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Influences on Frank Gehry in the Construction of the Chiat Building

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Architecture
Wordcount: 3868 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Analyse how critics, such as Frederic Jameson, have analysed the postmodern era and how that may have influenced Frank Gehry in the construction of the Chiat building, Venice, Los Angeles

In this essay I want to outline the theories put forward about the postmodern era from critiques such as Frederic Jameson’s and show, what they believe, was the essence of the postmodern era. I want to see if these texts, written prior to the construction of the Chiat Building located in Venice, Los Angeles, may have influenced the architect Frank Gehry when designing the iconic masterpiece. The Chiat building was designed in 1991[1] and completed in 2001 a turning point for postmodern architecture globally- as the computer age and computer aided design emerged. I want to see if what Jameson brings to light in his text has influenced Gehry and if not, why not? I am going to see if Gehry may have had other influences perhaps derived from the historical and cultural context of LA at the time or if maybe Gehry has a style of his own, using elements of the postmodern but creating a new outlook in the world of architecture.

Figure 1- Chiat Building by Frank Gehry [2]

The postmodern era had many critiques about the style and how it coincided with capitalism and the rise of the computer age. These critiques such as Frederic Jameson’s article “Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism”, written in 1984, touch on these topics in relation to the architecture and art work of the era. My question about these critiques is “Have they influenced the way architects, in particular Gehry, see the era and thus inspired the future design of the buildings at the turning point of the postmodern era?”
Jameson poses in his article a concept called hyperspace. Hyperspace at the time was not characteristic of many principal names, Robert Venturi, Charles Moore, Michael Graves, and more recently Frank Gehry,[3] he writes. This is to say that Jameson views in his 1984 text that Gehry may have in the past created hyperspaces; therefore, in the future could Gehry create these spaces again? Jameson phrases the hyperspace argument that

“There has been a mutation in the object, unaccompanied as yet by any equivalent mutation in the subject: we do not yet possess the perceptual equipment to match this new hyperspace… in part because our perceptual habits were formed in that older kind of space I have called the space of high modernism.”[4]

Jameson is trying to explain here that architecture has changed but the viewer has not yet acclimatised to this change as their views are rooted in the “Space of High Modernism”.[5] This change is fixed in creating a total environment[6], a new space that is confusing and makes people lost. I believe the Chiat building shows the “mutation of the object”[7] as the office space offers a new take on spatiality but with a twist. Inside the office blocks are linked by the binoculars acting as a core object and redesigning the layout. The binoculars serve as a new way of creating and marking an entrance, a new way of creating a private space inside and a new way of making architecture and art intertwine. Inside the space of the binoculars sit some relaxation rooms. Themselves being so confined with only artificial light they relate to hyperspace in the fact they may be designed for relaxation but also to create the total environment rather than for purpose. Similar to the Bonaventure Hotel, LA which was one of the first examples of a hyperspace in 1976.

Figure 2- Bonaventure Hotel, Los Angeles- the hotel complex shows the epitome of hyperspace with the total environment [8]

Figure 3- Exterior of entrance to the Chiat Building [9]

Figure 5- Exterior of Bonaventure Hotel showing entrance walkways which are designed to mislead and make one lost [10]

Figure 4- Inside of the Chiat Building- the conference
room with doors seen in background with access to
the retreat rooms in the binoculars [11]

Figure 6- Plan of the Chiat Building [12]

The argument to whether the building is thus viewed as a hyperspace I therefore believe lies in whether the viewer has now changed their “perceptual habits”[13] in line with the new spaces emerging in the 80s and 90s in LA. The following argument Jameson reveals is “The newer architecture therefore stands as something like an imperative to grow new organs, to expand our sensorium and our body to some new, as yet unimaginable, perhaps ultimately impossible, dimensions.”[14] This reflects the fact that the new architecture requires a new way of thinking and a changed attitude towards experiences, both sensory and cognitively, within architecture. As a whole these “perceptual habits”[15] or views may be impossible to obtain, that instead of the viewer changing the way they now view architecture as a whole they are stuck in the “space of high modernism”.[16] The hyperspace architecture breaks away by inserting different, distinct, elevated and a new utopian language[17]; by using and twisting the high modernist language to develop a new style referenced as “learned from Las Vegas”. This new style shows that architecture alone is not enough instead we create a total space which corresponds a new collective practice, a new mode in which individuals move and congregate.[18] Learning from Las Vegas teaches that symbolism is key and that spatial relationships are created through symbols rather than forms. I believe this is noted in Gehry’s building; the binoculars symbolise the entrance but also act to heighten the sculptural qualities of the artwork. This is taking note of Las Vegas and manipulating it in a way to suit Gehry’s style. In Las Vegas symbols and signs are reducing the noticeability of architecture. Due to the high speeds of people travelling through they need eye catching signs to attract people, thus architecture is becoming a vehicle for the signs.

Figure 7- Lower Las Vegas Strip looking North[19]

Gehry has taken the architecture of communication from Las Vegas and manipulated into the communication of artwork. He makes a statement with the binoculars catching peoples eye using the art (rather than bright signs as in Las Vegas). I believe that Gehry has used what Venturi advocates- to abandon the rigid views of architecture and instead use architecture as a symbolism. Although the binoculars do not symbolise the purpose of the building (an office block) I believe that Gehry is employing an artistic symbolism to put a trademark on the design to show that it is a work by Frank Gehry. I believe that by bringing out the artistic element it shows off one of his core beliefs; that he associates more as an artist than an architect[20]. I think he has achieved this very successfully in a building which would usually be overlooked just as another office block of Venice. He has thus attracted attention by making the building stand out to the passer by- just as the large and bright signs do in Las Vegas. Therefore, I think that the way these two texts have analysed American postmodernism has definitely inspired the design of the Chiat Building particularly the large binoculars on the façade. I believe they are given purpose in the building by the fact they are the core for both principles mentioned.

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Despite the similarities I draw on Gehry may have other influences including the historical and cultural contexts of Venice and LA. LA from the late 60s was becoming an artistic hub with the rise of pop art and artistic culture instigating the growth of the city[21]. Hollywood had always been a centre for film and culture but now art in other forms was growing. As it grew artists felt they needed to create bigger and more outrageous pieces. This kind of mindset potentially lead to the production of the large binoculars. The Chiat Building is located in Venice, which is beach front, central LA, a hub for art and in the 60s was known for the Beat Generation. Gehry was drawn to Venice by the avantgarde art scene. When designing the Chiat Building Gehry had formulated two separate buildings one boat like and one tree like.[22] The joining structure became the famous binoculars by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen.[23] The artistic forms of the buildings were to make it stand out in an area already renowned for art. The binoculars hold a conference room and relaxation spaces, that help to serve the 7000sq m office space.[24] This large space was required for the client, another influence for the design. Jay Chiat and Guy Day were the clients for the build, wanting a large open plan office space for their advertising company.[25] Gehry had created a model of the two office blocks for a meeting with the client but required a space to link them which produced the binoculars. They create two tall, unusually shaped rooms. The two curved rooms were intended to serve as places of retreat. Each furnished with a huge elongated lightbulb of resined cloth, suspended from the ceiling, the sign of a luminous idea.[26]

Figure 8- Inside one of the binoculars: a relaxation space [27]

This design proposal I believe fits with the artistic hub of LA, the binoculars stand out in an area already renowned for art, an area that can inspire anyone. Therefore, I believe that having constructed this iconic building in such creative surroundings surely would have led to some element of inspiration.

Lastly, a view I want to consider was that perhaps Gehry was not at all inspired by the postmodern era or the culture and history of LA; perhaps he had a style all of his own, separated and revolutionary. Gehry as an architect was a pioneer, combining his love for art into his designs. He was well known for iconoclastic projects that attract attention and controversy. Gehry’s style was formed through his own interests. He was particularly interested in Cubist artists Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp[28]. This influence can be found in the collage technique he uses in architecture. Gehry dismantles, re-assembles, and layers building materials[29], like Cubism. Also, in art he was inspired by sculptures, particularly baroque and renaissance by Michelangelo and Bernini; in the way they shaped and moulded marble and other materials like fabric.[30] As well as art, music played a large part. The energy and fluidity of the music evoked shapes and designs[31] in his mind. This helped develop a style formed of radically sculpted organic contours. These contours can be seen in the office buildings, particularly the larger on the right said to be formed like a tree[32]. The branch like supports create organic contours and negative spaces between the roof and façade wall, as well as using a brown tile to render which mimics organic colours of the tree.

Figure 9- Initial sketch idea of Chiat building showing the energy he obtains from music and art in his sketches[33]

Lastly there is a nautical influence. Gehry had a passion for sailing often capturing the movement of a boat into his architecture. The surrounding aquatic animals also became a large inspiration for the perfect form. He was fascinated by the movement, liveliness, and lightness of the fish body. The scales could be likened to the shine of the tiles used on the exterior of the right building in the Chiat development and the boat shape into the left building designed like a hull. So, what does this reveal about Gehry’s style? Gehry as an architect usually is classified under having a style similar to that of deconstructivism. Deconstructivism is an architectural movement influenced by deconstruction that encourages radical freedom of form and the open manifestation of complexity in a building rather than strict attention to functional concerns and conventional design elements.[34] But as evidenced previously he also uses elements of postmodernism. Many say that Gehry defies categorisation that instead his experimentation is pioneering work often in line with art movements as opposed to architectural. This influence makes what he creates so distinct and gives rise to the possibility that Gehry has created his own globally recognised style devoid of standard labels.

To conclude, I believe that Gehry as an architect was influenced by the critiques of the postmodern era. The likeness of what is mentioned in the hyperspace argument as well as the importance of symbolism in Learning from Las Vegas can be evidently shown in his design. His layout contains everything required for a total environment, even in an office block. However, the legitimacy of the resources holds some argument. Both Jameson and Venturi published their findings based on moderate evidence, but much is personal view. This view had various oppositions many also published that may have had a strong influence on Gehry. The publications were made many years before the construction of the Chiat Building so are potentially outdated and no longer relevant to 1990s LA. Arguably there are more visible influences from the cultural and historical context of LA and Gehry would have had to engage with these elements in order to stand out in Venice. I also believe that with every architect personal experiences and tastes will always be one of the largest inspirations within their architecture. Therefore, I think the critiques did have a part to play in inspiring Gehry’s design however I believe these are subtle and influences from his unconventional Gehry style and from the local context are far more evident.


[1] Jackie Craven, The Building Shaped Like Binoculars, (ThoughtCo, 2017)      <https://www.thoughtco.com/binoculars-building-178514> [Accessed 11 March 2019].

[2] Frank O Gehry, Mildred Friedman, and Michael Sorkin, Gehry Talks- Architecture + Process (New York: Rizzoli,    1999), pp. 70.

[3] Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, Or The Cultural Logic Of Late Capitalism (New Left Review, 1984), pp. 80 <https://newleftreview-org.abc.cardiff.ac.uk/issues/I146/articles/fredric-jameson-postmodernism-or-the-cultural-logic-of-late-capitalism> [Accessed 16 January 2019].

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Nick Mirzoeff, The Cultural Logics Of Neo-Liberalism, (Occupy 2012, 2012) <https://www.nicholasmirzoeff.com/O2012/2012/02/24/the-cultural-logics-of-neo-liberalism/> [Accessed 2 May 2019].

[9] Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen, Claes Oldenburg & Coosje Van Bruggen: Exhibitions & Projects: Binoculars, (Oldenburgvanbruggen.com) <http://oldenburgvanbruggen.com/largescaleprojects/binoculars.htm> [Accessed 15 April 2019].

[10] Sarah Moore, Bonaventure Hotel, LA, (Blogspot, 2011) <http://sarahkatherinemoore.blogspot.com/2011/02/bonaventure-hotel-la.html> [Accessed 2 May 2019].

[11] Frank O Gehry, and Charles Jencks, Individual Imagination and Cultural Conservatism (London: Academy Editions, 1995), pp. 72.

[12] Frank O Gehry, Mildred Friedman, and Michael Sorkin, pp. 68.

[13] Fredric Jameson, pp. 80.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Fredric Jameson, pp. 81.

[19] Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour, Learning From Las Vegas, 3rd Edn (London: The MIT Press, 1977), pp. 12.

[20] Jackie Craven.

[21] Sarah Rothbard, In The 1990S, Los Angeles Was Both Heaven And Hell, (Zócalo Public Square, 2016)
<https://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2016/04/29/in-the-1990s-los-angeles-was-both-heaven-and-hell/events/the-takeaway/> [Accessed 18 February 2019].

[22] Jackie Craven.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Binoculars Building, (designingbuildings.co.uk, 2017) <https://www.designingbuildings.co.uk/wiki/Binoculars_Building> [Accessed 21 April 2019].

[25] Jackie Craven.

[26] Claes Oldenburg, and Coosje Van Bruggen.

[27] Claes Oldenburg, and Coosje Van Bruggen.

[28] Ela Poursani, Frank Gehry: Influences & Inspirations, (study.com, 2019) <https://study.com/academy/lesson/frank-gehry-influences-inspirations.html> [Accessed 12 March 2019].

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ela Poursani.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Jackie Craven.

[33] Frank O Gehry, and Charles Jencks, pp. 60.

[34] Definition Of DECONSTRUCTIVISM, (Merriam-Webster.com) <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/deconstructivism> [Accessed 23 April 2019].


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