Santa Monica resident and world-renowned architect Frank Gehry was once told that “architecture is frozen music,” and that conversely, music could be “liquid architecture.” It was appropriate that at– Gehry’s March 18 in-person “conversation,” with journalist Barbara Isenberg at Samohi’s Barnum Hall, the talk was book-ended with music interludes, as cellists Lynn Harrell and Antonio Lysy, accompanied by Samohi orchestra members, played compositions by Bach.
The Gehry-Isenberg chat was based on Isenberg’s book, Conversations with Frank Gehry, published last year and inspired by her many interviews with the 81-year old architect. In addition to the questions Isenberg reiterated from her book, she read questions from the audience, written on cards and pre-submitted.
The two settled into chairs that Gehry had designed. “This is comfortable,” Isenberg said of her chair made from straight slats of wood. “So’s mine,” added Gehry, whose chair, with undulating slats, resembled strands of fettucini.
For starters, Isenberg asked Gehry about his family background. He was raised in Toronto, the son of working-class parents. His grandparents had emigrated from Poland in 1913. “My grandmother used to bring home cuttings from the wood shop around the corner. She would put them on the floor and I would make cities and stuff.”
But Gehry did not know that he would be an architect. His family moved to Los Angeles in 1947 and he struggled to get an education, working as a truck driver and going to night school. It was a happy accident that his ceramics teacher realized that young Gehry was not cut out for ceramics but seemed to be enthralled with building. The teacher directed him to an architecture class.
“But they can read all that in the book,” Gehry concluded. “Now let’s do something new.”
Isenberg fed him more questions. What did he do for inspiration? He’d told her that music helped him.
“I don’t know why it helps but it sure does,” said Gehry.
He mused on getting “stuck” for inspiration. “You don’t really ever get stuck. You go down blank alleys—look for ways to express a problem three-dimensionally. Each time it’s different—new clients, new space—so there’s always enough of a difference to explain yourself.”
He talked at length about the difficulties of designing Disney Hall. Told that there might be acoustic problems with a hall seating over 2200, he made several models of halls with varied accommodations, so that engineers and acousticians could analyze them and choose the best one.
He won the competition to design Disney Hall in 1988 but did not see his vision completed until 2003 because “The drawings got ahead of the contract.” Partial construction began before completion of Gehry’s challenging design, leading to complications that delayed further construction and raised the cost alarmingly.
“For two years I got blamed for everything. I couldn’t go out to eat on the Westside or anywhere because the press blamed me.” Fortunately, an independent analysis determined that Gehry’s design was not the issue and fundraising helped bring the hall to completion.
The flowing lines and unusual shapes of Gehry’s buildings have been hailed as works of art and have also been criticized. But he sticks to his idea of individualism.
“When you write your signature it looks different from anyone else’s signature. The same thing applies to what you do. Don’t try to be like another person-you’re the expert on who you are.”
Mirror Contributing Writerlynne@smmirror.com