Rebels of Construction-Frank Gehry

What does it mean to be a rebel? The media would like us to think that rebels ride around on chopper motorcycles, clad in a worn-but-not-too-worn leather motorcycle jacket­—perhaps won in some type of switchblade bar fight—whose morals are questionable, and no matter what, they’re always up to no good.

photo taken from the film, Easy Rider What does being a rebel mean to you?


However, a true rebel is nothing like this (apart from perhaps riding a motorcycle and having an affinity for leather). The real rebel is not one with criminal intent but one who challenges what our cultural norms and conventions deem is right. The great French philosopher, Albert Camus wrote, “rebellion, on the contrary, breaks the seal and allows the whole being to come into play. It liberates stagnant waters and turns them into a raging torrent”

A rebel follows their heart rather than the herd. They reject what is normal and with their passionate spirit develop revolutionary ideas and ways of doing things instead.

One of the greatest architects of the 21st Century certainly embodies the entire spirit of what it means to be a rebel. His work has been described as “uncategorizable,” “experimental,” and “unconventional”—all words used to describe what it means to be a rebel.

Frank Gehry

Architect Frank Gehry Frank Gehry in 2010 (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

Frank Gehry was born on February 28, 1929, in Toronto, Canada. As a child, he loved playing with the wood scraps from his family’s hardware store. Frank and his grandmother would build little cities and houses with the scraps. But like any young child—favorite toys and games don’t quite ignite a spark in their brain that lets the kid know what they want to be when they grow up…not yet anyway.

Frank attended high school in Toronto, where he studied math, physics—which he loved—chemistry, and woodshop. Reflecting on these years, Frank says he explored different interests through books in his high school library. One of those was architecture, which he says, “was boring.” There is no way he would have ever envisioned that he would later be one of the most recognized architects in the world.

In 1947, the family moved to the United States. Frank was 18 and started making his way in the world. He started a job as a truck driver and attended night classes at a couple of the local community colleges, again exploring varied areas of study.

Interestingly enough, one of these classes was Perspective, which he failed the first time around. When he got his grades back and saw a big F staring back, he was so mad that he decided to enroll in the class again, and this time he scored an A. This was the first glimmer of what was to come—a glimmer that would ultimately come to fruition in his ceramics class and lead to his legacy as one of the most renowned architects.

It was his ceramics professor who suggested Frank study architecture.

“I had no idea I wanted to be an architect.” -Frank Gehry

Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health Frank Gehry's Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas.


Still without a path, Frank thought about what his ceramics professor told him. Not knowing what he wanted to be, Frank introspectively asked himself what he liked and what made him excited. He thought about those little wood cities he and his grandma made, so he did what the ceramics professor suggested and entered the University of Southern California School of Architecture.

After graduating, Frank served in the Army and took a stab at further study at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Dropping out of the program due to philosophical differences was just one of Frank’s acts of rebellion.

His first job in architecture was for the firm Victor Gruen Associations in Los Angeles. He also worked in Paris for a year before establishing his own company in 1962. Frank draws inspiration from the art that moves him. He says, “That’s what an architect should do, is to be able to have an emotional response with their work that last through the centuries, so that’s what I try to do.”

“The best advice I’ve received is to be yourself. The best artists do that.” -Frank Gehry

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain has been called the most important structure built since 1980.

Though every structure Frank has designed is a unique art piece, he didn’t compromise his client’s needs or budget to complete his vision. He says when he started working none of his clients had any money. As a result, Frank experimented with different materials that would still evoke feelings. These experiments had the added benefit of discovering cheaper metals. This not only kept projects on budget but also created the unique look of his buildings’ exteriors—such as the titanium of the Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain. Frank says the museum was built for $300 a square foot and upon completion was built under budget.

Frank has been criticized as being “cantankerous.” However, it is too often a response from others to label the rebel in a negative light rather than accept the rebel’s unconventional and innovative ideas. Psychology Today writes, “The Rebel’s superpower is challenge”, so when Frank presented the design of his first skyscraper and was told it couldn’t be done, he, like any rebel, developed a way.

8 Spruce Street/Beekman Tower/New York By Gehry, Manhattan, New York City

“wiggly wobbly” exterior of 8 Spruce Street building in New York Frank describes the exterior of 8 Spruce Street Manhattan as “wiggly wobbly”.


Knowing how cost-prohibitive Frank’s designs would be traditionally, Frank was a pioneer of incorporating technology into the design process. Frank worked with French software company Dassault Systems to develop a computer program that would “demystify shapes” and allow the curves of his designs to be built cheaper. Without the aid of this program, called CATIA, the Guggenheim Bilbao and New York By Gehry would probably never have been built.

Originally named the Beekman Tower of New York by Gehry, now called 8 Spruce Street was Frank’s first skyscraper. At the time of its completion in 2011, it was the tallest residential building in the Western Hemisphere. The 72-story building houses a public school and hospital services on its lower floors and the rest are all apartments. It has a reinforced concrete and form-wise frame and a remarkable 10,500 different shaped steel panels that are “wiggly wobbly” (as Frank describes it) exterior—without the use of the technology, would not have been possible.

Amazingly, 8 Spruce Street was built with no change orders. New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff described the building as "the finest skyscraper to rise in New York since Eero Saarinen's CBS Building went up 46 years ago” and the New Yorker magazine wrote that it is “one of the most beautiful towers downtown.”

“The Most Important Architect of Our Age” -Vanity Fair

Although Frank is one of the most awarded architects, he, like any rebel, rejects any labels, saying, “I’m not a star-chitect; I’m an ar-chitect.”

Despite that, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao was rated the number one most important structure constructed since 1980 in the Vanity Fair World Architecture Survey conducted in 2010. And in 1989, Frank received the most prestigious award in architecture, the Pritzker Architecture Prize.

Frank holds 25 architecture and design awards and 19 honorary doctorates—one of them from Harvard.

This post is part five of our series titled “Rebels of Construction.”

What Does it Mean to be a Rebel?

Rebels challenge conventional ways of thinking, defy rules, and revolt against those that tell them ‘no.’ Without Rebels, there would be no invention, innovation, or improvement in our society. Disrupting the status quo, a true Rebel charts a new course where all benefit. In the blog series, Rebels of Construction, Beck Technology celebrates the independent spirit of the Rebel.

Click the pictures below to read more on this series.

photo of Justo Gallego Martínez

Antoni Gaudí-designed ‘el droc’ mosaic salamander at the entrance of Park Güell in Barcelona, Spain

black and white photo of architect Bruce Goff working on a mosaic

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