Frank Gehry Talks Frankly and Just Does His Work

Playboy Magazine Interviews Architect Frank Gehry

Frank Gehry stands smiling near his museum in Bilbao, Spain, the Guggenheim
Frank Gehry in 2006 stands smiling near his museum in Bilbao, Spain, the Guggenheim. Photo by Luis Davilla/Cover Collection/Getty Images

"Ninety-eight percent of buildings are boxes, which tells me that a lot of people are in denial. We live and work in boxes," legendary architect Frank Gehry told Playboy magazine during an interview with Contributing Editor David Sheff.

"People don't even notice that," Gehry said. "Most of what's around us is banal. We live with it. We accept it as inevitable. People say, 'This is the world the way it is, and don't bother me.' Then when somebody does something different, real architecture, the push-back is amazing.

People resist it. At first it's new and scary."

The full interview, A Candid Conversation with the World's Most Important Architect About Why People Love Good Design, Why They Fear it and How The Simpsons Got it Wrong, appears in the January 2011 issue of Playboy magazine. While the magazine is spiced with naughty photos (parents beware), the Frank Gehry interview offers valuable insights into the mind and creativity of one of the most important architects of modern times. Read excepts here:

On being labeled a starchitect, and the celebrity image that comes with Frank Gehry's success: "The thing is, I hate the celebrity architect thing. I just do my work. The press comes up with this stuff and it sticks. I hate the word starchitect. Stuff like that comes from mean-spirited, untalented journalists. It's demeaning. It's derisive, and once it's said, it sticks. I get introduced all the time, 'Here's starchitect Frank Gehry....' My reaction: 'What the f*ck are you talking about?'"

On the resistance Frank Gehry faced from local residents in Bilbao when building the Guggenheim Bilbao: "Immediately there was a vigil in the street. Steelworkers, dockworkers, other union people and many others all against me created a phalanx with candles....There was a threat in the newspaper, 'Kill the American architect.'...They didn't want it built.

They hated it. They were appalled. They didn't understand it. They didn't want the change it represented. Now that it's built they run over and want their pictures taken with me. 'Señor Gehry, Señor Gehry!'....I should live there. It's a love-in, though they'd probably get tired of me. Before, however, they reacted as if I was taking their city away."

Read more quotes by architect Frank Gehry, excerpted from A Candid Conversation with the World’s Most Important Architect About Why People Love Good Design, Why They Fear it and How The Simpsons Got it Wrong. The complete interview appears in the January 2011 issue of Playboy magazine. (Magazine includes adult content.)



Frank Gehry on the strip malls, McMansions, and tract-houses commonly seen in suburban America: "'Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky-tacky.' There's the old song about it.

It's a metaphor for what we're being told: 'Just stay in the box, kid, don't muddy the water.' Parents say it to their kids. Teachers say it. Schools do. And so people become immune to the's so common it's accepted. We can't imagine it any other way. It's dehumanizing, and we don't even notice it."



Frank Gehry on whether people really care that much about architecture or design: "I think people care. If not, why do so many people spend money going on vacations to see architecture? They go to the Parthenon, to Chartres, to the Sydney Opera House. They go to Bilbao....Something compels them, and yet we live surrounded by everything but great architecture. Why do we stand for it? People are searching for something they don't have in their lives. There's an unfulfilled need. My question is, What creates that need, and why doesn't it translate into more of a demand for better design in our lives?"

Frank Gehry on the source of big ideas, and whether it's true or not that his vision for Disney Hall came from a crumpled-up piece of paper: "That's mythology. I wish I could do that, but it's not true. That's from The Simpsons. On the show I crumple up a letter and there's the concert hall they asked me to design.

If only it were that easy. The Disney Hall was never a crumpled piece of paper. The fact is I'm an opportunist. I'll take materials around me, materials on my table, and work with them as I'm searching for an idea that works."

Frank Gehry on mankind's impulse to build things bigger and better, such as skyscrapers: "There's a drive in us to express ourselves in some way or form. We pick up whatever material is available. It's primitive. Kids see sand on the beach, build something and show their parents: 'Look what I did, Mama.'....Ultimately you can't repress individuality, even though you can try. People live and work in uninspiring environments, but look inside those rooms. Look at the painted walls and the decorations. People rebel even in the most controlled office environment in which they're not allowed to do anything. You see the little bulletin board in front of a person's desk with their photos, clippings, cartoons and whatever else."

Frank Gehry on responding to criticism that he has a big ego: "In the Sydney Pollack documentary [Sketches of Frank Gehry] about me, Tom Krens, the former Guggenheim director, says I have the biggest ego in the world and that it manifests itself when you come to me and say 'I don't like this' or 'I want a change.' He says I relish that because my ego's so big I think I can solve whatever you throw at me and make it even better.

I enjoy the interaction and the challenge."
Sketches of Frank Gehry by Sydney Pollack

Read more quotes by architect Frank Gehry, excerpted from A Candid Conversation with the World’s Most Important Architect About Why People Love Good Design, Why They Fear it and How The Simpsons Got it Wrong. The complete interview appears in the January 2011 issue of Playboy magazine. (Magazine includes adult content.)



Frank Gehry on whether or not he cares about how the interiors of his buildings are decorated: "It's up to [the designers].

It's why I don't micromanage the interiors. People ask me to and I say no. I don't want to control everything like Mies and Frank Lloyd Wright did. I'll say, 'I'm going to design the container and the interior spaces. You bring your own stuff to it and make it your own.' I don't impose myself in that way."



Frank Gehry on if he has a favorite of all the buildings he's built: "That's like asking which of your kids is your favorite. Even if I had one I wouldn't say."

Frank Gehry on newer buildings by other architects that he considers favorites: "At first I didn't cotton to Mies's Lake Shore Drive towers in Chicago, but when I went there and saw how they come down on the slab of one-and-seven-eighths-inch thick travertine, I turned around. I think that was an incredible statement of modesty and power…It was so subtle, understated and powerful as hell. Rem Koolhaas certainly achieved an incredible piece of sculpture in the CCTV tower in Beijing.

Also in Beijing, of course, the Bird's Nest stadium [built for the Olympics] by Herzog and de Meuron. I like a lot of young people, such as Zaha Hadid, who did the MAXXI Museum in Rome. They're finding their way, and I have great respect for them."

Frank Gehry on the perpetual race to build the world's tallest buildings: "Yes, the race continues in a way.

My tallest is the Beekman in New York; it's being finished now. The client said that at 76 stories it is the tallest apartment building in New York, and I said, 'Why don't we make it two stories shorter so it's not, because if Trump hears that, he'll try to beat it, and I don't want to bother him.' Already somebody's doing a taller one. It's a hilarious thing about erections...."

Frank Gehry on "green" building, and the need for architects to be environmentally responsible: "Many people put a green button on their collar and feel good, just like a lot of people put an American flag on their lapels and feel patriotic. It's not enough....I've been concerned about these issues since the 1960s....For years good architects were dealing with environmentally responsible design—materials, energy efficiency, all that—before it became a trend. Frank Lloyd Wright always did. I just don't think it's enough to solve this monumental problem. We have to do more."

On the "Bilbao" effect—how art and architecture can completely transform the identity of a city and its people: "It's not new. The Bilbao effect is the Parthenon effect, the Chartres Cathedral effect, the Notre Dame effect. The press labeled it the Bilbao effect; I didn't name it.

It's not new that architecture can profoundly affect a place, sometimes transform it. Architecture and any art can transform a person, even save someone. It can for children—for anyone. It still does for me."