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Frank Gehry's Houses

Frank Gehry's Houses
Learn about this iconic architect.
Thinking Outside the Box

Frank Gehry is one of today’s most iconic architects. The current retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and running through March 20, 2016, highlights his range of projects from homes to museums to furniture design. Like most artists, Gehry builds on tradition but then heads off in his own direction. Here are some thoughts prompted by a recent tour of the exhibition, which includes sketches and scale models of such famous projects as the Bilbao Guggenheim, Disney Hall in Los Angeles, and the recent Foundation Louis Vuitton in Paris. I concentrated on the houses.

Danzinger Studio
One of the architect's early projects is the Danzinger Studioan industrial live/work space located in a busy part of Los Angeles. Gehry designed it for a graphic designer.

He designed two buildings, each with a separate program (photo courtesy LA76.com). To create a quiet environment he focused both buildings inward, away from the busy street. The buildings frame an inner courtyard and garden creating a quiet space shared by both studio and house. Inside, Gehry makes extensive use of windows and skylights to bring in light. Both the house and the studio have high, solid walls on the exterior street side and floor-to- ceiling doors and windows on the garden side. Clerestory windows complete the glazing and allow light in throughout the day. The studio has north-oriented windows for indirect, even lighting, perfect for a work space. The project shows he was beginning to manipulate basic geometries in fresh ways.

Gehry's Own House
The house Gehry built for his family is a radical remodel of a Period Revival house in Santa Monica, and brought him a lot of publicity when it was completed in 1978. He added ordinary elements like cyclone

fencing, corrugated metal siding, and an asphalt floor in the kitchen, and he opened up walls and celings (photo courtesy ncmodernist.org). It shocked many people but actually showed how to bring light and air 

into an ordinary and rather stiffly organized older home: the dramatic changes called attention to the way the parts of the house connect or separate, making you see each element as a kind of sculpture. It was a clever way of adding onto the house while at the same time subtracting from it.

Schnabel House
The Schnabel House, from the 1990s, is a good example of how Gehry breaks with the orthogonal box and anchors the house around a large, light filled space. The plan radiates around this central space with each adjacent room a separate structure with a separate function. The central space functions as living room,
 
family room and kitchen and features a glass roof, glass walls, as well as a central tower that draws the eye upwards and is filled with light. Another of Gehry’s trademark ideas can be seen in the bedroom which features a non-orthogonal diamond shape and exposed ceiling joists. For Gehry, the structure of a building is part of its intrinsic beauty and he exposes structure whereever possible. He also revels in non-rectilinear shapes. Both ideas are ways to add personality to a house and make it interesting (photo courtesy latimes.com).

Gehry is considered by many a sculptural modernist. Form is at least as important as function. There is an emphasis on dramatic daylighting. Gehry’s houses feature exposed beams, exposed rafters and exposed vertical members all of which contrast in inventive ways with wall, ceiling, and floor planes. Water is used as a design element in some of his compositions and all projects invite the user to experience the architecture from multiple perspectives much like a cubist painting only in three dimensions. Gehry is one of today’s consummate architects.

Paul Goldberger's just published biography of Frank Gehry offers keen insights into the architect's life and work. For a review of the book click here.

For a collection of innovative modern plans by other architects click here.

Frank Gehry's Houses Inspiration

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