The Guggenheim is planning a new museum in Helsinki. The site is in the heart of the city, next door to the late 19th Century market hall and open-air market place, two minutes from Helsinki Cathedral. The project, therefore, has great landmark potential for the city. And many Finns are lured by this very potential, wanting to increase tourism and put their capital city more evidently on the world map. There has also been discussion in the country’s main newspaper Helsingin Sanomat about how Finns should welcome a more joyous and fun architecture.
Destination-creation and architecture as entertainment are certainly strong themes of our times. They were treated with great artistry by Frank Gehry with the Bilbao Guggenheim, opened in 1997. However, it’s important to remember that the Bilbao Guggenheim might best be considered a spectacular one-off. Mayors, politicians and world leaders have since sought, in perhaps too facile a way, to rebrand their cities and countries with iconic landmarks. There has been much talk of making cities “world class” through such architectural gestures, and yet much of this marketer’s fodder is wholly out of touch with what makes great architecture great.
For Peter Aspden’s first encounter with the architect of the Guggenheim in Bilbao and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA, Frank Gehry did not “exude sweetness.” “You are not going to call me a [...] ‘star-chitect’? I hate that.” In a candid interview with the Financial Times, Gehry discusses the problem of being branded for beginning the Bilbao Effect in spite of the fact that he insists that “you can’t escape your signature.” Gehry talks at length about Facebook’s latest headquarters and, in particular, his relationship with his client, Mark Zuckerberg. Read the full interview here.
In this article, which originally appeared in Metropolis Magazine’s Point of View Blog as “Q&A: Edwin Chan,” Iman Ansari interviews Edwin Chan, a design partner at Frank Gehry architects for 25 years, about Gehry and the many significant cultural and institutional projects he worked on before starting his own practice, EC3.
Iman Ansari: When we look at the work of Frank Gehry or Thom Mayne, as LA architects, there is a certain symbolic relationship to the city evident in the work: the industrial character of these buildings and elements of the highway or automobile culture that tie the architecture to the larger urban infrastructure, the scale of the projects, as well as the conscious use of materials such as metal, glass or concrete. But as freestanding machine-like objects sitting at the heart of the city these buildings also embody certain ideals and values that are uniquely American, such as individualism, and freedom of expression. In your opinion how is Frank Gehry’s work tied to Los Angeles or the American culture?
Edwin Chan: Absolutely. I think Frank’s work definitely has DNA of LA as a city. We talk about the idea of a democratic city a lot, and coincidentally Hillary Clinton mentioned that in her speech recently saying: “We need a new architecture for this new world, more Frank Gehry than formal Greek,” because it’s the expression of democracy. In that sense you could think about the building embodying certain type of values that are manifested architecturally.
The Processing Environments symposium is organized by the Architectural Association in collaboration with the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and sponsored by the Bilbao Municipality and the Institut Français in Bilbao. It will take place next 19th June at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.
The symposium is directed by Maider Llaguno and Clara Olóriz and some of the invited speakers are Alejandro Zaera-Polo (ex FOA, currently AZPA), Juan Herreros, Iñaki Begisitain, Eva Castro & Alfredo Ramirez (Groundlab), Philippe Rahm, and Efrén García Grinda & Cristina Díaz Moreno.
The admission is free.
More information and the complete program after the break