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About Frank O. Gehry

Frank Gehry, one of the most celebrated of living architects, resides in Southern California and works throughout the world. He has designed fantastically original, award-winning buildings, ranging from family homes to concert halls and museums. His major public buildings--including the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain; the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles; and the Experience Music Project in Seattle--are some of the most inspirational and forward-looking edifices of our times.

Gehry's ingenious designs successfully combine imaginative and practical concerns, in which the commonplace materials of everyday life and the industrial world are used to produce extraordinary results. Each of his buildings is beautifully sited, connecting new structures to the existing environment in a well-considered yet completely new way, with the result that the buildings belong as much to the landscape and the city streets that surround them as they do to the people who work or live within their walls.

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Alvar Aalto & Glen Lukens

by Frank O. Gehry

I've had many heroes in my life. I was very poor in my early years, and everything seemed beyond my reach.

When I was in high school, I wasn't interested in architecture at all. I was interested in science and electronics, and that was what I read. I used to go every Friday night to a lecture series at the University of Toronto, where the'’d perform experiments onstage. I went by myself, mostly because I could never get any of my friends to go with me.

I remember one lecture in particular, when I was sixteen years old. It was given by this white-haired gentleman with a bentwood chair. Actually, I don't remember much about the lecture at all, but I do remember the chair, which affected me as deeply as any piece of art I'd ever seen. I couldn't get it out of my mind. It was beautiful, but that wasn't all. It had a humanistic quality, a respect for human feeling, that made a real impact on me at the time and for years to come. It was an impact I wouldn't fully understand until later.

I didn't know what I wanted to be, so I went to work as a truck driver and took night classes in art at the University of Southern California. I loved ceramics--although I didn’t do very well in those courses--because I loved the glazes; I was fascinated with the science of how they’re made. Glen Lukens was my ceramics teacher there. He’d cracked the formula for a Chinese blue glaze, and was helping to create a ceramics industry for poor people in Haiti.

Glen changed the course of my life. He was building a house with the architect Raphael Soriano, and he had a feeling that I might like to see the process, so he dragged me over there one day. Soriano was there, wearing an all-black outfit with a black beret, giving directions in his accented English (he was from the Isle of Rhodes,) and telling men how to put up steel. I really got into it.

The next day, Glen called me into his office. He said, "You know, I have this hunch. Will you go along with me?" I said, "Whatever you say, boss." He signed me up (and paid for) a night school architecture class. That class was the first time I did something that got people saying, "Hey, there's something going on here." They liked what I did and I enjoyed it, and the school skipped me into the second year.

There, an odd thing happened. I learned about the legendary Finnish architect Alvar Aalto's work, and suddenly, I remembered seeing that chair. I thought "Oh, my God, that must be the guy!" Aalto's work had the same profound effect on me as it had had when I was a teenager. I've always thought that architecture should be something that people want to be in. It should be new, not a repetition of the past, and it should have feeling. Aalto was able to do that.

I went to Finland for the first time in 1972 to see all of Aalto's buildings, and I ended up at his studio. He wasn't there, but they let me sit in his chair, so I stayed there for an hour and drank in his world. As I was leaving, I asked his assistant if she could check the archives, to see if he had been the speaker at the University of Toronto in November 1946. Sure enough, it was right there in his records.

So perhaps you could say that I have two heroes, Alvar Aalto and Glen Lukens. One indirectly put me in touch with the other. They certainly worked together in a way to make me the person and the architect I am today.

Page created on 12/11/2006 12:00:00 AM

Last edited 8/28/2018 2:03:16 AM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.

Extra Info

Copyright 2005 by The MY HERO Project

MY HERO thanks Frank Gehry for contributing this essay to My Hero: Extraordinary People on the Heroes Who Inspire Them.

Thanks to Free Press for reprint rights of the above material.



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