Sketches Courtesy: Gehry Partners, LLP

Architecture is a service business. An architect is given a program, budget, place, and schedule. Sometimes the end product rises to art—or at least people call it that.

I work in model; the young kids now are going to be able to work in computer. But I make a model of the site. There are some obvious things: where the entrance should be, where the cars have to go in. You start to get the scale of it. You understand the client’s needs, and what the client is hoping for and yearning for. Once I understand all that, it’s easy to sketch in scale. So quite often, the first sketches are incredibly, uncannily close to the final building—I don’t understand that, really. Compared with when I was just starting out, I’m faster now. I’m better. I know where the bullshit is. I’m pretty good at editing it out before I let it go too far.

I work from the inside out. The sketches may imply form, but they’re educated implications. These have interior and exterior. For example, when I did this sketch [top, sketch], with the box on the right-hand side, it’s in the same proportion—I knew that the box for the theater would be there. Then I drew what’s inside [below, sketch]. Above the stage, the ceiling and the sides have to reflect the sound of the orchestra, and they have to be made a certain thickness—two inches of solid cement plaster. The idea is for them to disperse sound in all directions at once, which means a spherical shape.

Some people may say my curved panels look like sails. Well, I am a sailor, so I guess I probably do use that metaphor in my work—though not consciously. I mean, why did de Kooning put so much paint on his brush? He probably didn’t know, himself. He kept doing the same thing so much that he probably realized it was something he liked. I always say this process is like the cat with the ball of twine. You’re intuitive, but your intuition is informed.

Look, architecture has a lot of places to hide behind, a lot of excuses. “The client made me do this.” “The city made me do this.” “Oh, the budget.” I don’t believe that anymore. In the end, you have to rise above them. You have to say you solved all that. You’re bringing an informed aesthetic point of view to a visual problem. You have freedom, so you have to make choices—and at the point when I make a choice, the building starts to look like a Frank Gehry building. It’s a signature.

—As told to Alex Hoyt

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