Raised in Toronto, Canada, Frank O. Gehry moved with his family to Los Angeles in 1947. He received his Bachelor of Architecture degree in 1954 from the University of Southern California and then studied City Planning at Harvard University Graduate School of Design. In 1962, Gehry opened his own firm and spent his early career working on residential and small-scale commercial projects, city plans, and an exhibit for the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Throughout his career Gehry’s hallmark has been his use of unique building materials, bold colors, and atypical shapes and angles, all of which in unison evoke an impression of visual tension. Through this approach he ensures that people exist comfortably within the spaces that he creates and that his buildings address the context and culture of their sites.
Gehry first became well-known in the late 1970s when he burst onto the California architectural scene with a radical transformation of his own home. In 1978, he renovated his pink Dutch colonial house in Santa Monica into an amazing collage of chain-link fence, plywood, and corrugated iron. An original work, the house exemplified the union of art and architecture, owing as much to sculpture and collage as to architectural design. It was from these innovative beginnings that Gehry found the path to designing his architectural masterpiece, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, a stone, glass, and titanium structure on an industrial waterfront. Architecture critic Herbert Muschamp described viewing the building as “more of a mass of light than as a proper building.” Since it opened in 1997, the Guggenheim Bilbao has become an icon of late 20th-century design and has been applauded as a work of genius. Gehry has also achieved great success as a furniture designer (many of his pieces are in design museums and independent collections) and as an educator, having held distinguished chairs at Yale University and Harvard University.
Finished in 2000, Gehry’s first building in the Pacific Northwest, is Seattle’s Experience Music Project (EMP), a museum devoted to celebrating creativity and innovation as expressed through American popular music. Gehry envisioned the museum as a “three-dimensional floating puzzle,” with colorful, curved, and undulating forms, inspired, in part, by the image of a shattered guitar. Collaborating with aerospace computer specialists, Gehry developed a designing process that allowed the architect to go directly and electronically from computer to generated models to fabrication, thus circumnavigating the need for complex construction drawings. The computerized models are then linked directly to the production line in a factory. EMP is one of the first buildings in history to be designed and built in this computer-generated fashion. EMP houses 35,000 square feet of traditional and interactive exhibition space, an additional 5,000 square feet of public gathering space, a 150-seat performance hall, a café and a store, as well as classrooms and educational space. EMP opened in June 2000.
Gehry is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards, including the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1989, often described as being the equivalent in architecture of the Nobel Prize. Some of Gehry’s architectural designs include the Temporary Contemporary at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, California (1983), the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis, Minnesota (1993), The American Center, Paris, France (1994), and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Bilbao, Spain (1997). Gehry’s future projects include The Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, California (2002) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Stata Complex, Cambridge, Massachusetts (2003).