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Friday, 17 August, 2001, 18:00 GMT 19:00 UK
Gehry: King of pop architecture
A plan of the Walt Disney concert hall in Los Angeles, photo by Whit Preston
Titanium surfaces are now Gehry's trademark
By BBC News Online's Steve Schifferes

Frank Gehry is the master of pop architecture, whose witty shapes and sinuous lines made in titanium are now considered the epitome of the post-modern.

In his audacious retrospective at the Guggenheim, the full force of Gehry's prodigious talent and profound playfulness are both on display.

The show is full of irony - and no doubt the biggest irony is that the architect's most famous building was built for the Guggenheim - the Bilbao museum.

His biggest new project is for a new Guggenheim museum in New York, supplementing but not replacing the original Frank Lloyd Wright structure on the Upper East Side.

Frank Gehry, photo by Erika Barahona Ede
Gehry - heir of the pop artists
Gehry, who originally studied as a city planner, is the master of site placement, and there is no doubt that the New York Guggenheim will be a knock-out if it is ever built.

Situated on the lower tip of Manhattan, underneath the Brooklyn Bridge, the building will float over the East River, giving full pedestrian access with an undulating curtain of titanium that floats above.

Gehry first came to the attention of the architectural world when he clad his suburban Los Angeles home in wire fencing and corrugated steel, opening it out and blurring the distinction between inside and out.

His provocative, almost Dadaist architecture continued with the Chiat-Day advertising agency building, a collaborate work with pop sculptor Claes Oldenberg which features a giant pair of binoculars as its entrance.

But it was the advent of computer-aided design that was the making of Gehry as an architect, allowing him to give full reign to his imagination.

He began creating real models of the crumbled coloured papers that the architect uses for his initial designs, and allowing the use of brushed titanium cladding for the outer surfaces that has become his trademark.

Final design model, Ray and Maria Stata Center Massachusetts Institute of Technology, photo Wit Preston
A new computer lab for the MIT
Among the most powerful buildings are the Experience Music Project in Seattle, built for Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen, which features a series of brightly coloured pavilions with a monorail running through the centre.

There is also the Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA, a still-unfinished plan that has mutated from wood to concrete to steel.

Even more astounding is his cafeteria for the Conde Nast building in New York.

For the publisher of Vogue and the New Yorker, Mr Gehry built a sensuous series of alcoves made of glass and wood, with a blue titanium ceiling.

Not all the architect's playfulness is expressed in steel. His two European office projects - one in Dusseldorf and the other in Prague - feature glass and concrete structures turned at crazy angles (the Prague building has been nick-named Fred and Ginger, after the Hollywood dance couple).

And Gehry is not finished yet. His ambitious plans for a new computer lab for MIT, the world's leading electronics research university, combine both elements to create a complex of crazy buildings clad in traditional brick with steel-clad classrooms and meeting rooms.

Gehry began his career in Los Angeles, and something of the jumble of styles that characterizes Southern California remains in his approach.

But the boldness of his vision, and the tenacity of his whimsical playfulness, make him the ideal architect of the museum, the concert hall and other playgrounds of the arts.

In that he is the true heir of the pop artists and their Dadaist predecessors.

The Frank Gehry retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum New York is on until 26 August

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