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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Watched Sydney Pollack's lovely doc Sketches of Frank Gehry, about his friend the famous architect. Gehry is probably most famous for the Guggheim museum in Bilbao, but he has houses all over LA among other places.

It's a fascinating look into an architect who's broken lots of architect rules and developed new processes for creating buildings that don't look like anybody else's.

I was struck by a bit where Gehry recounts how someone asked him how he could like a mall like Santa Monica Place, which he designed, and the iconoclastic houses he's dotted around Venice and Santa Monica. He said he didn't like Santa Monica Place, he did it for the money. His friend told him, "then stop it!" At which point Gehry realized he had to stop architecting for money. At which point he realized that he wasn't going to be able to support most of his staff of 45 people, but he still had to quit grubbing for commissions.

You have to be brave. Gehry spent years flirting with bankruptcy after that decision. Now he's, uh, Frank Gehry, architect of the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao.

(I remember watching Day for Night in college and thinking that if only I'd seen it when I was young, I'd have gone into show business, but now it was too late. I was being sensible. After kicking around Paris for a year, a girl I had a crush on told me I needed to go into films because my sensibility was so visual. Instead of going into p.r., which was my sensible plan. So I stopped being sensible. I'm not sure I've been truly sensible since.)

One thing that struck me was what a fun, lovely man Gehry is. He laughs. He tries to see it from the other guy's point of view -- when he reads negative criticism, he says, he "tries it on for size," not in an intellectual way, not in a marching-orders kind of way, but just as another perspective. And as often as not he'll put his model aside and try something completely new.

And what do you know? He makes fun, humane architecture.

Compare that with Louis Kahn, who comes across in another arch doc My Architect as a nasty, cold piece of work, who made nasty, cold pieces of architecture, like the mausoleum-like Scripps Institute.

The most important lesson, I think, is the creative carnage Gehry is willing to inflict on himself. He keeps coming up with new versions of his buildings, even after the client is very happy with what he's got. He's never completely satisfied. You have to be able to kill your darling. You also have to be able to actually finish is one of the hardest. The balance is a difficult one, but what makes innovative people successful, I think, is having both the willingness to sacrifice the good for the best -- looking for excuses for creative carnage -- but also the determination to actually close and the willingness to risk failure.

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