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Gehry burst onto the California architectural scene in 1978 when he transformed his innocent little pink Dutch colonial home in Santa Monica into a riot of chain-link fence, plywood, exposed joists and corrugated iron. It was unlike anything anyone (especially the neighbors) had seen before, owing as much to sculpture and collage as it did to architecture. Throughout his career Gehry, 67, has gone outside traditional architectural thinking; his design methods have been informed by artists and artistic processes as much as by materials and function. His buildings are exuberant, startling and often just really fun. Who else would put giant Claes Oldenburg--created binoculars at the entrance to the garage of the Chiat/Day/ Mojo offices in Venice, California? "There's something in movement and chaos that fits our life, the present, and that I tapped into because of Los Angeles," says Gehry. "It's an American city that's ugly to us all, but it's the highest product of democracy." Yet his designs can be too much even for the city he loves. After an outcry over funding, his beloved Disney Concert Hall (he poses in a model, at left) is unbuilt.
Nevertheless, on any given day, architects still turn up just to admire his home in Santa Monica. It has been photographed so often that the click of a shutter makes the Gehrys' dog bark. Today no less a veteran than Philip Johnson counts Gehry among his influences, while the work of such younger architects as Frank Israel also bears his intimations. Gehry nevertheless belongs to no school and will found no movement. His influence is reflected not so much in the way other architects are using cheaper materials, juxtaposing disparate elements and jumbling geometric forms; rather it is embodied in the way he has made Americans experience--and like--architecture.
And just as Gehry has borrowed from many sources outside architecture, nonarchitects are borrowing back. Says New York architect Peter Eisenman: "He's one of the people who is studied by intellectuals, critics and historians. Frank has been enormously influential in terms of the culture of architecture in relation to thought today." Significantly, Gehry is one of the few American architects who can maintain intellectual engagement while also being commercially successful, designing everything from teapots to chairs.
Gehry feels his greatest influence has been on his students. "It's not my formal vocabulary as much as the way I explore, deal with the world and respond," he says. "I don't think my ideas, my designs, my architecture should be emulated by kids as much as for them to know that somebody like them was able, by some kind of relentless pursuit, to make space in the world for this kind of work. And because of that, they can do it too." Not a bad thing for archaeologists to uncover.
PATTY STONESIFER Microsoft's New-Media Leader
When Microsoft and Dreamworks SKG formed a joint venture last year to fill cyberspace with movie-quality games and adventures, they announced it on a stage full of the biggest names in software and entertainment. Bill Gates and Steven Spielberg were there, and so were David Geffen, Jeffrey Katzenberg and, of course, Patty Stonesifer.