Monday, January 11, 2010

Book Review: Frank Gehry: The Houses

Frank Gehry: The Houses by Mildred Friedman
Rizzoli, 2009
Hardcover, 272 pages

The same year that the Guggenheim opened in Bilbao I splurged on Frank O. Gehry: The Complete Works by Francesco Dal Co and Kurt W. Forster. After the book received an update six years later I couldn't help think that publishers put out so-called monographs to make money many times over on basically the same product. Cynicism aside, the subsequent publication points out how monographs that call themselves complete works aren't really "complete" until the architect has stopped designing buildings, usually the result of death. This collection of houses by the Pritzker Prize-winning architect does not purport to be complete -- presented is actually a selection of Gehry's residential commissions -- but it is that more than Dal Co and Forster's mammoth book. Since the architect's projects are now much larger in scope and size than single-family houses, it's safe to say that we won't see any more Gehry-designed houses*. So this book acts as a fairly decent summation of one aspect of Gehry's oeuvre, spanning the various phases of his career, from his inexpensive origins to his CATIA-enabled large-scale sculptures.
But the book is much more than a look back at Gehry's evolution over the years. It contains portraits of the different clients Gehry worked with (most clients were interviewed for the book); it reveals the Gehry's working process in relatively intimate ways; and it reveals the interaction, the relationships between these two personalities. Mildred Friedman, curator of Gehry's first major retrospective in 1986 at the Walker Art Center, has crafted an architecture book that will appeal to not just architects, a rare and welcome feat. Gehry may be the contemporary architect able to do so with his name and eye-catching designs, but I doubt the same could apply to Gehry's Complete Works. The inclusion of the clients' insights into the building of their houses and working with Gehry broaden the focus from architecture to living in architecture. The accompanying photography combine with the interviews to capture not only what makes Gehry's architecture unique but what makes each house a home.
* Minus a new Gehry house that may or may not happen.