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The Work Of Frank Gehry Has Been Analyzed On The Basis Of Three 1980s’ Buildings In Los Angeles

December 20, 2011

Iñaki Begiristain, a lecturer at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), did his thesis on the architect of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, but with the focus placed far away from this Basque city. In fact, he has analyzed three buildings Frank Gehry designed in the county of Los Angeles in the 1980s: the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, the Edgemar Center and the Loyola Law School. The thesis is organized in an unusual way, rather like an essay. “It is a relatus made up of the pieces that were found,” explains the researcher. In his view, that is how Gehry the architect creates; this is what he explains in his thesis: there is a relatus in these three buildings, or, to put it another way, an attempt to capture the passing of time. He submitted his thesis at the UPV/EHU with the following title: Fikzioak eta relatus berrien eraikuntza. Frank Gehryren hiru proiekturen azterketa (Fictions and Construction of new Relatus. Study of three of Frank Gehry´s projects).

Begiristain explains that building in Los Angeles is about building without any context or references. In other words, the three buildings analyzed are “projects that were started from scratch. In the midst of that empty space the project has to invent its location”. In fact, that empty space is limited by a U-shaped ground plan, and there is a double entrance in the open part of that “U”. What is more, Gehry makes use of the opening to create a new public space on the corresponding plot of land: the mesh structure at Cabrillo, the little square at Edgemar and a campus at Loyola. The similarities do not stop there, since the three projects look ordinary from outside, but from inside they are totally different. “They are buildings that face inwards. Those surfaces that are ordinary and continuous from the outside are completely divided up inside, they are made of many different materials and comprise elements that have all kinds of scales,” the researcher points out. 

Creating a relatus

As Begiristain explains, in the absence of references it is very common in the architecture of Los Angeles to seek inspiration in fiction or in history, and to use theme elements or resources that have to do with film sets. Yet Gehry creates the interiors of his buildings differently: “He provides the pedestrian with something like an architectural story, through a path made up of all kinds of elements.” Although the works are designed by a single architect, they simulate heterogeneity. They represent the passing of time: instead of being a building started from scratch, instead of being built within a specific period of time, it looks as if the elements have been gradually added, that the works were executed in several phases and that the building is the outcome of a long process. Like football stadiums that gradually expand and are transformed. In short, as Begiristain points out in this thesis, Gehry creates a relatus or story without having to invent a fiction for doing so.

Indeed, the architect resorts to his own catalogue, to his own origins to build up that story. That catalogue is rooted in the modern building tradition of California. “On the one hand, it is based on the industry of architecture and on contemporary construction techniques, and on the other hand, on the criticism of modern orthodoxy and in the relationship with 1960s’ plastic artists. From his biography it is possible to understand where that formal catalogue springs from. At first sight, it can often be understood as a divertimento, but it has more consolidated foundations,” the researcher points out.

The three buildings analyzed suggest to Begiristain the passing of time, the burden of the past, memory, etc. So he has made a personal reflection in his thesis about other works that have awakened similar sensations in him and which belong to disciplines other than architecture. They are examples taken from all kinds of disciplines: the memories incorporated into the humanoids in the film Blade Runner, Nietzsche´s writings on how excessive the weight of history can be on life“¦ As in Gehry´s architecture, these things that appear in films and literature are also elements that make up a route or relatus.

Guggenheim Museum

Begiristain has also compared the three buildings studied with Gehry´s more modern works, like the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. Unlike the Los Angeles projects, this time the architect did have a reference before getting down to work: the Salve bridge. “The building embraces the bridge and is anchored there,” explains the researcher. Nevertheless, at the other end of the quay he detects a similarity with the California projects, in the place where he built “the stone fence”, on the side that provides access to the slope up to the main entrance of the museum: “At the point where the scale starts to be another one, at that part at the front which at the time was a void without references, the fence opens and behind it the fragmented diversity of the program is protected.”

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