Frank Gehry gives the finger to 98% of architects. Why he should look in the mirror.

Flower building Prospect Place London/ Frank Gehry
© Flower building Prospect Place London/ Frank Gehry

Frank Gehry made a rude gesture recently, that can't be shown on a family friendly site like TreeHugger. (You can see it here) He then ranted:

Let me tell you one thing. In this world we are living in, 98 per cent of everything that is built and designed today is pure sh*t. There’s no sense of design, no respect for humanity or for anything else. They are damn buildings and that’s it. Once in a while, however, there’s a small group of people who does something special. Very few. But good god, leave us alone!

Now I don't think Frank is far off the mark with the 98%. The problem is, much of his own work fits right in there, particularly his residential buildings.

In a world where architects are trying to figure out how to build resilient buildings, how to address climate change, trying to think about the 2030 challenge, Frank Gehry is designing buildings that couldn't be built before there were computers and the tools that connect to them, what's known as parametric design.

Parametric design is a wonderful thing, and can be great for green building. Allison Arieff wrote in the MIT Technology Review:

If it seems there's some immensely complicated system being used to engineer these gravity-­defying arcs, ramps, and curves, that's because there is. But that technology, known as parametric modeling, can do much more than facilitate the fantastic creations of Gehry, Hadid, and their ilk. Increasingly, parametric design is being used not just to make buildings more visually compelling but to precisely tune nearly every aspect of their performance, from acoustics to energy efficiency. It's not as sexy an application, but it will become far more valuable to architecture and the way we live and work.

Architects like Perkins + Will use parametric tools to model thermal performance, daylighting, and more; Allison continues:

They could simulate the thermal performance of different wall, roof, and window assemblies—and evaluate the performance against the cost. They could study how different types of glass would perform—not just in general but on the northeast wall at the building's exact location, under conditions suggested by long-term weather data.

© The Flower, Prospect Place, London

Frank Gehry uses parametric tools to design impossible facades where the cladding is folding and twisting, dramatically increasing the surface area of the building. Making every part of the building as individual as a snowflake. Making it just about impossible to wash the windows. That often leak. That are so expensive that not even the One Percent can afford it, this is for the 1/100th of One Percent.

That, to my mind, shows no respect for humanity or for anything else.

Passive house consultant Bronwyn Barry has a term that I like: BBB, or Boxy But Beautiful. Because every jog, every bend and every joint is a source of air leakage or thermal bridging. That's why passive houses tend to be boxy. They can still be beautiful. Lance Hosey says it differently in his wonderful book, The Shape of Green:

© Shape of Green

How a building is shaped can have an enormous effect on how it performs, and some sources estimate that up to 90 percent of a product’s environmental impact is determined during the early design phases, prior to decisions about technical details. In other words, elementary decisions about shape—the “look and feel” of a design—are essential to sustainability. Designers can promote sustainability by embracing what they have always cared about most—the basic shape of things.

Some of Frank Gehry's buildings are among the most beautiful on earth, but others, like many by Zaha Hadid or Bjarke Ingels, are technical and thermal nightmares that will turn into money pits for their owners as they try to keep the rain out and the heat in. So lets not talk about respect for humanity, Frank Gehry, and lets not complain about other architects building sh*t.

Tags: Green Building | London


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