Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Gehry says he always works "tight to the bone," so why did arena cost go up 50%?

On Tuesday the radio show Design and Architecture took on the topic Is It Goodbye to Architectural Excess?, leaving listeners with a distinct contrast between architect Frank Gehry's rhetoric and recent news about cutting the cost of the Atlantic Yards arena.

The summary:
The economic crash has brought a decade of lavish “icon”-building to a halt. Does this mean an architecture of “excess” will be replaced by one of “relevance?” Frances Anderton speaks with Frank Gehry and Architecture for Humanity’s Cameron Sinclair.

The two were interviewed consecutively, so there was no debate.

The value of starchitecture

Though Sinclair was obviously positioned as the socially responsible architect, Gehry came off as a thoughtful sort, pointing out at one point that great architecture--he eschews the terms "Bilbao effect" and "starchitect"--can be of great civic importance

He noted that his Guggenheim Museum helped boost Bilbao, and his Disney Hall has replaced the Hollywood sign as an icon of Los Angeles.

"Tight to the bone"

Though Gehry didn't mention Atlantic Yards during the interview, AY-watchers would be most intrigued by his comments at about 17:50:
For me, I've always felt that if I didn't work very tight to the bone--and tight to the bone means, If a client gives you a program, and they have a budget, and that program and budget will build X, then you have to stay close to that to be successful. And then if you kept doing that, then people would come back and hire you again, because they knew you were going to do that. That's been my ethic. Now there are a few buildings that sometimes you have clients that want to... be excessive, for their own reasons. I tend to stay away from those projects. I've had a few from time to time. Most of them never got built, like a big house in Cleveland.

So, that begs the question: how did the projected cost of the Atlantic Yards arena skyrocket from $637.2 million in December 2006 to $950 million in March 2008?

And why are others, not Gehry, trying to value-engineer the cost in half?

The current zeitgeist: think small

A little later in the show, at about 21:00, host Anderton asked Gehry to identify a project "that somehow captures the current zeitgeist."

Gehry responded, "Well, we are doing some little houses for Katrina victims."

He adds that his firm had worked (on pop-up stores) with the rock star Bono on the Red project to fight AIDS, quipping that such work was "pro Bono."

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