Frank Gehry does Playboy: Don't call him a 'Starchitect'

December 16, 2010

Frank Gehry, the architect of the Pritzker Pavilion and the adjacent serpentine BP footbridge at Millennium Park, is interviewed in the January edition of Playboy, which hits the stands and the web tomorrow.

Gehry's featured in the Playboy Interview, which has picked the brains of starlets, actors, politicians, musicians (it's where John Mayer famously ran aground a year ago)--but seldom architects. The magazine sent me a PDF of the interview yesterday and it is a good read with Gehry opining about the banality of architecture, the initial negative reactions in Spain to his now world-famous Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao,  and other topics.

Hardly anything is said of Chicago, though. The 81-year-old Gehry mentions the Pritzker Pavilion, but that's all. He does focus on two Mies van der Rohe works, the glass Farnsworth House in Plano, IL and the twin 860/880 Lake Shore Drive. "There are also places that are so designed they are unlivable," he said. "I used to rail against the Farnsworth House..."  he said. "If you lived in that house and you came home and took your clothes off, where would you put them? You couldn't throw your coat on the chair; it would spoil the design."

On 860/880 Lake Shore Drive: "At first, I didn't cotton to Mies's Lake Shore Drive towers in Chicago, but when I went there and saw how they come down on the slab on 17/8ths-inch thick travertine, I turned around. I think that was an incredible statement of modesty and power, not resorting to the usual pedestals and the other aggressive things that modernists do. It was so subtle, understated and powerful as hell."

Gehry's right about 860/880. I found myself pondering the same thing earlier this year.

About the Guggenheim, Gehry said "steelworkers, dockworkers, union people and many others" held a candlelight protest in the streets when the design for new Basque region museum was made public. "There was a threat in the newspaper, 'Kill the American architect.' " he said. The bad feelings did pass.

Gehry got particularly animated in expressing his distaste for the term "starchitect," a word reserved for architects such as he, Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaus, Sir Norman Foster and the like.

"I hate the word starchitect," he said. "Stuff like that comes from mean-spirited, untalented journalists. It's demeaning...and once it's said, it sticks. I get introduced all the time, 'Here's starchitect Frank Gehry...' My reaction: 'What the fuck are you talking about?' "