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Kyle Smith (Twitter: @rkylesmith) is a film critic for The New York Post and the author of the novels Love Monkey and A Christmas Caroline. Type a title in the box above to locate a review.

Buy Love Monkey for $4! "Hilarious"--Maslin, NY Times. "Exceedingly readable and wickedly funny romantic comedy"--S.F. Chronicle. "Loud and brash, a helluva lot of fun"--Entertainment Weekly. "Engaging romp, laugh-out-loud funny"-CNN. "Shrewd, self-deprecating, oh-so-witty. Smith's ruthless humor knows no bounds"--NPR

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    The Cult of Frank Gehry

    By Kyle | November 11, 2007

    gehrysimpsons.jpg

    My Sunday column:

    FRANK LLOYD WRONG

    November 11, 2007 — Memo to Frank Gehry: next time you put up yet another of your disastrously engineered buildings, try to find a place where it might be less conspicuous to engineers than the MIT campus.

    In a lawsuit first reported by the Boston Globe last week, MIT alleged that the three-year-old Stata Center, one of Gehry’s trademark designs from the Four Car Pileup school of architecture, is already suffering from cracks in its amphitheater because of poor drainage, as well as widespread leaks that have been there since virtually the day the building opened. In winter, outdoor mini-avalanching turns entrances into hard hat zones.

    How much of a debacle did the building have to be before the MIT nerd patrol turned on the captain of the cultural football team, a guy so famous he’s been on “The Simpsons”? (Take that, Robert A.M. Stern!) By attacking Gehry’s shoddy work, they were tacitly admitting the boneheaditude of hiring a guy whose previous buildings were noted for (a) having to be sandblasted after mirror-like surfaces pan-fried the sidewalk to 140 degrees (the Disney Concert Hall in L.A.), (b) launching rooftop ice bombs that forced the sidewalks to be cordoned off with barricades while passersby were made to walk in the street (the Peter B. Lewis Building at Case Western Reserve University) and (c) needing to have a central feature, a 75-foot copper trellis, torn off in Rocklin, Calif., structure after it caused leaks. Even the Guggenheim Bilbao sprouted a mysterious brown stain after only three years.

    Gehry’s response to MIT: for $300 million, you expected it to be waterproof? (The building’s original budget was $100 million.) “The client chose not to put certain devices on the roofs, to save money,” Gehry sniffed in the New York Times, citing the dismal “value engineering” that led to such penny-pinching. Or as Nelson Muntz would put it, “Stop hitting yourself!” (While ramming the nerd’s puny fist into his own spotty face.)

    Gehry is the Jean-Paul Gaultier of architecture: Gaultier gets air-kissed every time he delivers the latest in Naughty Space Cadet-wear and Gehry’s buildings look amazing – this season.

    But Gaultier’s creations are supposed to be fashion, frivolous, disposable. Kate Moss does her frown-and-twirl, and the frock is gone. No one would ever wear a metallic conical bra unless she had at least five backup dancers. Buildings, though, are meant to span centuries.

    Gehry is diluting his cool factor so quickly – now he’s designing jewelry, wristwatches and the Wyborowa Vodka bottle – that he seems determined to become the Pierre Cardin of design, and once his stuff is everywhere, as it soon will be, future generations will look at his jumbly faddish structures the way we look at shoulder pads or hoop skirts. When he builds the Ground Zero arts center and the new home of the Brooklyn Nets, will he embarrass us the way he has so many others?

    Professors at the MIT building – including Noam Chomsky – complain that they can’t put in bookcases (the walls are tilted) and they’re living in a zoo because of the open plan’s lack of privacy (actually, it’s more like living in a petri dish – there’s mold growing on the outside). People with IQs that exceed Queen Latifah’s weight have complained that they get lost in the maze-like internal layout. One of the conference rooms stuck into the roof is so bizarrely shaped that a third or more of all visitors – including Gehry himself – suffer dizzy spells in it.

    One of Gehry’s most praised creations had to be torn up because its floor was too slippery for women in heels. Who could have expected fashionable women to congregate in such a space – the Conde Nast Cafeteria here in Midtown?

    In response to the Case Western Reserve crisis, Jim Glymph, a partner of Gehry’s, came up with this fast-thinking response: blame the weather! “You’ve had a really, really unusual winter,” he said. Snow in Cleveland? What’ll happen next? Polar bears in the Sahara?

    On the other end of the scale, when forced to sandblast the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles after it started roasting neighbors, another Gehry partner emphasized that the problem was “seasonal” and blamed the sun for shining at an inconvenient angle – from April into the summer. The other seven months, it was fine.

    Announcing the MIT project in happier days, then-president Chuck Vest said it “should stand as a metaphor for the ingenuity at work inside them.” Now he’s got the world’s leakiest metaphor. As the Onion put it, “Frank Gehry No Longer Allowed to Make Sandwiches for Grandkids.”

    Topics: Architecture, News | 8 Comments »

    8 Responses to “The Cult of Frank Gehry”

    1. Devil's Advocate Says:
      November 11th, 2007 at 6:09 pm

      Considering that the design of his buildings there are diliberately designed as symbols of madness and decay I’d be surprised if MIT won the case. A good defense would be that leaking plumbing and separating walls are a feature, not a bug.

    2. K Says:
      November 11th, 2007 at 6:11 pm

      Considering that his buildings there are diliberately designed as modern art symbols of madness and decay, I’d be surprised if MIT won the case. A good defense would be that leaking plumbing and separating walls are a feature, not a bug.

    3. jic Says:
      November 11th, 2007 at 11:07 pm

      Anyone who’s inconvienenced Noam Chomsky can’t be all bad…

      …wait, you say it wasn’t deliberate?

      I think you nailed it when you likened Gehry to an avant-garde fashion designer: utility and durability are irrelevant; and who cares how stupid it looks, as long as it’s original?

    4. James Anderson Says:
      November 12th, 2007 at 8:18 am

      Remember Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser? Yes, the ‘Mold Manifesto’ lives! Forget the leaks, a drop of water runs deep. Consider, “an uneven floor is a melody to the feet”.

    5. Flanders Says:
      November 12th, 2007 at 10:59 am

      GREAT ARTICLE!

      Favorite Line

      One of Gehry’s most praised creations had to be torn up because its floor was too slippery for women in heels. Who could have expected fashionable women to congregate in such a space – the Conde Nast Cafeteria here in Midtown?

    6. RBfromManhattan Says:
      November 12th, 2007 at 1:35 pm

      For years there has been a low level of mockery for Gehry’s “Emperor’s New Clothes” architectural abominations. One of the best goofs on Gehry was a “New Yorker” cartoon that showed one dog pointing and laughing at another dog’s obvious Gehry-designe doghouse. How in hell can anyone with an ounce of practical sense look at an archtectural rendering from Frank Gehry’s studio and take it seriously. It should be immediately obvious that such structures are as absurd to construct, then occupy, as they are to view.

    7. jic Says:
      November 13th, 2007 at 1:00 am

      I love that song: “Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser? That’s my name too…”

    8. kyle Says:
      November 13th, 2007 at 11:49 pm

      yeah, who or what is Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser? Sounds like an existential Nordic metal band.

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