Next in the Gehry/public place series: view from Rome

Previously here, and with related backward links. This note is from an architecture professor in Rome who also happens to be my brother-in-law:

I read with fascination the story of Gehry in Aspen and its sequel - Gehry's unexpected message.

I am a great admirer of Gehry's work. It's brilliant, imaginative, preposterous. Gehry is one of the truly great architects of our age, and I think that shelving his Guggenheim project for Manhattan was a tragedy. Furthermore, there is no evidence of Michelangelo and Brunelleschi being gracious public figures; and Gehry has a perfect right not to be one. He is a designer, not a performer. 

It's also perfectly possible that the member of the audience he objected to was a perfect nuisance and a professional, self-serving provocateur. [For a statement by the person in question, see here.]

Two details, however, struck me (God is in the detail, as that famous architect once said). The first one is the fellow's question. As reported  by Fallows, it made perfectly good sense. This is one aspect of Gehry's work that may very well not have received priority attention (i.e. the "monument" versus the public space and environment brilliant architecture should always create, by design or simply by its own magic). In other words, the question as reported does not SOUND self-serving or aggressive. Therefore, Gehry's reaction appears extreme indeed. He could have explained, for example, why the criticism was ill-founded.

The second detail is the expression Gehry chose  to make amends (?) to Fallows: "I apologize for offending you". A classic case, I think, of excusatio non petita. Apologize for what? Could it be that the unknown member of the audience could be confined to his pathetic world of inane pompousness, whereas this influental and widely esteemed member of the press [this is my in-law writing, in what I know to be a sarcastic mocking amiably wry tone] deserved, say, a deference bordering on adulation?

Adulation, deference and pompousness are indeed  traits frequently found in great architects (Le Corbusier used a lot of the first two in trying to ingratiate himself to the powerful, and Frank Lloyd Wright certainly possessed the third one). One wonders.

Even architects of the very lowest ranks, such as I, are not immune to bouts of pompousness. I shall therefore confess that Gehry, much as I admire him, is in fact one of the main unnamed dialectic protagonists of this little opus of mine, titled "Barefoot and Prada". The book's leitmotif is that while many barefoot architects make themselves and their profession proud by working with the world's poor in a spirit of service and virtual anonymity, others, the so-called "archistars", are the "Prada" of today's high-end, profligate, extreme new urban environments. Hence an exhortation to the Prada architects to descend from their pedestal and lend their talent and prestige to improving the living environments of the least fortunate.

Judging from the Aspen confrontation, I strongly, and sadly, doubt my architect hero would be interested in this mission.

Pietro Garau

First Faculty of Architecture

Sapienza Universita' di Roma