Frank Gehry is 77, white haired, paunchy, and when we talked one afternoon in late autumn the topics of age and death never seemed far off. Mr. Gehry is, of course, one of the world's great architects, creator of the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao and enough of an icon to have been among the personalities featured in Apple's "Think Different" campaign.
Describing what it takes for him to accept a commission, Mr. Gehry says, "The determining factor is: Can I get it done while I am still alive?" Explaining why he doesn't build houses any more, Mr. Gehry says, "They involve a lot of personal hand holding. I guess at my age I don't have the patience."
The Atlantic Yards project, unmentioned in the interview, would take ten years to build, at best, and even supporters and cordial critics believe it more likely would take 15-20 years.
Last January, I reported on a Gehry public appearance:
Gehry, who had previously said that he had asked Ratner to let other architects design parts of the project, didn’t complain yesterday but simply related that "there are some 20 buildings to be built, and the client insisted that I do them all. When he came to me, he said, 'I know you're going to try and bring all your friends in to do all the buildings, cause that's a cop-out.'... And he didn't want me to do that, he wanted me to really solve the problem, and put me on the hot seat."
Let's assume that Gehry most readily warmed to the challenge of building his first sports arena. If the project proceeds on or close to schedule (the arena's due in the fall of 2009, two years later than originally announced) and Gehry remains healthy, then he'll have gotten it done during his remaining years.
But the potential for delay combined with actuarial calculations suggests that it's highly unlikely that Gehry will oversee the entire project from start to finish. But having Gehry's name on the buildings would indeed be a selling point.