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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Book + DVD Review: Gehry's Vertigo

Gehry's Vertigo by Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoine
BêkaPartners, 2013
Book: Hardcover, 140 pages
DVD: All-Region PAL, 48 minutes

Last year I attended a conference where an architect from Frank Gehry's office—one of his offices, Gehry Technologies, to be precise—talked about the curtain wall for 8 Spruce Street, aka New York by Gehry. One of the points in his fairly technical and detailed talk focused on how the rippling facade is able to accommodate the window washing rig that travels up and down the building. The continuous tracks that extend from top to bottom allow such maintenance, a feature that was incorporated (and therefore considered) from an early stage. Such foresight is hardly present in Gehry's Guggenheim Bilbao, as expressed in the aptly named Gehry's Vertigo.

In the first two minutes of the film by Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoine we witness two people traversing the titanium facade of the famous building. Are they performers? Stunt people? Maintenance crew? From other films by the pair we know the latter is the case, and for much of the next 45 minutes we watch the rope climbers-cum-window washers as they maintain the inside and outside of the complex building. While our cinematic experience of the building is not limited to these workers (we also see a wedding party taking pictures and we follow a boy throughout the whole interior, for example), it uniquely presents much of the architecture via first-hand accounts—for instance we see the roof and atrium from the window washer's perspective, via cameras mounted to their hard hats. In these scenes the film's title makes perfect sense.

Perhaps because the building is so well known, Bêka and Lemoine appear to be having a lot more fun and doing more cinematic experimentation in this film than the ones on Koolhaas's House in Bordeaux or Herzog & de Meuron's Pomerol. Humorous scenes include the boy's voyage through the museum (accompanied by a soundtrack that seems to be generated by the fast-forward cutting of the scene mixed with zoo-like sounds) and a fast-forward scene of cleaning and switching out exhibitions, accompanied by the ticking of a stopwatch. But it's the rope climbers who thread the film together, as they appear intermittently between other scenes. If anything, their "swiffering" of the atrium's curvy walls is the heart of the film, exhibiting the ridiculous height clients and their staff must go to maintain a masterpiece of contemporary architecture.

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