Gehry vs LEED

Note: The original title for article was “Gehry vs Sustainability” and it was changed to “Gehry vs LEED” on May 22nd for accuracy.

Frank Gehry can usually spice things up.  And, his recent comments about sustainability prove that the 81 year old starchitect still remains as provocative and shocking as he always was.  In an interview with Blair Kamin from the Chicago Tribune, Gehry basically dismissed LEED and its efforts to make our built environment more eco-friendly.  While his opposition may be targeted predominately toward LEED’s point system, rather than the overall green movement, his comments, like usual, stirred up some controversy.

Check out the interview and some responses after the break.

In the Tribune, Gehry was quoted as saying:

“I think the issue is finally a political one,” Gehry said. Referring to the LEED (for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system for buildings, which awards points for energy-saving features but has been criticized because some of these features (like bike racks) are superficial add-ons, Gehry said: “A lot of LEED is given for bogus stuff.” The costs of making a green building are “enormous,” he said, and “they don’t pay back in your lifetime.”

Editor of Metropolis, Susan S. Szenasy, fired back with her letter, “You are so wrong, Frank Gehry”.  She feels that architects should take responsibility for doing something about climate change:

“With buildings known to produce more than half of the world’s carbon output, surely those who design and build them have to shoulder some responsibility. But not, apparently, Gehry. He cavalierly called out LEED ratings (and thus the many efforts made every day by architects and designers to make our world less toxic, use available energy and water more carefully, pay mind to the site and its proximity to public transit, etc. ) as “political” and “bogus.” This is unfortunate for everyone concerned, and everyone must be concerned. But I’m not surprised, though I am saddened no end.

“…How would the world look and feel if the stars of architecture decided to stand up for the good of humanity? What if, I kept asking, they admitted that great architecture could also be kind to people and the environment? Would such an act of involvement diminish their star status? I don’t think so.”

Hopefully, Gehry understands the importance of our environmentally conscious decisions and he is purely criticizing the LEED point system.  It would be a shame for, arguably, one of the most well known architects not to see the benefit of the green frenzy that is taking control.  And yet, interestingly enough, Gehry’s controversial statements did do something positive, as the scores of people reacting against his comments prove the strength and support of the green movement has attained these past few years.

Sources:  Lloyd Alter Treehugger

Cite: Cilento, Karen. "Gehry vs LEED" 21 May 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed 27 May 2015. <>
  • Cole

    Dont blame it on the architect, but rather those who have grown accustom to air conditioning, heat and electricity.

  • RK

    I think, personally, despite whatever motivation you have to be sustainable/green, sustainability is a good thing. I think there are lot of misguided people out there. However my point is, whether you are looking for some sort of superficial political gain, or you feel that you as a human being will save mother earth, or if you are attempting to respond to global warming, or if you are concerned with the dwindling availability of finite resources, that fact that you practice sustainability I think is morally significant, as it mean that you are looking to conserve and reuse both energy and materials. I think its good ethics. But IDK… I still don’t know much about it.

  • Hunter Ruthrauff

    Gehry is right in one regard. LEED really is a crock. If you are LEED certified or are studying for LEED its simple to see that LEED is nothing more than product specification and stuff thats tacked on after the fact, however, that is not to say that designing sustainable building will not pay off in its lifetime or that its useless to design a sustainable building all together. There are many many low tech methods that aren’t extremely expensive that will save you energy and utilize low embodied energy materials. Psychometric chart? LEED, not unlike licensure, is largely a way to collect MONEY. If you graduate in Europe from architecture school, guess what? Your an architect!

    • JC

      when gehry says the building wont pay off in a lifetime is a fact cause though the materials used amy b sustinable but they always come with high pricing and high maintenance……so mayb v should go back to basics and jus come up with designs that are site friendly…….

    • biboarchitect

      100% agree
      I believe in sustainability, but not in LEED, and also i agree with him that green buildings are way more expensive than normal

      • biboarchitect

        agree with u hunter i mean

      • HOHOHO

        LEED is full of it! The point system is flawed…

    • CD architect

      I could not agree more. LEED is a money making machine, misguiding the general public (potential clients)that only LEED certified professionals and materials are qualified to be GREEN building methods. Recently a new entity has sprung up from BPI (Building Professionals Institute) expects to replace LEED certification for contractors. RESNET is a money making simple certification program for contractors and appears focused more on revenue than actually educating. This movement in residential construction could result in poor attempts to improve energy this creating the next wave of “sick home” syndrome. As design professionals, we have a responsibility to not only design energy efficient buildings for our clients, but educate the general public through design.


    Gehry wasn’t quoted saying anything we already don’t know. If we are really serious about sustainability, let’s look closer at LEED certification, or maybe not even depend on it.

  • p

    LEED has some issues, but is not a crock. LEED is in many ways the best way an architect has to leverage actual sustainable strategies to a developer. It gives a measurable and quantifiable level to building for those who don’t know everything about it. Not all LEED buildings are really green, but it prvides a platform for making sustainability a true basis in our building culture to have a rating system attributed to it. The cost issues associated with going through LEED are questionable for a non-profit, but this is America who isn’t trying to make money?

    They are updating LEED so that measurement and verification is becoming a larger part which is always good. If LEED isn’t enough for you you can always go for the living building challenge, good luck.

  • Jason

    Anyone who has worked in architecture would not consider the comments shocking or controversial. He’s saying the same things architects and designers have been saying about LEED for years. It’s only “controversial” because he is a well-known starchitect (my mom even knows who he is, for chrissakes) and the idiots in the general public have not been a part of the discussions that have been going on among people in architecture for the past few years – so it’s “shocking” to them.

    LEED is a crock (GASP!). Big deal. We all know it, move on.

  • Jason

    Additionally, it is obvious that the criticism was directed directly at the LEED system and not the concept of sustainability as a whole. Susan Szenasy is an idiot.

    • grandpappy SNOhetta

      You’re right. Perfectly summed up, thank you! All of the other comments by people on this story are worthless

  • Kent Clarke

    Love all the Architects coming to the defense of Papa Gehry! We love you Papa.

    • Jason

      I can’t stand Frank Gehry. He just happens to be right on this.

  • dh

    I gotta agree with Frank. BREAM way more stringent.

  • Chas

    I think of all the people that shouldn’t make comments about “enormous costs”….Gehry is the top of that list. I really respect Gehry’s designs and creativity but he is not someone that can make statements about cost.

    As a LEED AP, i could go and defend the merits of LEED but i’ll stay off my soap box. there is more than enough back up to LEED for anyone that does the research.

    I would also like to challenge anyone that doesn’t like LEED to come up with something better. what’s your alternative? Energy Star? Green Globes? Cradle to Cradle? BREEAM? Living Building Challenge?
    I have complaints about LEED but it’s the best tool out there.

    • tDA

      What’s your source of “research” – the USGBC site?

  • person

    why is anyone complaining about him? i mean if you actually look at leed

    1: points are given for bogus things. a lot fals through the cracks, wind generators poorly placed, points given for bike racks where biking is clearly not an option, etc.

    2:Gerhy isn’t saying that sustainability is bad, he’s saying that we can be sustainable without playing a game, without paying thousands of dollars for a plaque, without paying 10 dollars for a recycled notebook…..

    3: the real issue is that people are sort of trying to privatize green: “you can’t be eco-friendly unless you give me your money”

    so the lady who wrote the letter clearly didn’t listen to a thing gehry said. what a nutcase. who do you think is giving her money…..

  • Josephklein

    Green is market making money generating verbiage that pulls at your heartstrings. Eat bread water wear a coat don’t move buy one professional object use it till it falls apart. Green marketing is for the asset holding class for the poor are already green. This is mostly an institutional debate. You could say this neg GDP global growth is the most in pact full environmental action none legislated and you would be right just. Green words coming from aggressive ambitious competitive tool and manufacturing individual is a bit funny. The big question is can investors still make money on the word green.

  • ygogolak

    Karen Cilento,
    Congratulations on being the next to misquote Gehry. Tell me where Gehry says the word sustainability and refers to it in a negative manner in the interview?
    But the title of this story is “Gehry vs Sustainability”, not LEED, which is what he was directing his energy at. You must be friends with Susan from Metropolis.

  • St Barth

    Gehry is right. Probably old Frank Lloyd Wright would also think LEED is a crock too.

  • Chase

    Gehry is right, he was criticizing the LEED system, which is flawed. Using the LEED system a new building can become silver certified using business as usual design practices and creatively specifying ‘recycled’ or ‘renewable’ materials. LEED does not challenge architects and designers to think of creative solutions to energy consumption the way a true sustainable grading system should.

  • NYCVol

    Glad everyone here is in agreement. LEED is like NCARB, it has reached the point that it only exists to sustain itself and has become a disservice to architects. Not a Gehry fan, but he is correct. I’m all for green, but LEED needs to go.

  • Trep

    Funny how the more advanced buildings and architecture, in general, has become, the less honest it has become in responding to sustainablility…All of the sudden if architects don’t accomplish a ‘gold’ or ‘plantinum’ rating via “hi-tech green” technologies in their buildings we’ve been brainwashed to think it’s not good enough…Even funnier- in my opinion the most honestly green buildings were built ages ago without the BS “green technology”…go wonder

  • tj

    Go Gehry!

  • md

    Leed and usgbc are just like any other unnecessary outfit who is making a living riding on the backs of professionals. Educated professionals will design “green” whether they are LEED AP or not. How many green projects never get rated by LEED, does that make them less important? Do away with LEED, handle green design in education similar to site planning , or lateral forces. Gehry is right on, despite our differences in personal aesthetics.

  • Dustin

    Gehry is totally right, support sustainability … not LEED.

  • Samuel

    This is Gery vs Leed, not sustainability

  • Anonymous

    The comments, in particular, Susan S. Szenasy’s should not have reacted in such vilified manner towards Frank Gehry’s opinions – they are completely misinterpreted, and ill-representations of Gehry’s stance on sustainability. It seems that by Gehry criticising LEED, it has made him dismiss sustainability completely. Since when has LEED been the banner of sustainability, and since when has it been wrong to make comments about a company and its practise?

    I see this not as a debate on sustainability, as the media portrays, but a criticism of LEED.

  • Dave

    eff LEED.

  • jc

    Sustainable practice is interesting, because it shows the disonance between architecture as a discipline and architecture as something lived in. A colleague of mine recently told me a story of how, in New Zealand, new sustainable building practice measures had resulted in an increase in energy consumption by building occupants because people could finally heat their houses effectively. This is anecdotal evidence, but made me think. I’m not familiar with the LEED system, but points systems like BASIX are truly insufficient to measure building performance because they forcibly remove the occupants from the equation. Just another example of bureaucracy taking precedence over common sense.

  • Matovic

    He actually makes a valid point – and everyone is actually overlooking his purpose. Anyone with any mind towards sustainability and positive development should read papers by Prof. Janis Birkeland. Current analysis systems are not up to scratch and merely certify, at a cost, buildings that are “less bad” and do not punish people for poor design and building practices. These buildings do not actually give back to the ecological base, and arent sustainable as we have already exceeded the earths carrying capacity.

    People missing this point are actually doing more harm to the sustainability movement, as are these systems of analysis and measurement. We need new proactive, rather than reactive systems that ask why positive outcomes wont be obtained by the building, rather than measuring the damage buildings are doing after the fact.

  • Michael

    LEED is something primarily created for the understanding and marketing of the Green Movement as it relates to the mass public, one who may not be at the forefront (or even interested) in thinking about design or architecture.
    If architects design within LEED, they design to a system that is based on gaining advertisement and publicity for their building, while only taking a limited number of actions towards sustainable design.
    Good architects design within LEED. Great Architects design beyond it, making it a starting point for all design solutions (that includes going beyond cladding your entire home in solar panels) and embedding it in driving design philosophy. I believe Frank is pretty much re-iterating this point. I also agree with other readers, as to the title of the article (Gehry vs. LEED) as well some assumptions people are making with his words, that this isn’t well written.
    Gehry should definitely make sure his buildings back up this point though. I’m not a huge fan of his work, but if you’re gonna criticize, make sure you put your pencil where your mouth is.

  • jorge

    ghery talking about sustainability is dumbo talking about ears… the waste of materials in almost all of his building is so significant that he should problably just keep his mouth shut…

    • archi


    • eduardo

      am not agree. their expensives projects are so emblematic that justify the cost.

  • Ralph Kent

    ‘The costs of making a green building are “enormous,” he said, and “they don’t pay back in your lifetime.”’

    Yeah, go Frankie! You can show the world what value for money design really is, can’t you?!!! I think what the world needs now is a bit more ego-driven, gestural, iconic architecture, most of which also happens to be disgustingly ugly. Step up, Frank!


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  • italo

    please change the title of this posting to “Gehry vs LEED”
    that’s what it is actually about.
    Susan took Gehry completely out of context and put words in his mouth, and you took the bait. Make it right, please.