13 Outstanding Frank Gehry Buildings and Their History
Frank Gehry has undoubtedly made a name for himself in the architectural world. Having designed awe-inspiring structures since the early 1960s, his whimsical concepts and realized projects have earned him dozens of awards and honorary doctorates. In 1989 he was awarded the coveted Pritzker Prize, where jurors described the architect as “always open to experimentation. He has as well a sureness and maturity that resists, in the same way that Picasso did, being bound either by critical acceptance or his successes.”
Through his Deconstructivist style, Frank Gehry’s buildings challenged conventional design with bold features, unusual shapes, unorthodox materials, and an unabashed use of color. Often, his works are viewed as sculpture just as much as they are considered architecture. From the iconic Guggenheim Museum in Spain to the Louis Vuitton Foundation Museum in Paris, we’ve highlighted thirteen of Gehry’s outstanding buildings.
The Life of Frank Gehry
Born in Canada in 1929, Gehry showed interest in creative work from a young age—he even built city models from scraps of wood as a child. In 1949, he moved to Los Angeles to attend the University of Southern California where he studied architecture. He eventually went on to the Harvard Graduate School of Design, but dropped out to return to California where he launched his Easy Edges furniture line. Still passionate about designing buildings, Gehry used the profits he earned from his furniture business to redesign his home.
He stripped the two-story home down to its frame and surrounded the bungalow with corrugated steel, complete with asymmetrical protrusions of steel rods and glass. The unique design attracted the likes of many, and as he was commissioned to design more homes, his status grew. Throughout the 1980s and ‘90s, Gehry had projects all over the world, and his trademark style was reflected in buildings with undulating free-form.
Gehry’s buildings are prime examples of the architect’s rejection of formulaic Modernist buildings that appeared in global cities during this time. His structures, by contrast, are experimental, expressive, and often considered provocative within the architectural community.
13 Frank Gehry Buildings and Structures
Though each of his designs were unique, Gehry’s buildings offered signature features that were hallmarks of Gehry style.Often, elements of his designs appeared to be fragmented or disjointed, which is what perpetuated him into the Deconstructivist style. His prolific use of corrugated metals offered a raw, edgy appearance to many of his iconic buildings. Below are some of his most radical and celebrated structures around the world.
Vitra Design Museum
Year opened: 1989
Location: Weil am Rhein, Germany
Since the 1980s, furniture manufacturer Vitra enlisted notable architects to design buildings for its campus. Gehry’s addition was his first in Europe—an 8,000-square-foot venue made from white plaster and titanium-zinc alloy. It features a variety of curved forms, which are juxtaposed by his signature angular shapes.
Year opened: 1991
Location: Venice, California
Originally built for the advertising agency Chiat/Day, this building is often referred to as the “Binoculars Building.” The nickname derives from the massive pair of binoculars—a collaboration among Gehry and artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen—that mark the entrance to the parking garage. The structure of the office has been said to resemble something of a hybrid between a ship’s prow and tree trunks. Currently, the building is in use by Google.
Olympic Fish Pavilion
Year opened: 1992
Location: Barcelona, Spain
Created for the 1992 Olympic Village, the golden, steel-mesh fish sculpture remains one of Barcelona’s main attractions. It was realized using three-dimensional, aeronautical-design software, which was a breakthrough in Gehry’s career. The intertwining, gilded stainless steel strips are supported by a metal structure. Depending on the angle of the sun and weather conditions, the fish changes colors with iridescent whimsy.
Weisman Art Museum
Year opened: 1993
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
This Gehry structure is located on the University of Minnesota campus, peeking over the Mississippi River. It is affectionately referred to as the “Baby Bilbao,” a nod to Gehry’s later project in Spain. It features organic curves of stainless steel and was designed without the assistance of computer software. The museum expanded in 2011, with the addition also designed by Gehry for a cohesive visitor experience.
Year opened: 1996
Location: Prague, Czech Republic
Gehry’s Dancing House structure was considered controversial at the time of its construction because it greatly contrasted the Baroque, Gothic, and Art Nouveau building styles that so prominently adorned Prague. The building, a collaboration with local architect Vlado Miluníc, is also referred to as Fred and Ginger due to its signature pair of towers that resemble a couple dancing, a nod to the iconic silver screen duo Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
Year opened: 1997
Location: Bilbao, Spain
Because the design and construction of this structure flew relatively under the radar, its opening in 1997 was met with an explosion of publicity. Gehry insisted the building be made of metal since Bilbao was originally a steel town, so he landed on titanium due to its buttery aesthetic and resistance to rust. The building itself features a myriad of complex swirling forms and materials. Its presence boosted the Bilbao economy, so much so that the transformation of the city following its construction is now referred to as the “Bilbao Effect.”
The Museum of Pop Culture
Year opened: 2000
Location: Seattle, Washington
When setting out to design the MoPOP, Gehry turned to music for inspiration, buying a handful of electric guitars and cutting them into pieces to serve as the building blocks for his idea. The building is known for its futuristic design, built with more than 21,000 aluminum and stainless steel shingles as well as 280 steel ribs. It is home to more than 100 arts and cultural events each year.
Year opened: 2001
Location: Hanover, Germany
Built of stainless steel, this nine-story office building features an impressive, twisted facade, which not only looks visually stunning, but makes optimal use of the relatively small piece of ground in which it sits.
Peter B. Lewis Building
Year opened: 2002
Location: Cleveland, Ohio
Named after the CEO of Progressive Insurance, whom Gehry had a long professional career with after designing his home, the Peter B. Lewis building sits at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University. This 152,000-square-foot structure embodies Gehry’s signature style, with ribbons of stainless steel flowing out of a brick base. The open interior is intended to foster socialization between departments and studies.
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Year opened: 2003
Location: Los Angeles, California
Designed as the new home for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Walt Disney Concert Hall projects sweeping, metallic surfaces. Its design reflects Gehry’s longtime passion for sailing—the steel panels wave as if wafting in the wind. Inside, similarly shaped panels line the auditorium, and it has received critical acclaim for its excellent acoustics.
Loyola Law School
Year opened: 2003
Location: Los Angeles, California
Gehry was commissioned to expand the school in 1978, and he reimagined it as a neo-traditional campus. He created an enclave of diverse buildings with postmodern finishes. Each is unique, with deconstructed classical forms to create new shapes and volumes that fit into the surrounding urban environment.
Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts
Year opened: 2003
Location: Annandale-on-Hudson, New York
A collaboration with acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota and a team of theater consultants, the Richard B. Fisher Center showcases abstract forms intended to prepare the visitor for the performances they will experience inside. The front facade is often interpreted as a theatrical mask. Though Gehry incorporated various green strategies including geothermal energy systems into the buildings, critics argued that the architect didn’t advocate enough for sustainable design.
Art Gallery of Ontario
Year of redesign: 2004
Location: Toronto, Canada
The renovation of the Art Gallery of Ontario was Gehry’s first project in his hometown, and broke ground just shy of his 80th birthday. Though it had undergone three previous expansions, Gehry was commissioned to reorganize the plan, creating additional exhibition space. His additions include dramatic structural staircases, the use of Douglas fir, and an abundance of glass, which allows for natural light to flood the galleries.
Throughout Frank Gehry’s career, he’s been met with a handful of critics, yet his designs are undeniably innovative. His signature curved, metallic, shape-shifting buildings have helped establish him as one of the most significant contemporary architects of the modern era. He has helped transform the world of architecture with an innovative use of technology that has allowed him to create forms previously thought unimaginable. As he continues to take on projects, we’re able to see the fusion of art and design realized.
Sources: AD | Dwell | Curbed | My Modern Met | ThoughtCo. | Dezeen | Study | Encyclopedia Britannica