Design: Building Beauty the Hard Way

After years of risky experiments, Frank Gehry relaxes

His buildings are easier to dislike than those of any other important American architect. They are often dissonant and usually constructed of homely materials -- unpainted metal and plywood, asphalt shingles, stucco, rough concrete. They typify no up-and-coming architectural trend. In the postmodernist era, when much fashionable architecture has been charming and playful and not much more, Frank Gehry's difficult, edgy buildings are singular and brave.

Gehry, 57, has lived in Southern California almost continuously since he was a teenager, and his buildings are Californian -- brash, unpretentious, ad hoc, construction-worker constructivist. For him, imperfect construction details and urban sprawl are...

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