Today is November 18 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “what level of effort do you give every project?” People like Canadian-born American architect Frank Owen Gehry know the value of putting his heart and soul into a project, no matter how small.
Gehry noted “In my fourth year at the University of Southern California, the teacher from my professional practice class came up to me in the courtyard one day and said, ‘Frank, I've been watching you, and I think you're a talented guy who's going to go somewhere. I just want to give you one word of advice: No matter how small a project you work on, and no matter what it is, put your heart and soul and sense of responsibility into it, and don't dismiss anything.’ He said it very clearly and lovingly, and I never forgot it and I've lived by it.”
Several of his buildings, including his private residence, have become world-renowned attractions. His works are cited as being among the most important works of contemporary architecture in the 2010 World Architecture Survey, which led Vanity Fair to label him as "the most important architect of our age". But his start in architecture took a while. Like so many people who navigated the chaos, he traveled down one path after another before realizing where he belonged.
Gehry was born Frank Owen Goldberg on February 28, 1929, in Toronto, Ontario and in 1947, his family immigrated to the United States, settling in California. A creative child, he was encouraged by his grandmother, Leah Caplan, with whom he would build little cities out of scraps of wood. With these scraps from her husband's hardware store, she entertained him for hours, building imaginary houses and futuristic cities on the living room floor. He would spend time drawing with his father, while his mother introduced him to the world of art. "So, the creative genes were there", Gehry says. "But my father thought I was a dreamer. I was not going to amount to anything. It was my mother who thought I was just reticent to do things. She would push me."
After immigrating to California Gehry held a series of odd jobs as he continued to figure out his path in life. According to Gehry, "I was a truck driver in L.A., going to City College, and I tried radio announcing, which I was not good at. I tried chemical engineering, which I was not good at and did not like, and then I remembered. You know, somehow, I just started wracking my brain about, 'What do I like?' Where was I? What made me excited? And I remembered art, that I loved going to museums and I loved looking at paintings, loved listening to music. Those things came from my mother, who took me to concerts and museums. I remembered Grandma and the blocks, and just on a hunch, I tried some architecture classes."
Gehry graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture degree from USC in 1954. After graduating from college, he spent time away from the field of architecture in numerous other jobs, including service in the United States Army. In the fall of 1956, he moved his family to Cambridge, where he studied city planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. He left before completing the program, disheartened and underwhelmed.
Gehry returned to Los Angeles to work for Victor Gruen Associates, to whom he had been apprenticed while at the USC School of Architecture. In 1957 he was given the chance to design his first private residence at the age of 28. In 1961, he moved to Paris, where he worked for architect Andre Remondet. In 1962, Gehry established a practice in Los Angeles, which became Frank Gehry and Associates in 1967 and then Gehry Partners in 2001.
Gehry's earliest commissions were all in Southern California, where he designed several innovative commercial structures such as Santa Monica Place (1980) and residential buildings such as the eccentric Norton House (1984) in Venice, California. Among these works, however, Gehry's most notable design may be the renovation of his own Santa Monica residence. Originally built in 1920 and purchased by Gehry in 1977, the house features a metallic exterior wrapped around the original building that leaves many of the original details visible. Gehry still resides there.
Throughout his career Gehry learned to put his heart and soul into each project. What level of effort do you give every project?