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Question: What’s scarier than a mega-bling iconic landmark designed by Frank Gehry?

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Answer: a mega-bling iconic landmark not designed by Frank Gehry, says Rory Olcayto (ha ha)

Be afraid. Be very afraid: It’s Frank ‘Scary’ Gehry…

Last week we published 100 of the 1,700-plus entries for the Guggenheim Museum competition in Helsinki. Shape-makers, most of them, at first glance anyway, and a timely reminder that the iconic mode of architectural expression has thrived in austerity.  This week we publish a 20-page building study - all the plans, various model shots, photos galore and a critique - of Frank Gehry’s Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris.

Twenty pages?  Two. Zero? Yep. Why? Well, because Gehry is important. Very important. You may not like the buildings he designs. You may not like the era he ushered in - of starchitects and brandscapes and landmark icons - with his Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. You may even think he’s rude for giving a Spanish journalist the finger for daring to infer he is a purveyor of ‘showy architecture’ (see Letters, page 24, for a swipe from Jestico + Whiles director Heinz Richardson on this very matter). But these are all reasons for looking closely at Gehry’s work.

It would be very neat and tidy if we could use this occasion to say that the iconic mode of architectural expression, or the age of the starchitect, began with Bilbao and ended now, in the Bois de Boulogne, where Gehry’s latest building is located. But we can’t. Instead perhaps, we can say that with this building:

  • the wily Canadian who changed his name (from Frank Goldberg)
  • the architect who became a Simpsons star
  • the man who saw fit to develop software specifically tailored to fashion a new way of building
  • the Modernist who uses Icrete - intelligent concrete - in his buildings to ensure they are less wasteful, more energy-efficient and cheaper than they otherwise might have been

… perhaps we can say that this man Gehry, with this building in Paris for his high-falutin’ client, has turned the dial up a notch and defined the ingredients for the next wave of iconic mega-projects that will no doubt follow on. What this building does more than other iconic builings to date, is consolidate the notion of grandly scaled architecture as the ultimate bespoke project, a luxury project akin to the overpriced bags and lifestyle accessories that client Louis Vuitton has built his fortunes on. It is this confluence of celebrity client, starchitect and brand, icon, lifestyle, art and commerce that make this point so starkly.

Maybe it’s sad that this is the only vital idea to emerge from the profession these past 20 years or so. Whether it was Frank’s idea in the first place is debatable but no one else’s work has embodied it so thoroughly. And it’s not Gehry’s fault that no other ideas have emerged to challenge it’s supremacy. The truth is that, today, architecture is primarily concerned not with politics, nor technology, but aesthetics and form. How scary is that?

Holy Hawksmoor!

For this week’s Hallowe’en special we’ve recreated a page from the celebrated comic book From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, which we’ve reprinted in Culture (page 65) so you can compare and contrast photographer Ben Blossom’s fine study. From Hell explores the Jack the Ripper myth, by way of investigating London’s East End townscape, and the mysterious churches of Nicholas Hawksmoor play a key role in their occultish, spellbinding tale. We urge you to read Culture this week with the lights left on. Because, dear reader, this edition of the AJ is…haunted. Mmmmwahahahahahahaha!

rory.olcayto@emap.com Twitter: @roryolcayto

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