Notebook, 1993-


Frank Gehry

Frank Gehry's Acceptance Speech [The Pritzker Prize]
"Colleagues and friends, I am very happy.. .I am unbelievably happy.. .I love being here in Japan.. especially today at Todai-ji Temple. Today is a special honor for me, to receive this important prize. I am obsessed with architecture. It is true, I am restless, trying to find myself as an architect, and how best to contribute in this world filled with contradiction, disparity, and inequality, even passion and opportunity. It is a world in which our values and priorities are constantly being challenged. It is simplistic to expect a single right answer. Architecture is a small piece of this human equation, but for those of us who practice it, we believe in its potential to make a difference, to enlighten and to enrich the human experience, to penetrate the barriers of misunderstanding and provide a beautiful context for life's drama.

I was trained early in my career by a Viennese master to make perfection, but in my first projects, I was not able to find the craft to achieve that perfection. My artist friends, people like Jasper Johns, Bob Rauschenberg, Ed Kienholz, Claes Oldenburg, were working with very inexpensive materials „ broken wood and paper, and they were making beauty. These were not superficial details, they were direct, it raised the question of what was beautiful. I chose to use the craft available, and to work with the craftsmen and make a virtue out of their limitations.

Painting had an immediacy which I craved for architecture. I explored the processes of raw construction materials to try giving feeling and spirit to form. In trying to find the essence of my own expression, I fantasized the artist standing before the white canvas deciding what was the first move. I called it the moment of truth. Architecture must solve complex problems. We must understand and use technology, we must create buildings which are safe and dry, respectful of context and neighbors, and face all the myriad of issues of social responsibility, and even please the client.

But then what? The moment of truth, the composition of elements, the selection of forms, scale, materials, color, finally, all the same issues facing the painter and the sculptor. Architecture is surely an art, and those who practice the art of architecture are surely architects. Our problems as architects increase in complexity as time goes on. We have difficulty with the art of city building. We are finding ways of working together, artists and architects, architects and architects, clients and architects. The dream is that each brick, each window, each wall, each road, each tree will be placed lovingly by craftsmen, client, architect, and people to create beautiful cities. Adding the extra time and the money at the beginning is essential. This very temple, Todai-ji, is a symbol of a great collaborative effort in its time, bringing together many thousands of people and talents to create incredible and lasting beauty. It is coincidental but fitting for me to receive the Pritzker Award in Japan. Trained in Southern California in the presence of many works inspired from Japanese architecture „ Green and Green, Harwell Hamilton Harris, Gordon Drake, many others. Some of these were my teachers and they trained us to look at Japanese architecture and understand it. I was seduced by the order of Ryoanji long before the Parthenon, and to this day, I believe those early foundations are in my work.

Today, American architects are working in Japan, Japanese architects are working in America, and all of us are working everywhere around the world. We are understanding and respecting each other and our values and cultures.

Today, the Pritzker Prize brings me great honor. Acknowledgment by an important jury for the work I have been doing is gratifying, but does not engender complacency. I know these people, the jury that is, they have expectations „ don't rest on your laurels, get to work.

Former laureates have gone on to do magnificent projects, and that is the challenge, to do better and finally bring greater honor to this prize, and that is what I intend to do.

I thank the Pritzker family for supporting architecture with this prize. And to all the people who have contributed in my making this honor possible, the artists and the cultures that inspired me and to my family whose loving attention and support has been extraordinary.

Since the announcement of this award, I have been asked many times by reporters what I intend to do with the money. I have said, that of course I'm going to finish my house and tear down the construction fence."

The Pritzker Architecture Prize - World Wide Web Site provides current information about
the world's most prestigious architecture award and its Laureates.]

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'AN AMERICAN IN PARIS' - Inspired by the city where itÍs set, Frank Gehry builds an elegant home for U.S. culture. But what will happen inside it?
Thomas A. Sancton / Paris

With its towers, gaps and controlled riot of swooping curves, the new American Center in Paris unmistakably bears the mark of its designer, California architect Frank Gehry. GehryÍs first famous building was his Santa Monica home -- a modest Dutch colonial, transformed so provocatively with corrugated metal, glass and chain link fence that it actually drew gunfire from an irate neighbor. Ever since, Gehry has specialized in the tumbling, disjointed style known as deconstructivism. Though more conservative than his usual projects, the Paris building is still a characteristic and handsome achievement. Within this stylish envelope, the architect has accommodated a theater, a cinema, art and dance studios, performance spaces and apartments. ThereÍs only one problem: now that it has built its fabulous new facility, the center has little money with which to operate it.

When the building officially opens its doors to the public this week, the signs of disarray will be all too visible. The ground-floor restaurant, bookstore and travel agency are concrete shells with dangling wires; in recession-gripped Paris, the center has found no suitable concessionaires. The language classrooms are also empty, since the center canceled all its English courses last March. And all but two of the 27 artist-in-residence apartments are unfinished, because expected corporate sponsorship didnÍt materialize. "I went and looked at the building a few weeks ago, and I wanted to cry," says Gehry, "because this is a building designed for a lot of people to use, and it was pretty empty."

Founded 63 years ago, the American Center is a privately supported cultural haven that has presented the creme de la creme of contemporary American artists, writers, filmmakers, dancers and musicians to Parisian audiences. Over the years it has been a hangout for Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein and has served as host of performances by the likes of John Cage, Samuel Beckett, Philip Glass, Steve Lacy and Merce Cunningham. In 1987 the center sold its dilapidated headquarters on the Boulevard Raspail and embarked on an ambitious building program in the Bercy region of eastern Paris. And that's where all the trouble really began.

With the $40 million they received for the old real estate, the center's executive director Henry Pillsbury and co-chairman Judith Pisar decided to put virtually the entire amount into a new building. At the same time, they launched a fund-raising campaign intended to create a $25 million endowment to cover the center's operating expenses. But the recession of the early '90s dried up donations. The fund-raising drive has brought in only $10 million so far, of which $4 million has yet to be paid. The annual budget of the center is expected to be about $5 million.

The funding shortfall was exacerbated by questionable management decisions. Several million dollars were spent on high-priced consultants and on fitting out a temporary headquarters that later had to be torn down. The financial problems became so severe that in 1992 the entire four-member programming staff was fired. It's hard to have a program of cultural events if there is no one to plan them. The goal now, says co-chairman Frederick Henry, is to "start modestly and gradually grow into the building." A scaled-down series of exhibitions, concerts and conferences was finally announced this spring.

Laid-off staff members speak harshly of Pillsbury's and Pisar's "mismanagement." A former visual-arts curator, Michael Tarrantino, says that "Pillsbury's fantastic at greeting people, but he's not a manager." Says another ex-curator, Denise Luccioni: "There was no budget. I was just supposed to work, and we were told, We'll find the budget." Even as the financial crisis was coming to a head in 1992, says Luccioni, the board of directors, uninformed about the money problems, was debating questions like "If you say American Center, does that imply Mexico and Canada?" Outsiders are also critical. "To build such a place when there was no money to make it run is simply irresponsible," says a curator at the Pompidou Center, Paris' museum for modern art. "You don't buy a Rolls-Royce if you can't even pay for the gasoline."

Pisar and Pillsbury adamantly reject the charges of incompetence. "When we conceived this building, economic times were different," Pisar says. "And the board approved everything. There was no dissension about the building or about our vision." Says Pillsbury: "It's not that we overspent; it's just that it's been a great struggle, as it has for every institution." Pillsbury, an heir to the flour fortune and a sometime actor and poet, will soon step down after 27 years as executive director to make "room for new leadership," as he puts it. Pisar seems headed for an emeritus position. It has been left to Frederick Henry to lead the center through this transition period.

Henry has implemented a strategy of institutional alliances with other major cultural organizations that will allow the center to draw on their expertise and share the costs of producing shows. He has also set up a 24-member special committee, comprising mostly American curators, academics and fund raisers, to develop the center's programming on the basis of such collaborations. One of the first fruits of this approach is the the center's inaugural exhibition, "Pure Beauty," a group show of seven California artists curated by the Museum of Contemporary Art of Los Angeles.

As if the Gehry building had not caused the American Center enough financial trouble, it has also created an aesthetic controversy -- but not the one anybody would have expected. Parisians think the building is too ... Parisian. Critics have complained that it is not bold and Californian enough. Gehry "has abandoned a bit of his wild, spontaneous quality in order to cater to a Parisian norm," charges Francois Chaslin, editor of the influential monthly Architecture d'Aujourd'hui. "The result is more ordinary, less powerful than his other buildings."

"I have been questioned as to why I didn't do a real Gehry building," Gehry says. Zoning laws and the tightness of the space reined in his exuberance, but Gehry freely admits that he sought to echo Parisian architectural styles. "I think it has something to do with using the stone," he explains. "I chose French limestone, which is the common material. The zinc roof is the normal zinc that they use. The shapes were inspired by what I call Paris' cleavage, the articulation between the roof forms you see all over Paris. I suppose I am fitting into my fantasies of old Paris, and I probably look regressive and conservative to them." But the real test of this building, Gehry insists, is how well it will function once it's up and running: "I am just waiting for the building to come to life. I keep saying, 'Plug it in!'"

[Design - 'AN AMERICAN IN PARIS' by Thomas A. Sancton / Paris With reporting by Victoria Foote-Greenwell/Paris and Daniel S. Levy / New York - Copyright 1994 Time Inc. All rights reserved. Transmitted: 94-06-10 13:52:17 EDT.]



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