By Lorianna Kastrop, Vice President, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects
Our design team got a laugh out of the news story from a press conference in northern Spain when famous architect Frank Gehry flipped off a journalist and had harsh words about the rest of the architectural profession. The underlying message, however, is not so funny. Gehry was quoted as saying, “Let me tell you one thing. In this world we are living in, 98% of everything that is built and designed today is pure shit. There’s no sense of design, no respect for humanity or for anything else. They are damn buildings and that’s it.” There’s more to the story, and if you are interested, here’s a link: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/oct/24/frank-gehry-journalist-finger-architecture-shit
While it is funny to see him lose his cool, my reaction to his words is “You have some nerve, buddy.” Gehry’s signature projects have enormous budgets and his clients hire him intentionally to make one-of-a-kind buildings that have a distinct impact on their surroundings. Given enough money, most architects could use their imagination and architectural skills to create extraordinary buildings.
If 98% of what is built and designed is less than optimal, I would suggest that it is not because architects have “no sense of design, no respect for humanity”, but instead that it is because architects must respect their clients and communities—especially their clients’ practical needs, construction budgets and local zoning ordinances.
Compromise is often the name of the game. If an architect produces an innovative design to a client and the bids come in over budget, it is usually the custom details and high-end materials that get cut. The architect has to find a way to get the costs down or the project will not move forward. There may be ways to reduce costs that do not impact the quality and integrity of the design, but those have usually already been taken into consideration in the schematic design phase.
If a design is too far out-of-character for the community, often the public hearing process will result in changes to the design that make the building less impactful and less challenging to neighborhood sensibilities. This part of the permit approval process can be disruptive to the creative process.
Mr. Gehry, as soon as you figure out a way to create and build your “emblematic buildings” at a cost that the other 98% of the world can afford and can get permitted, then your fellow architects will be happy to design buildings that are up to your standards. Until then, our “damn buildings” are thoughtfully designed to make life better for everyone else.