Frank Gehry interview on Playboy

“Ninety-eight percent of buildings are boxes, which tells me that a lot of people are in denial. We live and work in boxes. People don’t even notice that. 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 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 fuck are you talking about?‘”

Don´t miss Frank Ghery’s epic interview on the January issue of Playboy.

More snippets of the interview after the break:

On the resistance he faced from local residents in Bilbao when building the Guggenheim: “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.”

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 sameness…it’s so common it’s accepted. We can’t imagine it any other way. It’s dehumanizing, and we don’t even notice it.”

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 everythingbut 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?”

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.”

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.”

On responding to criticism that he has a big ego: “In the Sydney Pollack documentary 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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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…”

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.”

Cite: Basulto, David. "Frank Gehry interview on Playboy" 16 Dec 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed 22 May 2015. <>
  • Pedro

    I would not call the “Experience Music Project” real architecture. That thing is a mess! The program is awful; have no idea where I’m supposed to go or if I’ve been here already and end up going back and forth through the same space. All he did was design a shell and crammed the program wherever it fit. Ridiculous. THAT is why The Simpsons got it RIGHT.

  • archi

    That’s because ninety-eight percent of people can’t afford your buildings. They can only afford the boxes. If you don’t like being a “starchitect”, then why agree to be interviewed by Playboy, of all things.

  • Pedro

    I would not call Seattle’s “Experience Music Project” real Architecture at all! That place is a mess. I couldn’t tell where I was supposed to go, there was no flow at all, and had to walk back and forth between the same space. All he did was throw together a shell and cram in the program however it landed. He does not respond to any context or even the function. Oh it’s supposed to be cute that he does random sketches and wins a competition? That is not real architecture. THAT is why The Simpsons got it RIGHT!

    • youme


      Centuries after you are dead, people will keep flocking and returning amazed to FOG buildings, books and ideas as we do now to mîchelangelo’s. Only you are to narrow minded to understand it .. ; )

  • JP

    Im not Gehry’s biggest fan, but I admire his need to express himself, which from time to time results in good architecture, I think what he´s trying to say with the comment about living surrounded by “boxes” or ” everything but architecture”, is that actually very few architects are convinced about their own architectural proposal, whether they build boxes or twisted shapes, most of the people build boxes not because they think they’re beautiful or cheaper but because its easier and it does’nt require a lot of work to make them happen.

    And yes, not every client can afford Gehry’s buildings, but if there wasn’t a market for Lamborghinis, they wouldn’t exist (not that I believe Gehry’s architecture may be compared to a Lamborghini).

    I too hate the word Starchitect.

  • mssngvwl

    I thought no one read the articles anyway?? .. . …

  • Lawrence M

    I am prompted to consider Mr. Gehry’s recent Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas, which looks like a time-lapse photo of a building exploding from the inside, the walls peeling off, or, perhaps more accurately, a wax model in its final stages of melting in an oven. This was provocatively displayed in AD five or six months ago. The interview above should have run alongside a photo of that. As it is, Mr. Gehry appears to demonstrate a good mind and sound opinions, even, in fact, a reasonably humble perspective of his own talent and importance. I like that he appreciates the Parthenon, Chartres, and Sydney Opera House. So do I. I don’t know how his opinions on those masterpieces relate to his own works, but, anyway, he appears to have some valid appreciation.

    Our profession and my observations have been dogged by this fellow and his works for some 40 years now. I have yet to understand how and why he draws the notice, much less acclaim, he does. But that’s just me, I guess.