Going for Gehry

By Steven Wright

It was in 2001, at Harbourfront Centre‘s World Leaders: A Festival of Creative Genius in Toronto, when I was first introduced to Frank O Gehry. The evening was an intimate conversation with the Toronto born Architect talking about everything from designing furniture and jewelry to his current project for the Guggenheim Foundation. Listening to him talk about his process, use of materials and using new technologies to bring his sketches to life was inspiring and has had a huge impact on my travels since. Some travelers explore destinations to visit historical sites, which I enjoy as well, but as I choose destinations, proximity to a Gehry building is a highlight for me.

As a huge fan and follower of Gehry Partners LLP, I love to explore and compare Gehry’s initial sketch to the modeling stage and then completed building. The process is incredibly fascinating, the sketch is normally a squiggled line on a napkin or scrap piece of paper when inspiration hits; it is hard for most to discern the complete vision at this point. The next stage is modeling, building specific geometric shapes out of paper and foam core, his process of bending, crumpling, folding and creating is an arts and crafts master class. Once satisfied, the models and structures are scanned into the computer using Gehry Partners software to not only create a 3D model , but also to determine how to best construct the structure including a part list. Years later when the construction is compete, if you look back to the initial sketch you are able to fully understand the complexity of what Gehry sketched. Sydney Pollack even created a film about the process called Sketches of Frank Gehry.

While film and pictures try there best to represent the brilliance of these structures, there is nothing like experiencing Gehry first hand. My first opportunity was at the DZ Bank located at Pariser Platz 3, inside the Brandenberg Gate in Berlin. The exterior of the building compliments the other buildings, but the real treasure is found inside the lobby. One of his inspirations and reoccurring themes in Gehry’s work are fish and their form, this is evident at the DZ Bank. The interior atrium is filled with light streaming through the fish scaled glass ceiling, offices along the exterior of the building have glass walls to the interior to make the most of the natural light, glass continues on the walkways outside the offices allowing the light to filter down to the lower levels. Another glass ceiling covers the conference centre that occupies the entire lower level using the natural light coming from the atrium above. The use of glass and wood makes this modern space both welcoming and warm. At the back of the atrium, there is a very organic form that continues the fish reference resembling internal organs. Although this is a private business office, you can ask to take pictures from the reception in the lobby. The opposite side of the building features luxury condos.

On a former industrial parcel of land on the Nervion River in Bilbao, a little known town in north western Spain, Gehry’s squiggle on a napkin was transformed into the incredible titanium Guggenheim Bilbao. When you first catch a glimpse of the building from the streets of Bilbao you are drawn into the structure, wondering how the forms were envisioned and possibly built. The blue administration buildings lead you to the grand staircase and to the entrance to the museum. The building features reflecting pools and pedestrian walkways along the river, the BI-631 highway runs through a section of the building, I found it necessary to walk around the exterior numerous times to experience all of the buildings grandeur. After the sun sets, the building continues to shine into the night, beautifully lit, reflecting off the river, a sight to be seen.

Through the entrance, you are surrounded by light, the tall glass panels that line the entrance create an incredible entrance and welcome into the buildings. Each gallery is unique in shape and size and leads the patron through the collections complimenting each artist expression. Make sure to visit the cafe to compare your experience with the initial sketch. Today the museum is a major tourist draw, with a modern airport and transit system, being close to the beautiful beaches of San Sebastian Spain, southern France, and the opportunity to stay at Hotel Marques De Riscal in Elciego,  also designed by Gehry.

I was elated to hear of plans for Gehry to remodel the Art Gallery of Ontario. The project was plagued with infighting with AGO donors, but came to fruition giving Toronto, Gehry’s birthplace, their first taste of Gehry. The AGO features an amazing glass front that brings much needed light into the museum, the glass fused with metal seems to change colour, depending on the weather. The new grand entrance and Gehry staircases on the interior and exterior of the building are magical and the bold blue box on the roof contains new modern gallery space and compliments the OCAD University table top building next door. The AGO remodel also features new rental space that is often used for wedding ceremonies and other high profile events. Who wouldn’t want to be married in a Gehry space?

Media Harbour, beside the Rheinturm TV Tower on the Rhine River in Dusseldorf, is developing into a hub for arts and media production. This is the site of Der Neue Zollhof, a series of 3 Gehry buildings, more like sculptures of wind blowing into 3 sails on a boat. The buildings are brilliant with windows jetting out to maximize light and provide the best view of the Rhine, the exteriors coloured silver, red and white. The buildings are the perfect backdrop to the marina in front, and provide areas to relax and grab a drink or romantic dinner at the steakhouse with Gehry’s name. Der Neue Zollhof starts the transition from the Historic Old Town into the modernity of Media Harbour. Walking around the exterior, the shapes and use of materials again leave you in awe of their brilliance and Gehry’s genius. There is public parking right in the building if you want to start here and walk the piers of Media Harbour or head to the World’s Longest Bar in Old town along the Rhine.

Gehry’s first public sculpture was commissioned for the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona. The Gehry Fish, a huge sculpture made of woven steel provides a landmark of the entrance into the Olympic Port and the former Athletes Village. Today the village has been turned into a beach destination with retail shopping, restaurants and cafes, hotels and a casino. Enjoy your day on the beach and your evening on one of the patios around the fish sculpture, its amazing to see it reflect the sun throughout the day and come alive at sunset.

NYC recently added to its Gehry collection with the opening of NYC’s Largest Residential Building at 8 Spruce Street. Located by New York City Hall and the base of the Brooklyn Bridge, the 870 foot tall stainless steel clad building gives the illusion of movement with its exterior resembling waves. The waves reflect the light through the day almost transforming its exterior in a dynamic way. With incredible views of the harbour and many bridges, all the amenities you could every want, 8 Spruce Street just might be the ultimate NYC address. While in NYC also check out the Issey Miyake Flagship Store at 119 Hudson, and the IAC Building at 555 West 18th Street.

I am looking forward to visiting the Dancing House in Prague, The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas and continue to hope that Toronto will one day have its own Gehry masterpiece.

MY Gehry Gallery
Gehry Posts:
Basque in the beauty of the Guggenheim and more in Bilbao
Autobahn jaunt to Düsseldorf and Köln
Glass Ceiling walking tour: Potsdamer Platz, Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie
Barcelona Beach, Mountain & Fountain


Autobahn jaunt to Düsseldorf and Köln

By Steven Wright

Berlin is one of my favorite cities in Europe, there is so much to see and do, and its so easy to get around on the incredible Deutsche Bahn rail system. But who has not dreamed of driving fast on the autobahn, seeing the German countryside fly by. With no speed limit on certain stretches of this national network of motorways it is an exhilarating experience. Grab a rental and remember in Germany brands like Audi, Porsche, Volkswagen, and BMW are domestic brands here!

Many familiar North American car rental agencies operate throughout Europe, and there are some Euro-based agencies as well, I would suggest dealing with a Travel Agent like myself to explore the rental options and ensure you get a vehicle that will suit your needs. Many of the vehicles are substantially smaller than their North American counterparts and there are no mini-vans. The prices vary from each supplier for the same vehicles. I would also suggest taking all the insurance coverage, especially if you are returning the vehicle to another location, the standards that existed at the rental location may be different than the drop off location. Go over the exterior with a fine tooth comb and ensure all scratches, dents, marks are documented on the rental agreement. Some travelers decline the insurance because they have coverage on their credit card, I would check to ensure your coverage includes vehicles rented on foreign soil.

Although I really wanted to drive a BMW, at the time of renting, my availability including a GPS system (another great to have in a foreign rental) limited my options to a sporty looking black Renault Megane. Little did I know that the German Family we were visiting around Stuttgart would ridicule me for driving a French vehicle in Germany. Needless to say the GPS was the right choice and ours gave us a variety of languages to choose from including British English, American English, Australian English, German, French and Spanish in either a male or female voice. It became a bit of entertainment determining who we wanted to instruct us on our journey. Perhaps one of my favorite instructions was, “please make a u-turn at the next available opportunity”. The GPS system is most handy to let you know about upcoming construction, sections of the autobahn that have speed restrictions and where there is a heavy volume of traffic on your journey and how long you will be delayed.

We were handed a credit card sized remote which controlled the locks on our Megane and then slid into the dashboard allowing the key-less car to start and we were on our way. The autobahn, as you would expect, is a lovely travel route. The lanes are wide and the countryside is picturesque, the exits are well marked and there is no speed limit for many portions of the highway. However, there are generally less routes and highways from one destination to another as we have in North America, the route the GPS suggests may be the only route to your next destination.

During our drive we started to notice the distinct smell of McDonald’s french fries in the car which was odd as we were no where near the fast food chain, but surrounded by fields of beautiful little yellow flowers. Later we did some research and discovered the fields were filled with canola to be harvested and thus causing the smell of french fries. Speaking of which, there are many rest stops on the autobahn, some of which offer picnic tables and public washrooms, while others have a gas bar and a restaurant complex. If you find yourself needing a stretch, don’t hesitate to stop in one of these convenient and clean rest areas.

Being from North America, the opportunity to drive legally above 120km/hr is a blast, I found myself easing into it, 150…160…170, 170km/hr was a comfortable speed for me although at one point the speedometer did read 191, it didn’t stay there long. The funny thing is, although I was driving faster than I ever had before, I was in the centre lane of 3 and on the outside lane Audi’s, BMW’s, and other luxury vehicles were passing me like I was standing still. There is a lot of green space between the cities and towns and you can generally tell you are coming close to another city by the massive TV towers. This is another reminder to watch your GPS for the speed limitations around these populated areas.

Düsseldorf was the first of our stops, a quaint little city on the Rhine. I would suggest heading down to old town, called Altstadt where most of the action is. The area is filled with great shopping including a main arkaden, little shops and boutiques to high end luxury brands. Stores and restaurants line the streets and as you get closer to the Rhine, remember to explore the narrower streets for more treasures. Notice the ominous statues standing above advertising standards, they are life like and seem to have a sense of longing as they look out to the river.

Take a seat on the busy patio of Schwan‎ (Mühlenstraße 2) and grab some lunch including an amazing chicken schnitzel which goes great with an Altbier, the beer of Düsseldorf. Spend your afternoon enjoying the Rhine and some drinks at the longest bar in the world Düsseldorfer Altstadt. Along with the bar is an amazing pedestrian walkway along the river, locals and tourists a like stake out a piece of grass on the hill and socialize and enjoy the sun watching the boats pass by.

Further down the walkway you will see the Rheinturm, the telecommunications tower of Düsseldorf. Here you can take the elevator to the viewing platform at the top for a great view of the Rhine, the two bridges crossing the river, and unobstructed views of the city. Right next to the Rheinturm, behind the marina I got my first glimpse of the reason for the road trip.

If you have been reading our blog, by now you will know that I am a little obsessed with the architecture of Frank O Gehry, and Düsseldorf was an opportunity to see Zollhof, another three of his buildings. The first thing that catches your eye is the middle building, its shiny silver exterior is reflecting the sunlight. The series of 3 buildings are amazing in shape, some with extreme rounded corners, others with angled corners but none at 90 degrees and all have protruding windows. One white, one silver, one red these buildings are simply art. Standing there I was conflicted with the choice of living in one of the buildings or living across the street so that I could see the buildings from my apartment.

While at Zollhof, enjoy a romantic dinner at Gehry’s, known for their prime beef. As tempting as it is, do not fill up too much on the incredible bread and artichoke spread because their steak is a meal in itself. I would suggest ordering a couple of sides to share with a great bottle of wine, but they are secondary to the melt in your mouth beef cooked to perfection.

After dinner head further down the Rhine for a walk around MedienHafen (Media Harbour). It’s a modern architecture haven, stroll down the pier and enjoy the brightly coloured buildings, some including figures climbing up the wall. Grab a coffee at one of the quaint cafes before heading back to Altstadt, which comes even more alive at night with more than 300 bars and discothèques.

You can easily spend a couple of days in Düsseldorf seeing the historic sites, shopping and partying the nights away. But while you are there I would suggest a day trip to Köln (Cologne) to see the Kölner Dom. On the way Köln it’s important to remember that the bridges connecting Koln were bombed during the war leaving the people cut off not only from the rest of their country, but to food and supplies during this time. The Kölner Dom was also badly damaged in the bombing. The church’s Gothic architecture, filled with spires and pinnacles, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has become Germany’s most visited attraction. The area around the church is filled with luxury shopping and many tourist shops selling souvenirs, many of which picture the bombed city and church.

Photo Galleries:
Düsseldorf & Köln gallery

Germany Posts:
East Side Gallery
Outlet City Metzingen
Potsdamer Platz – the platz to be!
Glass Ceiling walking tour: Potsdamer Platz, Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie
Shopping in Berlin – ja, das ist gut!
Autobahn jaunt to Düsseldorf and Köln
Schloss Charlottenburg the Palace of Berlin