Architect Frank Gehry had a few harsh words for a reporter who recently asked how he responds to critics who say he practices “flashy architecture’” at a press conference in Oviedo, Spain.
The architect is on record as having replied by saying he has no time for 98% of everything designed and built.
He said: “There’s no sense of design, no respect for humanity or for anything else. They are damn buildings and that’s it.
“Once in a while, however, there’s a small group of people who does something special. Very few. But good God, leave us alone! We are dedicated to our work. I don’t ask for work. I don’t have a publicist. I’m not waiting for anyone to call me. I work with clients who respect the art of architecture. Therefore, please don’t ask questions as stupid as that one.”
The 85-year-old architect, who was there to receive Prince of Asturias Awards for the Arts, followed up the response by flashing the journalist his middle finger.
And his comments have been debated ever since all across the profession.
Middle East Architect of the Year Salim Hussain said: “It is very easy to berate everyone else and infer ‘only I and my acolytes know how to do proper architecture’ but that is missing the reality of the situation.
“Whilst his comments have generated debate his point could have been better made – now we are all talking about Frank Gehry not why there are so many bad buildings.”
Gehry later apologised – but across the Middle East, leading designers say he made a valuable point.
Stephan Frantzen of P&T – the world’s 10th largest firm – said: “Gehry apologised afterwards saying he was caught at a bad moment, but isn’t it at these moments when the truth is said?
“What is much more interesting is the provocation having us questioning what we are doing collectively and individually. Where are we going? What do today’s students see as important? are there lasting values in today’s design? Who has the responsibility of what we do now affecting the future?”
Sandra Woodall of Tangram compared the outburst to the controversy created by the heir to the British throne Prince Charles.
In 1984 the Prince of Wales famously described the proposed Sainsbury Wing extension to the national gallery in London as a “monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend”.
She said: “Kudos to Frank, an elder statesman continually promoting – if not provoking – architectural debate.
“Surely he’s earned his ‘Prince Charles moment’.
“No idea how empirically rigorous his 98% conclusion was, but certainly it is worth exploring who holds the power when it comes to the espoused theories and the theories in-use of what is designed, what is constructed and why.”
Lecturer at the American University of Sharjah Cristiano Luchetti fully backed the remarks – but said architects are not wholly the problem.
Luchetti said: “I would agree with the Gehry statement. One has to take into consideration that the 98 % of buildings around the world he refers to are not designed by architects.
“While structures design must be often signed off by an engineer, in many countries architectural design is not subject to such strict regulation.
“At the root of this problem though there is, as usual, a cultural-education issue. Especially for small scale buildings or speculative real estate developments, the role of the architect is still too often conceived as artistic . A useless consultant. That being said, architects also have their part of guilt. We are not all good designers and maybe a small portion of that 98% is our fault.”
Gehry is a Pritzker Prize winner born on February 8 1929. A number of his buildings, including his private residence, have become world-renowned. His works are cited as being among the most important in the world which led Vanity fair to label him as “the most important architect of our age”.
Gehry’s best-known works include the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles – his current home – as well at the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris.
In the Middle East he has designed the Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi.