Design, Photography, & Fashion

Design Philosophy: Part 1

Frank Gehry

Lesson time 9:50 min

Over the course of his storied career, Frank has developed a series of hard-won philosophies about design and architecture. In the next two chapters, he passes these philosophies on to you.

Frank Gehry
Teaches Design and Architecture
In 17 lessons, Frank teaches his unconventional philosophy on architecture, design, and art.
Get All-Access


You know that guy, William Shakespeare? You've heard of him? And you heard of what he said. "All the world's a stage." That comment? I think that was-- that's pretty true. We're all on stage. We're all actors, acting out our lives on stage. And the stage is the background, are the buildings we build. They should be human friendly, respectful of people. They should engage you. So I would say 98% of the cities around the world don't do that. John Cage said, "Not knowing cheers the knowing." And I think that's pretty much my philosophy too. I have always felt that, if you know what you're going to do in advance, then you won't do it. That's like jazz. They don't know exactly where they're going, and somebody plays a few notes, and then they pick up, and they do it. And creativity, I think, in all fields including business, including science, starts with the unknown. So you gotta be curious, I think. And not be afraid to be curious. And you've got to find your own voice. I mean, we can talk about it here, in this kind of format. But if I have a New York City developer client that wants me to do a 70-story tower, and I tell them, "Not knowing cheers the knowing," he'll kick me out of the room. So it's not something you can broadcast, in a way. It's just the way you work. We live in a world that's basically a lot of-- a collision of thoughts is surrounding us. And it's represented in the buildings, and the music, and art. And so the idea of having a neat, clean box seems like a lie. The messiness is kind of a signature of the times, I think. So it's kind of logical that we would express that, in when you build. And the pristine, Miesean, Farnsworth House idea is antithetical to that, to today. I get in trouble here because, you know, a long time ago, Mies van der Rohe did the Farnsworth House in Illinois. And it's a beautiful sculpture. Everything is organized and spotless to conform to that aesthetic. And they can't escape it. And it's overpowering. The architecture would organize your life, in maybe a negative way, an unfriendly way. The people who do it, God bless them. They love it, and they feel comfortable in it. I think they have other houses that they can go to, and throw their clothes on the floor, and have their kids play in. But these become-- these pristine houses become like museum things. There's a lot of buildings like that, that are really beautiful architecture. So I'm not demeaning them, by any means. But Mies van der Rohe himself lived in a apartment with all kinds of tchotchkes, and books, and stuff. And they're user friendly. So I think there's a kind of comfort, you know. You walk in, and you want to sit on the couch. You want the light to be soft when you want it. You want the room not to be harsh. You want-- I think you can make architecture an...

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.


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

Interesting view to see our professional future ... a great professor ... a great man

Appreciate Frank's candidness. I first met Frank in the late 70's in Richard Saul Wurmann's class at Cal Poly when he was a visiting instructor. I never forgot his approach and his passion and his words of encouragement. He taught me to look at things differently and for that I remain truly thankful.

As much a lesson about building a beautiful and successful life as it was a lesson about building beautiful buildings

Be creative, be yourself, be curious. I am very moved by this philosopher of the joy of life lived in beauty and how it can calm and create community amongst even the most diverse peoples. He is so inspiring in his quiet way.


Heath M.

I believe that the opportunity to build a city and design it is a gift that you get by change.

Leandro D.

I welcome with joy the idea about the structures we build being part of the background as our own stage. This stage undoubtedly needs to facilitate human (and hopefully other organisms) activity/manifestation despite having the chance to have a connotative meaning that later can work in the sense of being recognized as an object of art. It is clear enough that more than often cities don't do that. I wonder why. Probably because the quest for balance between activity and background is sometimes a bit delayed by the background's creation process itself. But it is also true that reinterpretations of backgrounds by new human actors can create novel activities. It is also true that organic growth, in general, knows very little about designed growth notwithstanding the valuable efforts from recognized architects and space creators. To make the situation even more complicated decisions for background creation are normally under the influence of policies and particular interests not very related to the human-friendly perspective. Nevertheless, we persist in the idea of bringing value and meaning to human experience through functionality and contemplation.

Graeme R.

I have marveled at the barren "unlivability" of the Farnsworth house, and so many of the houses of Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Philip Johnson, and countless others, and rejected their impositions. How inspiring it is to hear Frank Gehry talk about the importance of comfort and real living, embracing asymmetry and defining a much more beautiful aesthetic in the process.

Mark S.

How liberating! I always believed everything should be on the lines of being symmetrical, because that somehow worked and looked right.

Mark S.

I love his honesty and ability to see right though issues of life. A wise man, and glad that I get to hear from Frank Gehry share. What a gift!

A fellow student

Actually I love listening to Frank. He is a visionary. Inspiring and so thought provoking. This is not just an innovative approach to architecture it is a fresh way of looking at the beauty of the world around us. He is humble yet profound. Mia


I agree with the comments on Japanese architecture, and I include Chinese architecture. Their design is not about what the rest of the world do, or what the norm is, but what is best for the location and incorporating the Buddhist ideals of balancing nature into the building, through design and materials, and bringing harmany in the design.


I look in somewhere else of symmetry , pristine house, because I lack one and am looking for one. But never think of building one asymmetric house, because it reflected real life before. Interesting!! indeeed

Neil B.

Wow - This was transformational for me in more ways than one! As an Aerspace engineer, I think in symmetry and I am married to someone who enjoys high entropy around the house. Someone once said,"It has a sense of being lived in". My wife painted the visitor's restroom scarlet red, when I saw the first time, I was blown away. Second insight I got was that communication is transfer of feelings and not just knowledge or information. Symmetry can be limiting is a new window of light for me. Fuselage and wings of a plane block those for me.


Really inspiring !! Thank you so much for sharing with us another great lesson!