A few years back a deal was on the table for Frank Gehry to design a new opera house for Toronto. He was willing to take it on - probably excited to put his mark on the city where he spent a lot of time in his youth.
Then for whatever bureaucratic reasoning (money?) - the project was squashed.
I am still angry with who-ever failed to pull this deal off - it would rock so hard to have some world-class architecture in our town - especially by the man himself....
Originally posted by Illogistix I am still angry with who-ever failed to pull this deal off - it would rock so hard to have some world-class architecture in our town - especially by the man himself....
Architecture holds a lowly place in Canadian life, which may explain why the world's greatest living architect has yet to build anything in the country in which he was born, writes Maria Cook.
The Ottawa Citizen
It seems like the whole world has grabbed a piece of Canadian-born Frank Gehry, the much-sought-after superstar architect whose wildly curvaceous, sculptural buildings have become tourist meccas. So, why has Canada so far missed the boat?
The 71-year-old Los-Angeles-based architect's work in this country has been limited to two interior renovations, at the Montreal Museum of Decorative Arts, and the Chiat/Day advertising agency in Toronto. Canadian winemaker Don Triggs will be the first to boast a Gehry building when the Le Clos Jordan winery opens in the Niagara region in 2004.
"Architecture holds a lowly place in Canadian life," says Kurt Forster, director of the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal. "There is clearly a lack of appreciation, a lack of sense for what architecture can mean in the life of our civilization."
Mr. Gehry, who is at the height of his powers, has been called the greatest living architect. His titanium-covered Guggenheim art museum in Bilbao, Spain is the most famous new building in the world. More than two million people have visited since the museum's opening in late 1997, and it has been credited with singlehandedly revitalizing the rundown port city. It has been featured in the James Bond film The World is Not Enough and in a Mariah Carey video.
Earlier this week, New York city officials announced they will donate land and money toward a $678 million U.S. new Guggenheim museum on the waterfront. The 40-storey museum will be at least twice as large as Bilbao and features a tower rising from a mass of waves that evoke a cloud.
Work is underway on the $230-million U.S. Walt Disney concert hall in Los Angeles. And earlier this year Mr. Gehry was named as designer of a "world aquarium" to revitalize Panama's canal zone.
Now Canada must stand in line and pay for its shortsightedness. "It's like IBM stocks," says Mr. Forster. "If you'd bought 35 years ago it would have come your way cheap. Twenty years ago, he was an insider tip. You could have had Frank Gehry build you something for the lowest budget."
Mr. Gehry, who grew up in Toronto before moving to California with his family at 17, was asked why he hadn't designed any buildings in Canada at a news conference last June to announce the winery.
"I don't go looking for work," he replied. "I wait for it to hit me on the head. But for a long time, nothing hit me on the head. I don't pick projects by size, but because I like the people involved."
A spokesman for his firm told the Citizen they are involved in preliminary discussions regarding several other projects in Canada, which they would not disclose. None are in Ottawa.
"To make great buildings you need great clients with desire, vision and commitment," said the spokesman.
A scarcity of such clients could explain why, aside from a few pockets of excellence, much of Canada's new construction is hum-drum, suggests Marco Polo, editor of Canadian Architect magazine.
"We are too parsimonious in this country with our buildings," he says. "We spend far less than other countries and we build for economy, not for esthetics or social issues."
Speed is the other obstacle. Developers demand that projects be built on "outrageous fast track schedules" says Mr. Polo.
For example, a new computer sciences building at the University of Toronto is being designed and built in 24 months, about half the time it needs, says Mr. Polo. "The architect has to come up with a scheme very quickly," he says. "In those circumstances you do what you know, you don't experiment."
Mr. Polo notes that some of Mr. Gehry's most famous buildings are in Europe: the American Center in Paris, the Nationale-Nederlanden building in Prague which is known as the "Ginger and Fred" building because it gives the illusion of a dancing couple, and the Vitra Furniture and Design Museum in Germany.
"I don't think we place the same kind of value on architecture that European cultures do," says Mr. Polo.
He adds that Canada is conservative in architectural taste. "There's a question of how well a Gehry building would go over."
In fact, Mr. Forster, who has written two books about Mr. Gehry, says it's hard to imagine a phenomenon like him flourishing in Canada. Although he was born in this country, he has been called the pope of American architecture.
"There is very much less of that spirit of unfettered will to manifest difference, to show you have the money, to manifest a certain kind of flamboyance which has become very much an American signature," says Mr. Forster.
"There's something absolutely self-effacing about Canadian architecture."
Martin Bressani, a professor at the Carleton University school of architecture, says the lack of a Gehry building can be attributed to timing. When the Museum of Civilization and the National Gallery of Canada were being planned some 15 years ago, Mr. Gehry wasn't famous.
"There hasn't been the right occasion to invite him to compete," says Mr. Bressani. "I don't think there's anything inherent in Canadian politics or taste."
Timing was the key for Don Triggs, head of Vincor, Canada's largest wine company.
In 1998, when Mr. Triggs heard that Mr. Gehry was going to accept an honorary doctorate from the University of Toronto, he begged landscape architect, Janet Rosenberg, who is a distant cousin of Mr. Gehry, to set up a meeting.
"I was very taken with Frank's work," says Mr. Triggs. "I thought it was very organic with all natural curves and movement. I felt it would fit absolutely perfectly in a vineyard."
Over a hotel breakfast with the portly man with the shock of white hair, "there was a real connection," recalls Mr. Triggs. "He's just a delightful man. Very unassuming."
After sampling the company's top wines from Jackson Triggs and Inniskillin, and inspecting the 14-hectare site surrounded by woodlands, Mr. Gehry agreed to design a 30,000 square-foot structure which will include public areas for wine tasting and dining, in addition to facilities where wine will be made.
The design, says Mr. Triggs, is still evolving and construction will start in about two years. "It's not going to look like a box," he says. "Frank doesn't build boxes."
The budget has not been disclosed. "You get what you pay for," says Mr. Triggs. "He gives you a spectacular design. It's one of a kind. I think it will be bit of a mecca."
Mr. Gehry was born Frank Goldberg in Toronto in 1929, where he lived in the Kensington Market area. His father was a native New Yorker, his mother from Poland.
He spent Saturday mornings in his grandfather's hardware store on Queen Street near Spadina. "I just loved all that stuff -- the ropes and chains and paint and nails," he once told a journalist. "I suppose , being around all those things did influence my work as an architect."
When he was a child, his family moved to Timmins where Frank was the only Jewish kid in school and was beat up "for killing Christ." For a while his father worked as a pinball and slot-machine supplier.
In 1947, the family moved to Los Angeles, changing their name along the way.
Mr. Gehry worked as a truck driver to put himself through the University of Southern California's architecture school, where he got his degree in 1954. He served a stint in the army, studied urban planning for a year at Harvard, and worked briefly in Paris. In 1962, he set up practice.
Mr. Gehry's fame as an architect really began in 1978 when he renovated his own home in Santa Monica, wrapping a pink suburban house in glass, chain-link fencing, wire mesh, sheet plywood, galvanized zinc and cinder block. This led to countless commissions and prizes and he reshaped himself as a radical architect.
He has two adult children from his first marriage, which ended in 1968, and two younger children since he remarried in 1975.
Paintings and sculpture have inspired him, and friendships with artists such as Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Ron David, for whom he built a studio, sustained him through the tough times.
Mr. Gehry's first Canadian commission came in 1988 through an American client -- Jay Chiat, who heads Chiat/Day Advertising, one of the top agencies in Los Angeles. He wanted an interior design for his Toronto office.
(Mr. Gehry had designed Mr. Chiat's California headquarters, which featured a conference room in the shape of a fish and rooms contained within three-storey binoculars.)
In Toronto, Mr. Gehry gave him a conference room sheathed in battered lead sheeting, a chandelier of industrial-grade felt, and a sculpture of a fish in a shiny white bathtub in the lobby -- a memorial to his Toronto childhood when he used to play with live carp before his grandmother turned them into gefilte fish.
Mr. Gehry's second Canadian project was the 1996 interior renovation and installation of the Montreal Museum of Decorative Arts, when it moved from a turn-of-the-century mansion to an unused retail space beneath the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
The museum houses one of the world's best collections of post-1935 furniture, industrial design and domestic objects.
"We were very pleased with what he managed to do," says James Carroll, director of the Macdonald Stewart Foundation, which runs the museum.
"It wasn't the easiest space. Parts of it looked like a garage. He's created an installation that makes the objects zing."
Originally, the foundation planned to build a new building, but gave up when the economy took a dip. Nevertheless, Mr. Gehry agreed to take on the modest $3.5-million job.
He created display shelves, vitrines and ledges of Douglas-fir laminated plywood in trapezoidal shapes. The floors are covered in Douglas fir with the end-grain up creating a rustic version of a parquet floor.
Mr. Carroll said the museum was able to approach him for the job because they had worked together on a 1992 exhibit of chairs designed by Mr. Gehry and named for ice hockey terms -- the Cross Check chair, the Hat Trick chair, the Power Play chair. The prototypes remain in the museum's collection.
The gallery, which suffers from a lack of profile, has tried to use Mr. Gehry's name to attract visitors. But so far, those who seem interested are "people in the know," says Mr. Carroll.
Mr. Forster is talking to Mr. Gehry about staging an exhibition at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in two years to demonstrate the up-to-the minute computer programs that he uses to design his buildings, which are the same as used to design fighter jets.
While Mr. Gehry's fame may be relatively new, architects have long admired him. In 1998, the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada awarded Mr. Gehry a gold medal to recognize a lifetime of achievement.
Ottawa architect Alex Rankin, who was RAIC registrar at the time, said having a Gehry building would put Canada on the cultural map.
"Look at the Sydney Opera House," he says. "It's an absolute icon of the 20th century. We should be equally adventuresome."