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Los Angeles Museum Highlights Innovative Architect Frank Gehry

Next month, the Walt Disney Concert Hall will open in Los Angeles. With its rooftop of billowing stainless steel, the structure will cap the career of Frank Gehry, one of the world's most innovative designers of buildings. An exhibit devoted to his work has opened across the street from the new architectural landmark.

The exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art looks at the creative process in Frank Gehry's studio as he guides an architectural team in transforming an idea into a physical structure.

Brooke Hodge, the museum's curator of architecture and design, says the show, called "Frank O. Gehry: Works in Progress," features original sketches, computer-generated drawings, photographs and models that show a design taking shape.

"I don't think that people really understand what architects do in their offices and how they do it," said Ms. Hodge. "And I think Frank's work in particular lends itself to showing the process of design and how many models they make in the studio for every project, starting with really rudimentary wood block models to explore the massing of the building and the program, and how the different elements of the building's function be put together. Then Frank does a lot of sketches; then he goes back to the models."

Frank Gehry goes back and forth from sketches to models made of cardboard, plastic and balsa wood as he explores possibilities and transforms what he calls his "dream image" into a practical blueprint.

Mr. Gehry is known for buildings that looks like sculptures. They include the noted Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Bilbao, Spain. The museum exhibit, however, looks at current projects, including the Venice Gateway at Marco Polo Airport in Venice, Italy, and the new wing of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington.

The curator says, in each case, the architect pushes the envelope of design. "He's been entrusted not in building the sort of rectangular box that we've gotten so accustomed to with modernism," she explained. "And he's interested in forms that are inspired by sails on sailboats, by 15th century sculpture in the drapery folds in a marble sculpture, and some things like a flamenco dancer's dress and a gelatin mold or a wedding cake."

The settings of his projects in various parts of the world are very different, and he says they influence the designs. But the architect told VOA that all of his projects, from the new Center for Dignity at Jerusalem's Museum of Tolerance to the Marques de Riscal Hotel in Elciego, Spain, have something in common.

"Hard work ties it together," said Mr. Geary. "I guess there's a kind of optimism that people will respond to buildings that have an emotional content, and that it's engaging, and I try to do that."

The Disney Concert Hall will open October 23, and Mr. Gehry has called it the high point of his career. Because of disputes and construction delays, the controversial project has spanned 15 years and has more than doubled in cost, reaching a final price tag of $274 million.

The architect says in the end, however, he achieved his goal, which he describes this way.

"Make a hall that worked impeccably for the repertoire of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, today and in the future. The future part is the hard part. And then to make a room where the connection between audience and performer is very intimate and close, and serves both synergistically. Make the orchestra feel better; they hear themselves. They feel the audience. The audience feels the orchestra. And you've heard this from actors: when they can feel the audience, they respond to that."

The wood-paneled concert hall holds some 2,200 people, and the sail-like shapes in the ceiling help achieve an intimate sound.

The soaring, billowing shapes that the architect is known for were impossible before the advent of computers. Frank Gehry works with a software program called CATIA, which was developed for the French aerospace industry. He says the great architects Le Corbusier and Eric Mendelsohn might have designed similar structures if they had the same technology 70 years ago.

With his sketching pen in hand, Mr. Gehry's design ideas flow freely, yet he is at a loss when asked to describe his style. "It's very logical to me," he said. "I've been developing these strategies and forms over time, and that's some kind of personal language in response to program and budget and client and place and all those things, and that's what comes out."

Curator Brooke Hodge says the architect has raised the bar for structural design and has shown us the possibilities of what buildings may look like in the future.

The exhibition Frank O. Gehry: Works in Progress can be seen at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles through late January.