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A critic lauds Gehry, suggests Ratner's behavior as a corporate citizen is not something "an architect can do anything about"

Architect Frank Gehry is speaking tomorrow at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, which means it's worth looking at a recent essay praising him.

"Frank Gehry is the most important, imaginative, and obsessed architect since Louis I. Kahn, wrote Gerry Coulter, a sociologist and critic at Bishop's University (Sherbrooke, Quebec) in a long essay last spring in the online magazine Euroart titled Form, Function, and Context: Frank Gehry .

The essay includes a strong defense of Gehry's role in Atlantic Yards, with Coulter dismissing the idea that an architect bears any responsibility for his client. It's a rather narrow view, but surely not an uncommon one.

Miss Brooklyn

Coulter, drawing on secondhand reports, praised Gehry's no-longer-viable flagship tower:
Miss Brooklyn presses the broken line to its extreme which have caused opponents to charge him with being "entirely a-contextual" (Curbed, 2006). To the contrary, what Gehry has done is to take the idea of the private dwelling, no longer feasible as New York continues to grow skyward, and "stacked" individual units on top of each other to make his artful tower. Gehry told a reporter from the New York Daily News: "I spent a lot of time looking around Brooklyn, seeing what it is, what it has been in the past. And there's a kind of friendly messiness that I found. This is a way of expressing that" (Sederstrom, 2009). This may be one of Gehry's more successful efforts to introduce a passionate player into a specific context in a highly sensitive manner.

At the time of writing it appears that this Miss Brooklyn may not be built as resistance to an insensitive developer combined with an economic downturn are likely to see the project halted. One wonders though, in twenty-five years, when Brooklyn has accepted taller buildings (as it must for New York to continue to deal with its inherent land problem), if we might not look back on this artful project as a missed opportunity? Gehry has certainly left a deep challenge to any architect who wishes to work on this site in the years to come.
Yes, some people ambivalent about Atlantic Yards say the project would've been enhanced had Gehry remained.

However, the entire arena block--in which the towers were to be integrated into the arena, thus buffering an arena in a residential neighborhood--has been redesigned to save Forest City Ratner money.

The architect and the developer

Coulter writes:
His involvement in Atlantic Yards has led to a sustained criticism of Gehry which constantly seems targeted at something other than the architect. There is understandable resistance to building upwards (in an old residential low rise area), and there are concerns about the cost of the new units displacing existing Brooklyn-ites. Both of these are valid concerns but are not matters of concern for architects but for city planners and local politicians. On the cost of units and the lack of social housing, Gehry, who enjoy's building in Europe which has much more regulation, notes that this is a problem general to the United States: "there are no clients for social housing in America. There is no program, no nothing. City planning? Forget it. It's a kind of bureaucratic nonsense. It has nothing to do with ideas. It only has to do with real estate and politics" (Academy of Achievement, 1995).
(Emphasis added)

The issue in Brooklyn went beyond scale and displacement. Surely not all architects would agree with the notion that they should have no concern about the process behind the project.

What about eminent domain? Gehry wouldn't answer when asked about it.

Gehry's principles

Coulter concludes:
Architectural criticism oversteps its bounds when it expects the architect to be an activist. What the Guggenheim's do with their art collection or how Bruce Ratner (Gehry's Atlantic Yards client) behaves as a corporate citizen are not concerns an architect can do anything about.
Well, Gehry once said of his projects, "If I think it got out of whack with my own principles, I’d walk away.”

Had Forest City Ratner released the gag on Gehry to let him talk to Brooklynites about how the project fits with his principles, we might have learned more.

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