Saturday, August 16, 2008

Gehry: seeking the "small percentage of space" to make a difference

OK, Frank Gehry considers himself a "do-gooder, liberal," and let's take him at his word, though his powers of discernment--describing his patron Bruce Ratner in such an uncomplicated way--might be challenged.

In the documentary Sketches of Frank Gehry, the protagonist told his friend, the director Sydney Pollack, how much the latter had influenced him:
You won’t remember this, but years ago, when we first met, you talked to me about filmmaking. I was struggling with the world I was confronted with, which was a commercial world, they weren’t interested in what I was doing. And I talked to you about it one night, and you said you faced the same commercial world and that you made peace with it by finding this small percentage of space in that commercial world where you could make a difference.

Finding the space

Gehry's tone gained a degree of wonderment, as he continued:
Man, that was amazing to me, Sydney, I’ve never forgotten that, and if you hear in my talks after that, I always talk about it that way, I say--he chuckled--there’s a sliver of space--I almost use your words.

That is the understandable challenge faced by many professionals, not just architects, when the excellence or vision they seek is constrained by cost, regulation, or their patrons. And Gehry surely has been successful in making a difference--though not always, since he has walked away from a few projects.

So Gehry, eager to build his first arena and do it right, may be willing to stay mum about changes to his design, which lessen some populist aspects (e.g., a green roof and rooftop park), because it represents that "small percentage of space."

Such changes are not atypical. After all, Gehry's design for an ice rink in Anaheim was diminished after the Disney Co. took another look at his designs. And, as sympathetic critic Nicolai Ouroussoff of the New York Times wrote in June 2006, the balance can be hard to discern:
Whatever [Atlantic Yards developer Bruce] Ratner’s ambitions, a mainstream developer is not about to promote radical changes in local housing policy. And Mr. Gehry is an architect, not a politician. But he has a public responsibility to put his formidable talents to full use.


That's the question.

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