Design, Photography, & Fashion

Business

Frank Gehry

Lesson time 9:38 min

Frank Gehry and Associates have been a bustling business since 1962, a monumental feat in the world of architecture. In this chapter, Frank shares how he runs an ethical, creative, collaborative, and profitable business.

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Frank Gehry
Teaches Design and Architecture
In 17 lessons, Frank teaches his unconventional philosophy on architecture, design, and art.
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My father used to tell me I wasn't going to be-- I wasn't a businessman. So I assumed I wasn't a businessman. I've run an office since 1964. And it's been profitable, and everybody gets paid, and everybody gets a Christmas bonus. That's since 1964. I started out with that personal mandate that I wasn't going to have free labor, because that's a disease that happens in the profession. A lot of people get work by doing a lot of free work. And the way they get to-- if they can afford to do it, they get a lot of student labor and don't pay them very much. And it's a slippery slope. And I've never done it. Even the youngest intern that comes to my office, even though they don't expect to get paid, get paid. I don't borrow money either. That was the other thing I didn't do. So I didn't have any, but I didn't borrow it. The little house that got me all in a notoriety, I only spent $50,000 on it. You don't have to be super rich to do this stuff. I think you have to have the heart, and the will, and the tenacity to not fold under pressure and understand your responsibility in the game. So that's the business model, if you want, if you call it that. And I followed that, and it worked. I can tell you it works. If you have a sense of responsibility toward your client, toward making a building, toward creating, you also have to have a responsible construct in your own office so that there isn't a failure along the way that puts the client at risk. So there has to be a sense when you're being hired that there is a responsible financial entity that's not going to fail at a crucial point in the relationship. So running the office responsibly so that it has that financial integrity is really important, because there are a lot of my brethren who don't pay attention to it as a priority. That meant I had to work a couple of all-nighters and do a lot of stuff, because I couldn't afford the first project. Slowly, it became possible to hire people. And slowly, it became possible-- but creating that discipline has worked for me. And it's not it's not a get rich discipline probably, but it has been a solid financial discipline. That's something I'm really proud of, that we've been able to do it. I don't talk about it very much. It's probably one of the first times I talked about. I was trained in the '50s and was fortunate to have teachers that talked about how you build buildings. And so the design process included constructability. If the architect doesn't have complete control or the budget and constructability all the way from beginning to end and it's not the sort of the master builder then nine or 10, they would be over budget. And then the owner freaks out, and the owner turns to the contractor. And the contractor and the owner then concoct ways to reduce the budget. And the architects marginalized in that conversation. So...


Create the extraordinary

At 19 years old, Frank Gehry was a truck driver taking sculpture classes at night school. His vision for what architecture could accomplish went on to reshape our cities’ skylines and the imaginations of artists and designers around the world. In his online architecture class, this master builder invites you into his never-before-seen model archive for a look into his creative process.



Reviews

4.7
Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

I am not an architect, yet I'm a big fan of architecture and the buildings done by Frank Gehry. I was particularly inspired by his wisdom, his approach to the creative process, and the way he seems to manage himself, his profession and his business. I found his comments on "healthy insecurity" and embracing the "creative block" quite illuminating and useful. Great class. Not just for architects.

Well, it amazing to hear from a real architect master, his thinkins, knowledge, feelings, skills, and personal behabour. It was a very nice opportunity to learn from him, and see him as a normal human.

An inspiring teacher. I loved how he makes his world come alive, how he shares what moves him and what worked for him. Enjoyed listening to him and found him a true inspiration.

Being an entrepreneur, musician and artist this course reinforces the idea of being true to yourself. Persevere. explore, overcome. Challenges provide nutrients for expanding ideas. Love the Masterclasses. Thank you for producing them.


Comments

A fellow student

Frank has integrity and wisdom. He invests in his team members and is always prepared.

Graeme R.

This is such wise and essential advice, and yet so many architects and members of other creative professions make the mistakes that Frank Gehry discusses. The architect-contractor relationship is traditionally fraught with disrespect, indiscipline, and dispute, and yet little seems to change, because few have Frank Gehry's integrity and discipline.

Suchada

I gain insight about business model as well, i just need to understand my responsibility. I see.

Mia S.

"I made the presentation of this building that had a lot of movement, feeling - explained it in detail, what the intentions were, why I did it, and how it got there, talked about how to build it. The client group, the board applauded me, and I got a very positive response from them. The contractor said, 'Well it's a great design, but you can't build it.' So that was a non-starter. Fortunately, the way we work, we're very thorough. And I think this is the important thing, is to not be caught like that. We had carefully gone through the most difficult parts of the building to build, and had mocked them up in actual full scale and solved technically. We'd mocked them up in our parking lot - I invited everybody downstairs to look at the parking lot, these complications which the contractor said could not be built. He looked at it and said, 'Oh, I didn't know what you meant.' That contractor unfortunately is out of business; I'm still working. Give confidence to the people who are paying for it that they're on the right path with your work. I think that's really important if you're going to be in this profession - if you're going to build buildings, you've got to know how to build them. The construction industry is at least 30% waste, if you talk about global warming and you think about the amount of waste in the construction industry worldwide, equate that to energy lost and all that, it's a big number. Nobody's really paying attention to that. Our drawings are made in two-dimensional drawings for a three-dimensional building, which leads to misunderstandings. And those misunderstandings are built into the general contractor's pro forma of 15% for change orders. And every client expects they're going to pay that 15%, and they don't complain. And with the technology we have, we can overcome that and eliminate that. We've done it now, we've created a company and use aircraft software, and have clocked savings in the 15% to 20%. The tower in New York, the exterior curtain wall - all the curves - was done with no change orders, because of the clarity of the drawings and taking responsibility."

Mia S.

"I had to work a couple of all-nighters and do a lot of stuff because I couldn't afford the first project. Slowly it became possible to hire people, but creating that discipline has worked for me. It's not a get-rich discipline, probably, but it has been a solid financial discipline. That's something I'm really proud of, that we've been able to do it. I don't talk about it very much. I was trained in the '50s, and the design process included constructability. If the architect doesn't have complete control or the budget and constructability all the way from beginning to end, and it's not sort of the master builder, then 9 out of 10 they would be over-budget and then the owner freaks out, and the owner turns to the contractor. And the contractor and the owner then concoct ways to reduce the budget, and the architect's marginalized in that conversation. Now, the American Institute of Architects has proposed a model of the architect, contractor, owner being partners in the development of a building - which sounds wonderful, except that inevitably the owner and the contractor will prevail, and the architect will be marginalized. The contractor can always say, 'Oh that costs too much,' or 'You can't do that.' In the battle, the heat of battle, so to speak as these things are going on, it's easier to say that than to say, 'Wait a minute, let's try to figure this out and see if we can realize the architect's idea - there must be ways we can negotiate this' - which is how we do it. You have to be prepared to challenge that, fight it, and fight it to the ground, until they finally see the light and agree that they can do it for the budget. If the architect has done his job, his or her job, well - they can prove that."

Mia S.

"My father used to tell me I wasn't a businessman, so I assumed I wasn't a businessman. I've run an office since 1964, and it's been profitable - everybody gets paid, and everybody gets a Christmas bonus. I started out with that personal mandate that I wasn't going to have free labor, because that's a disease that happens in the profession - a lot of people get work by doing a lot of free work, and the way they get a lot of student labor and don't pay them very much. It's a slippery slope, and I've never done it - even the youngest intern that comes to my office, even though they don't expect to get paid, get paid. I don't borrow money, either. That was the other thing I didn't do. I didn't have any, but I didn't borrow it. The little house that got me all the notoriety, I only spent $50,000. You don't have to be super rich to do this stuff. I think you have to have the heart and the will and the tenacity to not fold under pressure and to understand your responsibility in the game. That's the business model, if you want, if you call it that. I followed that and it worked; I can tell you it works. If you have a sense of responsibility towards your client, toward making a building, toward creating - you also have to have a responsible construct in your own office so that there isn't a failure along the way that puts the client at risk. There has to be a sense, when you're being hired, that there is a responsible financial entity that's not going to fail at a crucial point in the relationship. Running the office responsibly so that it has that financial integrity is really important. A lot of my brethren who don't pay attention to it as a priority."

Vikas D.

This lecture sums up all the major traits required for a professional- thorough working, financial discipline, face the reality, provide practical solutions, build bottom up and walk the talk!

Larissa S.

"Frank contends that one needn’t be rich to be successful in the field of architecture." In the architecture's profession we often work hard and double to receive even a third of what we deserve for our time and work. I believe that sucess is a result of a great job with ethical, creativity, collaboration and hard work.

Michela G.

f everyone were to reason with Frank Gehry, we will certainly work better and be more motivated. It is not conceivable to work for free

Salomé O.

The idea that Frank Gehry had the company and the financial is very encouranging for we young architects, because in my country is very common the company don't employ the young architects for the experience , if they hire you , they pay you the minimal salary.