.  Also, he built a restaurant in Japan that is a huge 30 feet high fish.  Both cyclone fencing (Temko, 1993) and metal cladding (Guggenheim, ) are two materials that Frank uses often.  Plus, he usually likes to incorporate the flowing movement of sails or hulls of ships into his projects.  Fellow architect refers to Frank’s style when he says his buildings are “distinguished by [the] innovative use of color and natural local materials in the creation of highly individualistic, sculptural structures (Eisenman, 1991, pp. 1).



                        (Fish Lamps)                                              (Fish Restaurant in Japan)

Earning Recognition

            Over the years, Frank has held many received many honors and awards.  During the beginning of his career, he worked at several universities.  After a year as an assistant professor at the University of South California, Frank later went to spend a year at the University of Los Angeles.  He was visited the Universities of Harvard, Rice, and California.  For five inconsecutive years, Frank held the Charlotte Davenport Professorship in Architecture at Yale University; then, one year he held the Eliot Noyes chair at Harvard University.  Later in his career, Frank would be given honorary doctoral degrees from five different universities. 

During these periods of time, Frank found himself elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architecture.  Following this honor, Frank became a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.  Then, the American Academy of Arts and Letters awarded him the Arnold W. Brunner Memorial Prize.  He was the first recipient of the Lillian Gish Award and also given the 1992 Imperiale Award in Architecture.  Frank was named a trustee of the American Academy in Rome and an Academician by the National Academy of Design.  Plus, he was awarded the Wolf Prize and the Pritzker Architecture Prize, which is a heavily coveted award in his field (Levene et al., 1995  ).

In the speech presented by someone on behalf of the jury for the Pritzker Award, they referred to his work as “refreshingly original and totally American”, “controversial”, and “a unique expression of contemporary society” (Pritzker, 2001 ).  They even compared him to one of Gardner’s genius figures by saying Frank was “always open to experimentation, he has as well a sureness and maturity that resists, in the same way that Picasso did, being bound either by critical acceptance or his success” (Pritzker, 2001).

Creating Controversy

Frank has undoubtedly changed architecture and forged ahead into new territory.  Architecture critic Allan Temko thinks that Frank is the “hottest “architect-artist” in America” and that his “method has produced buildings which in many ways are unlike any ever built before” (1993, pp. 253).  Plus, according to the critic Paul Goldenberger, “ [Gehry’s works] are among the most profound and brilliant works of architecture of our time” (qtd. in Eisenman, 1991, pp. 1).  Unfortunately, on the other hand, some of Frank’s peers are skeptical of his different styles.  For example, some feel that by moving forward in such a way, he is making works that are radical, awkward, uneasy, and too startling (Pritzker, 2001).  One critic even referred to the buildings as “a lunar lander in search of its moon” (qtd. in Templer, 1999, pp. 1).  On the television show Frasier, Dr. Frasier Crane mentions Frank and how he dislikes his works (Templer, 1999).  Throughout his career, Frank has dealt with positive and negative criticism.

  Constructing a Reputation

            While Frank received the Pritzker Prize in 1989, the Guggenheim was not finished until ten years later; this was his true masterpiece.  Journalist Karen Templer referred to Frank as “a creative mind” and she also mentioned how the Pritzker Prize jury recognized his “represents a superlative contribution to the field” (1999, pp. 1-2).  This is also discussed in the article discussing the awarding of the Prize when Frank’s job offers are described as “ever-larger and increasingly international commissions…marked by an impressive, hard-won clarity and order” (Pritzker, 2001).  Personally, I feel he has definitely deserved every one of them and I am sure Frank will exceed every expectation.




Bletter, R. H. (1986). Frank Gehry’s spatial reconstructions. In The Architecture of Frank Gehry (pp. 25-62). New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc.


Bruggen, C. (1986). Leaps into the unknown. In The Architecture of Frank Gehry (pp. 123-158). New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc.


Eisenman, P. (1991). Peter Eisenman and Frank Gehry. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc.


Hines, T. S. (1986). Heavy metal: The education of F. O. G.. In The Architecture of Frank Gehry (pp. 11-24). New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc.


Kandela, P. (2001). The buildings of Frank Gehry. The Lancet, 358, 677-678.


Levene, R. C., et al. Frank Gehry 1991-1995. El Croquis, 74/75, 5.


Temko, Allan. (1993). No Way to Build a Ballpark: and Other Irreverent Essays on Architecture. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.


Templer, K. (1999, October 5). Frank Gehry. People.


(2001 November 14). Frank Gehry: Architect. Guggenheim Museum.


(2001 November 14). Frank Gehry:Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate 1989. Complete

List of Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureates 1979 – 2001


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