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What Is Frank Gehry’s Design Philosophy? Learn About Frank Gehry’s Work and Creative Process

Written by MasterClass

Jun 25, 2019 • 3 min read

In its most basic form, architecture is the study and practice of building construction. Its objective to provide safe, study shelter that will last for many years. But architecture can easily extend beyond mere utility. The most impactful architects design structures that serve as works of art, as cultural statements that impact and inspire their surrounding communities. In order to make an artistic and cultural impact, great architects like Frank Gehry cannot be merely versed in engineering and material properties; they must operate with an actual philosophy.

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Who Is Frank Gehry?

Frank Gehry was born in 1929 and raised in Canada until he immigrated to Los Angeles,
California, in 1947. Gehry graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture degree from the University of Southern California in 1954. From 1969 to 1973, he designed a furniture line called Easy Edges. The curved, swooping forms of his chairs, all constructed from corrugated cardboard, foreshadow the movement he wanted to express in future designs like the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the Dancing House in Prague. Gehry has won many awards, chief among them the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1989 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016.

What Is the Cultural Importance of Frank Gehry’s Work?

Frank Gehry was initially known as a furniture designer. But from the 1980s onward, he has achieved world renown as an architect. Some of his more famous designs include:

  • The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain
  • The Vitra furniture factory in Basel, Switzerland
  • The Barcelona Fish—commissioned for Barcelona’s waterfront in preparation for the 1992 Olympics
  • The Rasin Building in Prague, Czech Republic
  • The Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota
  • The Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles
  • The Marqués de Riscal Hotel in Elciego, Spain
  • Gehry’s own home in Santa Monica, California

What Is Frank Gehry’s Design Philosophy?

Gehry sees the world as a collision of thoughts represented through buildings, music, and art that is not properly expressed through the simplicity of the neat, clean squares of Modernism.

The white boxes that are the architectural hallmarks of the twentieth century—while beautiful—can be unfriendly. Gehry sees this kind of architecture as overpowering to the lives of the people who live in them and instead advocates for buildings and interiors that serve as a background for life.

According to Gehry, the mission of an architect is clear: “To design something that one would want to be a part of, something one would want to visit and enjoy in an attempt to improve one’s quality of life.”

Gehry considers architecture to be the quest to transfer the feelings of humanity through inert materials. You want to create a feeling or emotional response that is not only comforting but enlightening.

How Does Frank Gehry Apply His Philosophy to the Buildings He Designs?

According to Gehry, an architect’s goal is to engender an uplifting and positive experience through her design. Gehry attempted this with the Walt Disney Concert Hall, creating a space in which a reciprocal relationship between the feelings of the musicians and those of the audience could flourish. He consciously tried to understand what would make performers and listeners feel comfortable.

He also put thought into the surroundings of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, as he wanted the building to relate to the neighboring structures. If a building competes with or diminishes its surrounding community, it fails to promote the inclusiveness that Gehry incorporates into his personal philosophy.

Your Philosophy Extends Beyond Your Personal Self

Gehry implores his students to always be curious, and let architecture open the door to different subjects, such as philosophy, literature, and music. Regardless of your profession, he advises, you must apply the self-propelled creativity required of an architect to your field or daily life.

He also advises architects to study the greats—Le Corbusier, Zaha Hadid, Lina Bo Bardi, Borromini, Bernini, Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, Oscar Niemeyer, Louis Kahn, Julia Morgan, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Eliel Saarinen, Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright. But remember: that it is your conscience, your talent, and your mind that has a responsibility to others.

Specific texts that have inspired Gehry include:

  • Splitting by Gordon Matta-Clark
  • The writings of Robert Smithson
  • Studies of Le Corbusier, considered a pioneer of modern architecture

Learn more about design philosophy and architecture in Frank Gehry’s MasterClass.