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Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion

Gehry on the Guggenheim Dubai

In this interview in the Guardian, Frank Gehry muses a bit on his contribution to the architectural Disneyland planned for Abu Dhabi. “I think this an interesting moment in doing something to bridge the cultures of the US and the Middle East with real dialogue.” If only it were, rather than the bloated (and, dare I say, socially and environementally irresponsible?) brand-name mall of high-end kitsch proposed

I've just turned 78 and am about to design the biggest Guggenheim yet. Can I pull it off?
Frank Gehry

March 5, 2007 12:26 PM |

I've just turned 78, but I hope I'm not stuck in a groove like some old long-playing record. One of your British journalists thinks so; he described my recent buildings as "crude curlicues". If you know who he is, get him to try on some concrete overshoes for size. I'll send them over . . .

Our big new project is the Abu Dhabi Guggenheim. We've done the designs and now we're waiting for the final go ahead, any time soon. This really is like nothing we've done before. I say "we", by the way, not just meaning me and Tom Krens [the director of the Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation], but everyone at my studio; there are 170 of us now, and one of the things I've had to think about, like Norman Foster's been doing in London, is what direction the office takes in the future.

I'm fine, by the way, but I'm not getting any younger, and I don't want to hang a kind of creative albatross around the neck of my team; I don't want them stuck with a legacy they feel they have to follow. I like experimenting; I want them to.

One thing the Abu Dhabi museum won't be is Bilbao-lite. Bilbao has been very successful, but it's also a worry for me; can Tom and I pull it off again? Is it asking too much?

Abu Dhabi's going to be very different - a take on a traditional, spread out, organic Arab village or town. Not literally, but it'll have the equivalent of streets and alleys, souk-like spaces and plazas, some shaded and others covered. It'll be the biggest Guggenheim yet. There'll be fresh air and sunlight, and we'll be bringing in cooling air through a modern take on traditional Middle Eastern wind towers. Of course, the core of the building, or complex, will need to be air-conditioned, but this won't be a hermetic building; it'll be an adventure, a kind of walk through a town with art along the way.

It's going to take four years to build, so I'll be 82 by the time we're through - it better be good! It's going to be nothing like the new Moma in New York, by the way; that's like a big, shiny department store.

You could ask - why hire an architect from LA to work in the Arabian desert? Well parts of California are not so very different with a desert landscape coming up against the sea; although, ours is more brown, theirs bright white.

I'm really excited by the level of intelligent engagement by the local leaders in Abu Dhabi although there's still a big discussion to be had about the planning of new buildings. What they want from the architecture, by me, by Zaha Hadid and others, is a "string of pearls", stretching to the water to form a new "cultural quarter" to attract tourists; but, there's a bit of tendency to want a nice new building from each of us without enough thought about how they'll all hang together. I'd like to be more involved in the urban planning, but that's a lot to ask; you can't just say, especially when you've just arrived, hey, I'd like to redo your city.

Anyway, we're still busy in central LA where we did the Disney Concert Hall, trying to pull that piece of city together; it takes times to get buildings, especially a cluster of new buildings, to work together as well as they should.

Abu Dhabi does throw up some very particular issues for the Guggenheim and the display of art. I don't think we'll be allowed to display nudes, and there are all sorts of concerns about the way women are allowed to be shown. But, I think this an interesting moment in doing something to bridge the cultures of the US and the Middle East with real dialogue; I'm learning here, which is great, and I think we can shape an original building that is as much Abu Dhabi as me. Maybe it'll have some "curlicues", too.



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