Frank Gehry - Biography

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Frank Gehry is a leading architect based in Los Angeles. As a child, he often tried to build imaginary cities and homes from items kept in his grandmother’s hardware store. The same can be seen in his creations that are characterized by usage of unconventional fabrications and bold, modern shapes. He graduated from the University of Southern Californian School of Architecture and then studied at Harvard. In fact, he moved to Harvard School of Design after marriage to Anita Snyder, in 1956. Frank left Harvard and relocated to California, where he began the “Easy Edges” cardboard furniture line. It was the renovation of his Santa Monica home. However, he was more interested in buildings rather than furniture and eventually went on to create much bigger designs. Some of the famous ones are EMP Museum in Seattle, Washington, and Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Apart from buildings, he was also involved in the design of other items such as furniture, jewelry and clothes. Though he is not known to have joined any political party, his opinions have always been leftist in nature. As a famous personality, he has played himself on famous television programs such as the Simpsons.


Childhood and Early Life

  • Frank was born on February 28, 1929, in Toronto, Canada, to Irwin and Thelma Goldberg. He moved to Los Angeles as a teenager in 1947 and became a naturalised US citizen.
  • He gained interest in architecture from a very early age. He fancied creating imaginary homes with items from his grandmother’s hardware store.
  • Contrary to what some might think, he was uncertain about his career, in the beginning. He drove a delivery truck in order to support himself for various courses in Los Angeles City College.
  • The first architecture course was taken by him on a hunch. He then liked it, and an early chance encounter with renowned architect Raphael Soriano strengthened his belief in the art.
  • He won scholarships to pursue architecture at University of Southern California. He graduated from here in the year 1954.
  • As a full time job, he started working for the Los Angeles firm Victor Gruen Associates. Though he was an intern here, his work got interrupted by compulsory military service.
  • For a short time, he was with the firm of Pereira and Luckman, as he became restless with Gruen Associates. However, he soon returned to Gruen Associates, which successfully practiced the utilitarian method.



  • After his stints with Victor Gruen Associates, his restless nature drew him towards establishing his own firm Gehry Associates. This took place after he returned to Los Angeles in 1962.
  • He spent considerable amount of time with famous painters Ed Moses, Ed Ruscha and Bob Irwin. During this period, he developed the need to create his own vision of the styles adopted by them.
  • His first brush with widespread attention was when his industrial corrugated cardboard witnessed sudden popularity. This line of furniture, known as Easy Edges, got featured in large magazine spreads.
  • His works included Rouse Company headquarters in Columbia, Maryland and the Santa Monica shopping mall. He also made imaginative houses for many artist friends.
  • Though he continued to design local buildings in California, he also received several national and international commissions. Among his designs, Chiat/Day building in Venice, constructed in 1991, is famous for binocular structures.
  • He is known to have a great presence in the field of music and academics - having designed several academic and music centers. One such famous academic center is the Stata Center in MIT, completed in 2004.
  • He has consistently been praised by experts and critics alike, for being open to experimentation. New Yorker Magazine called his creation, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, as a “masterpiece of the twentieth century”.
  • His construction style can be categorized under Deconstructivism, as per experts. It goes much beyond the conventional modalities of structural definitions.
  • At times his style appears crude, but it is consistent with the California funk art movement of the 1960s and early 1970s. In this movement, inexpensive and non-conventional objects such as clay were used for construction.
  • Apart from buildings, he also created his own line of furniture and jewelry. This was for Tiffany & Co. He often claims that making furniture is a ‘quick fix’ for him.
  • Further, innovation in architectural design software was also achieved by his firm. It spun off another entity called Gehry Technologies, which gave rise to Digital Project.
  • He has been presented with Honorary Doctorates from several universities. He is also a Senior Fellow of the Design Futures Council.
  • Though most of his architecture has received positive feedback, some critics do feel that he wastes a lot of resources in creating designs. His functionless forms often seem to be a misfit in the surroundings. 


Major Works

  • One of his best known creations is the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Downtown Los Angeles. This 2003 masterpiece, endowed with tremendous acoustics, was labeled as the centerpiece for neighborhood revitalization.
  • Gehry’s first skyscraper was the New York by Gehry at 8 Spruce Street, completed in February 2011. It is 76 stories high and has a unique exterior made of stainless steel and glass.
  • He was appointed as joint architect by Foster + Partners to make the High street phase of Battersea in London. This will be his first design for London and will include residences and hotels.

Awards and achievements

  • In 1977, he was named for the Arnold W. Brunner Memorial prize. This was presented to him by the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
  • He was given the prestigious Pritzker Prize for Architecture in 1989. This is the most premium accolade for him in this field.
  • In the year 1999, he received a Gold Medal from the American Institute of Arts. It was given to him specifically for his work in the US, though he is also known for awe-inspiring designs in Europe and Asia.
  • This master architect was inducted into the European Academy of Sciences and Arts in 2003. In the same year, he was also conferred the title Companion to the Order of Canada.

Personal Life and Legacy

  • His mother often took him to various concerts and museums across the city of Los Angeles. This is how he developed an inclination towards architecture, as he had a creative streak.
  • He married Anita Snyder in 1952. Four years after marrying Anita, he changed his name to Frank O. Gehry in 1956. It was her suggestion, as he had faced anti-Semitism as a child and as undergraduate.
  • He moved to Cambridge in 1956 along with family, to study city planning at Harvard. However, he left the course in between, as he was disheartened.
  • After a divorce from Anita in 1966, he married his second and current wife, Berta Isabela Aguilera in 1975. He has two daughters from his first marriage and two sons from the second.


  • Several buildings created by him have become renowned attractions. This includes his place of residence in Santa Monica as well, which is actually responsible for putting his career into top gear.
  • This famous architect has acted in a few films which are documentaries about architecture. One of these is the Cool School, while another is named My Architect: A son’s Journey.


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