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Before Gehry joined Ratner: "one architect" model was wrong way to go

In February 2002, some months (presumably) before developer Bruce Ratner asked him to work alone on the Atlantic Yards project (and towers over the Atlantic Center mall), architect Frank Gehry suggested that a "one architect" model to build "sections of the city" was precisely the wrong way to go.

The video from the annual TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference has just been posted. Gehry's musings on the issue began at about 12:28, under the "City building" segment.

Not like Rockefeller Center

Gehry said:
The issue of city building in democracy is interesting, because it creates chaos, right? Everybody doing their thing makes a very chaotic environment, and if you can figure out how to work off each other--I mean, it's not that... if you can get a bunch of people who respect each other's work and play off each other, you might be able to create models for how to build sections of the city without resorting to the "one-architect, like the Rockefeller Center model," which is kind of from another era.

Whatever the flaws of Rockefeller Center, it added streets, not subtracted them, as with Atlantic Yards. Gehry in 2005 said of AY, "Normally I would’ve brought in five other architects, but one of the requirements of this client is that I do it."

The question is why he agreed; perhaps the opportunity to build his first arena, and a "neighborhood practically from scratch" trumped Gehry's qualms about the "one architect" model.

The Regional Plan Association, using a somewhat different gloss on the term Gehry used, argued last May that Atlantic Yards shows we must get much better at "city building."

The back story on collaboration

The prelude to Gehry's 2002 remarks on city building regarded plans for a new building at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Gehry explained:
[Art Center President] Richard [Koshalek] wants to add a library and more student stuff. It's a lot of acreage. I convinced him to let me bring another architect, from Portugal, Alvaro Siza.


Interviewer Richard Saul Wurman: Why'd you want that?

Gehry responded:
Alvaro Siza grew up and lived in Portugal and is considered Portugal's main guy, in architecture... His early work has a resemblance to my early work... [He] evolved a modern language that relates to that historic language. I always felt he should come to Southern California and do a building... I like the idea of collaboration with people like that, because it pushes you. I've done it with Claes Oldenburg, and with Richard Serra... It's a richer experience... It's like jazz; you improvise, you work together, you play off each other, you make something, they make something.... For me, it's a way of trying to understand the city and what might happen in the city.

It sounded promising, and you could imagine Gehry saying the same thing about a mega-project in Brooklyn if he had brought in other architects.

The collaboration with Siza, however, came to an end after three years, Architectural Record reported, because of the long-distance relationship proved too difficult. Gehry's designing the building himself, but construction won't start for at least 18 months, according to the Pasadena Star-News.

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