Design & Style, Arts & Entertainment

Neighborhood and Context

Frank Gehry

Lesson time 07:00 min

When he starts a new project, Frank knows it's crucial to consider a building's surroundings. In this chapter, he'll share his techniques for situating his work within existing landscapes.

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Topics include: Design elements that reference your neighbors • Design for human interaction first and neighborhood scale second


I try to work with context as an important part of it. And I think Paris got built, and they built Paris a cote, they called it. It's La Defense. So they built all the modern stuff at the end of the Champs-Elysees. And so it's just got its own world, and it doesn't interfere with the 19th century Paris that we all love. So you have both. There's a lot of ways to do it. I think it's just a human-- humanity thing, a sensitivity to it. I'm not suggesting that we all make 19th century buildings. I'm far from it. I'm talking about humanity scale, that the 19th century respected, and we should also respect. These places are for people. The scale of a tower in Manhattan is determined by economics and zoning. And the feel of the tower or the space or the building can be iconic and self-referential, or it can be a friend to the neighbors. You can talk to its neighbors. It can become part of a neighborhood. In the case of the Beekman Tower with the Bernini folds on it, I was looking for a way to talk to the Woolworth building that was next, nearby, and to the Brooklyn Bridge. So I tried to talk to and make an ensemble with them, so that the terracotta bands on the Woolworth building are a certain width. And I used that same width for the Bernini folds on the Beekman building. The building, the Woolworth tower, had breaks, like the New York towers did. You go up a certain number floors, and they're set back. And then there's another section, and there's another section. In the case of the-- there were two breaks in the Woolworth Tower, so I made two breaks on the Beekman tower. Our building's bigger, so it's got to be set-- laid back a little, so it's not overpowering the Woolworth building. The ensemble, when you photograph it together, does work. You see a relationship between Woolworth's, Beekman, and the Brooklyn Bridge, and it talks to you. And for me, that's kind of an ideal city model, when you're working in dense cities that somehow to-- everybody's trying to be an iconoclast. You see-- and you get one kind of city. And then everybody trying to even be an iconoclast, but even be a friend, at the same time, creates another kind of city. So I think they're not mutually exclusive, and it's something worth considering for the world we're building, because most people don't like what the cities look like. So maybe there's another way. When you're designing a new neighborhood, the scale you select or work with starts with economics, of course, with the program that relates to the land value, relates to the marketing, and all that kind of stuff. And that's serious stuff, and that does dictate a lot of things about heights and all. But there's a lot of variety within that, and that's up to us to discover that, to explore that, to take, try, different model groupings, and try and see how they fit. The new Grand Avenue projec...

About the Instructor

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.

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Frank Gehry

In 17 lessons, Frank teaches his unconventional philosophy on architecture, design, and art.

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