'Conversations With Frank Gehry' by Barbara Isenberg
Reviewed By Christopher Hawthorne
My hopes, I'll admit, were not especially high for "Conversations With Frank Gehry," Barbara Isenberg's collection of recent interviews with the architect. Particularly in public, Gehry can be reticent, even uncomfortable, when discussing the ideas behind his buildings. Though there are certainly architects -- Rem Koolhaas, Robert Venturi, Elizabeth Diller and Peter Eisenman among them -- who use the process of talking and writing as a kind of design software, shaping concepts that show up later in their work, Gehry is not one of them.
But a couple of things make "Conversations With Frank Gehry" surprisingly rich and even, at times, revelatory. One is that Gehry, who turned 80 earlier this year, is growing more reflective, even wistful, about his past. (My sense is that this wistfulness is neither involuntary nor perfectly organic: Gehry has always been an artful packager of his legend.) The second is that Gehry's long relationship with Isenberg, a journalist who has worked for The Times and the Wall Street Journal and who has been interviewing Gehry since the 1980s, has produced a level of trust and familiarity that allows him to open up in ways he has rarely done publicly.
In certain respects the book, which was born when Gehry asked Isenberg to work with him on an oral history, operates as a lo-fi, casual biography of the architect. It includes extensive material on the architect's childhood in Toronto; his move to Los Angeles as a teenager; his studies at USC and Harvard; the decision, in 1954, to change his last name from Goldberg to Gehry; his time in the U.S. Army; and the architects whose work he has studied most closely, including Alvar Aalto and the French Modernist Le Corbusier ("number one on my hit parade").