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Does Gehry have a stake in the Atlantic Yards development?

In the Spring 2006 issue of the Urban Design Review, published by the Forum for Urban Design, journalist and critic Alex Marshall offers a toughminded review of Deyan Sudjic's The Edifice Complex, then interviews the London-based Sudjic about, among other things, Frank Gehry. And Sudjic raises an issue that might help explain Gehry's commitment to the Atlantic Yards project.

AM: As you say, “There can never have been a moment when quite so much high-visibility architecture has been designed by so few people.” Does this alter the relationship between architects and the powerful? Who has more power: Frank Gehry, or the beleaguered City Council of an aspiring Bilbao?

DS: I understand that Gehry now has the power to name his price. He’s now using his position—and the sense that his signature can transform the prospects of a commercial development—to actually take points in the development, which is fascinating.

Now Sudjic was not talking directly about the Atlantic Yards project, the biggest project Gehry ever designed. Does Gehry's enthusiasm for the project extend beyond the opportunity to design his first arena, or a "neighborhood from scratch," as he erroneously said? Does he have a financial stake in the deal beyond his typical fee? We don't know, since it hasn't been discussed publicly, but the question's worth asking, especially given Gehry's assiduous support for the project.

Creative freedom?

AM: Beyond the commercial, does Gehry have the opportunity to take more creative freedom? Is he less hemmed in by the imbalance of power your book describes?

DS: I think Gehry is a very sophisticated architect. He has managed to resist the temptations and seductions that tend to be the downfall of many architects who begin to believe their own myth. In the end, architecture is based on the belief that the architect can invent a whole world. I think it’s important to understand the limitations of that. There’s a constant ambiguity between the architect who sees himself as being the form-giver, the inventor of systems, and the reality, which is rather less elevated. It’s always a nuanced relationship, and successful architects are ones who understand their limitations and create ways to manipulate the situation to their advantage.

The imbalance of power regards the client. In this case, Gehry has obviously been given some reign to follow his muse; that's why he calls the largest tower, Miss Brooklyn, "my ego trip." He has praised Forest City Ratner for being "very fastidious in supporting the things that I think are important." Then again, he also has said that he wanted to bring in other architects to work with him, and that's been denied--perhaps because a Frank Gehry-designed apartment building would sell better than one designed by a lesser name.

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