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frank talking

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With his first project in the UK almost complete, and designs on the seafront at Brighton and Hove, 74-year-old

Frank Gehry is over here at last. He'd have come earlier, if only he'd been asked You're taking part in the King Alfred competition in Brighton and Hove and your Maggie's Centre in Dundee is nearly complete.Why, after not working in the UK for so long, do you now have a number of projects here?

The Maggie's Centre I'm doing as a gift because I loved Maggie, Charles Jencks' late wife. Piers Gough brought me in on the Brighton competition. It's quite a project and it's turned out to be quite a high-profile competition. I love Piers, I've known him for years and working with him is working pretty well.

You have also agreed to design a children's performing arts centre in Southwark.

We met the man behind it, Simon Elliot, and said we would work on it because it's so idealistic and beautiful. But it's still a long way off.

Why have you not done more here?

Nobody's ever asked me, and it's hard to enter competitions because our work looks funny in the first phase. Brighton probably scared the hell out of the judges. And competitions take a lot of time and effort. You can do one scheme to win the competition and then have to start it all over again.

But you did enter the competition for London's Millennium Bridge?

Yes, but I came in at the very tail end of that.

We had a nice scheme that linked the top of St Paul's Cathedral to the smokestack of Tate Modern. I was also involved with King's Cross [in the early 1990s] and I got pushed out - but that's all history.

You stayed out of the competition of the decade to rebuild on Ground Zero.Why?

I didn't feel comfortable that the programme and everything was proper.

There's lots of politics and I didn't know the people involved. Each of the teams spent close to $1 million and didn't get paid. But my real reason wasn't the money, but because I couldn't deal with how commercial it was.

What do you think of Libeskind's winning design?

Danny's scheme has changed - he's fattened everything up a bit. Because of the big commercial pressures? Possibly. I liked Foster's the best. Norman and I are friends.

But I haven't seen any of them in person, just in newsprint. I trust Danny - I'm sure he'll do a good job.

Do you think it will ever happen?

At the moment the market just isn't there.

But there's lots of money on the table waiting to be used. So there's lots of pressure to do stuff faster rather than slower.

Which younger architects do you think will be the next big thing?

Alejandro Zaera Polo, who with his wife Farshid Moussavi runs Foreign Office Architects. There's the glimmer there, the early beginnings of a major talent. Also, Greg Lynn in LA and Ben van Berkel in Holland. They're all friends, they hang out together. Interesting to me, too, is Peter Cook reborn. You can't write old Pete off.

Who do you think should win the next Pritzker Prize?

I'm on the jury this year, and we've already decided so I really can't say.

Which buildings in the UK have you visited and been impressed by?

I liked Foster's Gherkin - Norman seems to like circles at the moment. I was at Tate Modern a few weeks ago and I found it very depressing. I'd seen the building before anybody touched it - it was so beautiful. But in the translating, the history got cleaned out. There's a legacy in old buildings you can hang on to. But they [Herzog & de Meuron] haven't done that.

The success of the Guggenheim in Bilbao has sparked an obsession with the Bilbao Effect, and yet many of the projects that have followed have failed to achieve it.

Why?

It's hard to do that.We didn't start out to do it - we started out to do a good building. It's not like instant coffee. You can't put hot water in and make it happen. I get approached a lot for those sort of projects but I'm not interested when I feel they haven't got their act together.

So what are the winning elements?

Partnership, commitment and the talent to pull it off. You have to have the talent.

Brighton and Hove are trying to copy the success of Bilbao.Do you think it will work?

It's hard to pull something off of the magnitude they are looking at. It requires a real partnership between residents and politicians.

What was the inspiration behind your Brighton scheme?

I felt a kind of urge towards the Victorian, or rather Regency, period and I thought of the Victorian women's dresses. My first sketch was of the Brighton maidens. We're the only ones proposing towers, everyone else has designed low-rise. I also liked Richard Rogers' scheme - it's polite but beautiful.

You've just come from Israel where you also have a new project.

It's a centre for tolerance for the Simon Wiesenthal Centre.We've just had the project approved. It will take 10 months to do the working drawings, and a couple of years to build. It's wonderful to go to Israel, and contrary to what some papers have said, I'm not scared of terrorism.When I was supposed to be too frightened to come to Britain [last month], I was actually in Kathmandu.

And you're also collaborating on a project with a very different architect, Alvaro Siza.

Yes, I brought him in to a project in Pasadena, Los Angeles. I love his work. I think the collision of thought is very powerful.

How is your work evolving? Do you plan to change direction?

I never plan things. I don't sit around and think - I did this, now I'm going to do that. If it's people I like and feel comfortable with, I do the job.

Do you have any regrets or unfulfilled ambitions?

I don't yearn for things. I just wait until someone calls me. And I don't do any promotion. It's worked so far in my life. I'm not trying to sell things - people come to you when they want you.

So will you be doing more over here in the UK?

Ifsomebody calls me, I'll come.

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