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Gehry: Quite the Man About Town : Architect's Works Featured in Three Exhibits Locally

February 21, 1988|LEON WHITESON | Leon Whiteson is a Los Angeles-based design writer. and

This February it may seem that Frank Gehry is all over town.

An exhibition of his work, organized by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, has just opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art and runs through May 15.

A display of his new cardboard furniture designs can be seen at the Hoffman-Borman Gallery in Santa Monica through March 15. Gehry's sketches are on show at the Kirsten Kiser Gallery on La Brea Avenue through March 31.

"I believe in Los Angeles," Gehry said in a recent interview. "I feel like I helped make it happen. I help the town, and it helps me."

Wandering around his Venice studio-office among the cardboard models of projects past and future, coming to rest on a prototype of one of his new, softer-edged chairs, is to be privileged to visit Gehry's restlessly inventive head. After a while the creative chaos that surrounds you sorts itself out into a basic design vocabulary of Platonic solids--cubes, pyramids and spheres--that is almost childlike in its simplicity.

"All my designs are really little villages of geometric clusters," he explained. "I break everything down into its basic elements, then reassemble them intuitively to strike up new relationships between old friends. Common shapes become uncommon by this process."

Of Fish and Skyscrapers

Gehry's design approach of disassembly and re-assembly applies whether he is struggling with the form of a skyscraper or with the design of a lighting unit made of Formica and shaped like a fish, snake or crocodile. In the fish he smashed Formica sheets into a thousand small "scales," which he stuck together to form the creature's body.

In designing a skyscraper--proposed as part of a development above New York City's Madison Square Garden--Gehry broke down the shaft into a series of vertical slivers, then recombined them "to create a tension between the parts," he said.

The result is a Brancusi-like composition whose sandblasted, stainless steel cladding has a rough, hand-made look.

"You don't expect a Manhattan skyscraper to have a kind of hand-crafted look," Gehry said. "That will give it an element of visual surprise among its more conventional neighbors."

Projects in U.S., Europe

The Madison Square skyscraper is one major project among several across the United States and in Europe that Gehry's increasing reputation has brought to his 30-person office. Prominent among them are:

--A Laser Laboratory building on the campus of the University of Iowa, Iowa City.

--A high-rise office building over the Greyhound bus station in Boston.

--A 1-million-square-foot retail mall, including hotels, a museum and health club, on the waterfront in Cleveland.

--Participation in a $2-billion commercial and residential development proposed for the Kings Cross rail yard in central London.

--A restaurant in Kobe, Japan.

--The design of a massive sheet metal sculptural form for the Great Hall of the Washington National Building Museum.

On the local scene, Gehry is completing construction or has recently designed several large and striking houses in Brentwood, Malibu and Thousand Oaks.

Local Projects in Pipeline

Also in the pipeline are: an office for the Chiat/Day advertising agency in Venice, the Santa Monica Art Museum in the Edgemar development on Main Street, an addition to his 1986 Information & Computer Sciences/Engineering Research Facility at UC Irvine and an expansion of his 1985 Loyola Law School campus on Olympic Boulevard.

Gehry has also been selected as the only local among six contending designers for the proposed $50-million Disney Hall at the Music Center.

"I'm getting to do the things I like," Gehry said, "things I never expected to have the opportunity to do in my lifetime. I have people contacting me from all over the place, including France, Italy and Japan, that have never called before. In fact, I'm so busy now, I'm turning things down.

"For instance, I was approached to design a new architectural school in Cincinnati, but really couldn't accept. I need to spend time with my two sons, and anyway I get pretty tired of flying all over the place all the time."

Because an increasing number of the larger projects Gehry has been offered are located on the East Coast, he has been urged by some clients to move his office to Boston or New York. "But L. A. is my home base," Gehry said. "I'd really hate to move. But the big work is over there, and that can be a problem."

With a typically mischievous twinkle, Gehry added: "Maybe if I get the Disney, I can be persuaded to stay in town."

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