Frank Gehry has become the first architect to receive the annual Arts Medal from Harvard, where he studied during the 1950s.
Gehry studied urban planning at the Graduate School of Design in but did not finish his degree. Instead he received an honorary doctorate in 2000.
At a presentation ceremony, in which Gehry spoke of his career, faculty president Drew Faustcalled the architect “a master of space”.
“He created not only a new vocabulary, but to quote a Harvard architecture professor, he created a new vocabulary for the field of architecture,” she said.
Founded in 1995, the Arts Medal annually recognizes a Harvard alumnus or faculty member who has made significant contributions to the arts or arts education.
The ceremony included a conversation moderated by actor John Lithgow who described Gehry as “the most innovative and arguably the best architect working in the field these days.”
Gehry talked about his professional setbacks, including abandoned projects and his frustration about sometimes being unable to be fully involved throughout the whole design and construction process.
“To be an architect, for me, meant from beginning to end you were responsible for every part of the building, which doesn’t happen anymore. I wanted to run the show. I wanted to be the master builder,” he said.
Gehry also discussed how his relationships with artists and new technologies made his design innovations possible.
“I try to put notes together from inert materials to make a feeling,” he said. “I’ve searched for a long time for a way to do this, and I try to express movement as an alternate form of decoration. We have movement all around us and with the computer, I was able to demystify that.”
Toward the end of the event, Gehry encouraged new architects to be persistent in the field.
“I think you have to stay the course. There’s no formula, just to be yourself and to not give up,” he said.