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


Basque in the beauty of the Guggenheim and more in Bilbao

By Steven Wright

If you are a fan of contemporary architecture and Frank O. Gehry, then the Guggenheim in Bilbao is certainly on your destination list. There has been lots of press and even a movie (Sketches of Frank Gehry) about the titanium structure on the River Nervión, called by Architect Philip Johnston, “the greatest building of our time”. It was certainly the reason I was making my first venture into Spain, but unlike many tourists who come to see the Guggenheim on a day trip, I stayed for a few days in Basque Country Spain.

The Bilbao Airport designed by Santiago Calatrava, is an amazing entrance into northern Spain. The airport is very modern and slick in its appearance, designed to be reminiscent of a plane’s wing, it seems the design of the gates and other public areas really have the passenger in mind. Grab a cab for a quick ride down the winding hills into Bilbao.

Many of the major streets in the city are wide with extensive sidewalks on either side, giving pedestrians and bicycles alike a great way to get around. The sidewalks open up for access to the underground transit system, which is one of the most modern I have seen. Buy your ticket from a machine and hold on to it as you will need it to get on the train and out of the system at your destination.

The streets are lined with large villas and apartment blocks, muted colours and architectural embellishments drawing your eyes to the beauty of the buildings. Public spaces have statues, fountains, gardens and areas to relax on siesta. One of my favorite spots is outside the Fine Arts Museum, where there is a park filled with different street lights, a great spot to visit day and night. There is quite a juxtaposition between the beautiful old buildings and the modernity of the transit, the public art and gardens, the airport and of course the Guggenheim.

My first glimpse of the Museum was down a busy street lined with traffic, at the end of the street was this amazing structure like nothing I have witnessed before. The sun was reflecting off the titanium shell of the building and drawing me into its splendor. Outside you first notice the 30 foot high Scottish Terrier made of flowering plants by artist Jeff Koons and the brilliant blue administration buildings of the Museum. Then you are overwhelmed by the glass and metal structure before you, staircases leading to the entrance to the museum and the surrounding grounds including dancing fountains, cafes and the River Nervión. I found myself walking around the exterior of the building, admiring the fluid lines and curves of the building, the reflecting pool and even the BI 631 highway the runs right through the east end of the building. Crossing the river along one of the modern pedestrian bridges gives you a brilliant look at the building and probably the best place to get a picture of this amazing masterpiece.

The interior is just as amazing, windows allow filtered sunlight into the atrium, reflecting off the titanium outside. The galleries are spacious and showcase 20th Century avant-garde exhibits. The only permanent collection is The Matter of Time by artist Richard Serra, these weathering steel sculptures are located in the largest gallery. Walking through these rusting and oxidizing mammoth sheets of steel give you incredible vantage points of the gallery and the sculptures. Check out the back patio to see Tulips by Jeff Koons and the spider sculpture Maman by Louise Bourgeois. Upstairs in the cafe look for a copy of Gehry’s original sketch of the Guggenheim that was initially penned on a napkin. Click to see my Guggenheim Bilbao gallery.

Head to Casco Viejo (old town) for an old world experience. Watch the catch of the day being wheeled down the small alleys on a wagon being sold to restaurants along the way. In the heart there is a public square with restaurants, cafes and stores and a huge staircase to sit and watch the action. As this area is not frequented by foreign tourists you may want to brush up on your Spanish to read menus and order a snack.

Take the Metro to the Atlantic coast and Gexto. Enjoy the pollarded London Plane trees making an arbor across the pedestrian walkway leading you to the sea. You will also notice the tallest structure in town, the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Vizcaya Bridge, designed by the Basque architect Alberto de Palacio and completed in 1893. Take the elevator to the top to cross the bridge and test your fear of heights on the wooden planks that sag under the weight of your body as you cross River Ibaizabal. This is also a great place to take pictures. The bridge with its innovative adapted cable car crosses the river carrying vehicles without effecting the boat traffic on the river. Spend the day enjoying the oceanfront along the piers and beaches of Gexto.

Photo Galleries:
Click to see my Bilbao gallery

Click to see my Gexto & Vizcaya Bridge gallery
Click to see my Guggenheim Bilbao gallery
Spain Posts:
Walking with Gaudi
Sunny Sitges, Relax & Play in this Hotspot
La Rambla is just a warm up to shopping in Barcelona
Barcelona Beach, Mountain & Fountain