Student of Princeton University Essay

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Frank O. Gehry: Sculptor and Architect for the
Twenty-first Century
Ronald L. Nagel
Irving D. Karpas Professor of Medicine
Departments of Medicine and Hematology
Albert Einstein College of Medicine
Bronx, New York 10461

FIGURE 1 The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain (Frank O. Gehry) (Friedman and Sorkin, 1999).


n 1929, Frank O. Gehry was born in Toronto, Canada.
This would be a neutral fact except that his French education served him well later in life when he went to Paris to meet Le Corbusier (Le Corbusier was a leading architect of the time who, unknown to many, took
“inspiration” for part of his work, in the non-professional architecture of Ghardaia, in southern Algeria). Gehry later moved to Los Angeles and became an American citizen, his education continued including studies at
University of Southern California and Harvard, from which he obtained formal degrees in architecture and, interestingly, in urban planning.
I encountered Frank O. Gehry when I attended a lecture in New York at Town Hall sponsored by the Architectural
League in honor of Gehry’s then recently published book,
Gehry Talks (Friedman and Sorkin, 1999).
The person introducing Gehry remarked that the lecture had been organized originally at another smaller venue, because they were expecting no more attendees than the total membership of the League, which is close to 600 souls. He added: “Who the hell are the rest of you?!” — for there were 800 additional attendees. Needless to say, the interlopers remained quiet. There was a profound implication to this inconvenience: Gehry, the architect, had become a phenomenon that exceeded the boundaries of professional incarceration. He had crossed over from being not just an important architect, but also a

much larger intellectual and artistic figure, and somewhat surprisingly, one of global dimensions.
I was delighted to attend the lecture, because I had seen photographs of his masterpiece, the Guggenheim
Museum in Bilbao (Figure 1). Bilbao is the capital of the
Basque province in Spain. A place riddled with strife and tragic memories from the Spanish Civil War. Before
Gehry’s architectural intervention, an uninteresting, moderately large city adorned with dreariness and sadness.
The gleaming metallic structure that Gehry built near a lake overnight changed the fortunes of Bilbao and of the
Basque province, as well. Tourists arrived in droves to see the Museum not to visit the exhibits necessarily, but to admire the sight of the building on the lake wrapped in shining yellows and silvers. This is an accomplishment not seen since the completion of the Seven Wonders of the
World, if I am allowed a slight exaggeration.
When Gehry began his lecture that evening at Town Hall,
I was convinced that he was a son of Brooklyn, specifically
Jewish Brooklyn. That assumption proved incorrect. He is
Jewish, but not from Brooklyn. Nonetheless, several interesting facts did reveal themselves as the lecture proceeded:
1. He essentially confessed that his best friends and the people he relied on most, were sculptors and other artists, not architects. We shall return to this point later.

Einstein Quart. J. Biol. Med. (2002) 19:41-44.


Frank O. Gehry: Sculptor and Architect for the Twenty-first Century
2. He considers himself a spiritual disciple of
Frank Lloyd Wright, but not to the point that he was willing to spend one dollar per person (he was traveling with his family) to enter as a visitor en famille, Taliesin West, the school of architecture that Wright constructed near
Phoenix, Arizona. Gehry claims he regretted immensely missing this monument; however, but his stinginess, as a character trait, has served him well professionally.
3. As his career unfolded, he became seriously interested in the use of stainless steel and noble metals (titanium, among others), particularly as the outer “skin” of his fanciful