The Life & Architectural Career of Frank Gehry

Frank Gehry is a Canadian born American architect who some refer to as the most important architect of our age. He has revolutionized the world of architecture in more ways than one, and continues to do so with every project he takes on.

Here is everything you need to know about the architectural enigma that is Frank Owen Gehry.

Quick Facts

  • Born: Frank Owen Goldberg, February 28, 1929 (90 years old), in Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  • Nationality: Dual citizenship: Canadian, American
  • Occupation: Architect
  • Parent(s): Sadie Thelma, Irving Goldberg
  • Education: USC School of Architecture (1954)
  • Practice: Gehry Partners LLP
  • Website:

Frank Gehry’s radical designs have been disrupting the very understanding of design within architecture for more than half a century. He has designed some of the most iconic buildings which have revolutionized modern architecture. With some of his most famous work including the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, the Walt Disney Concert Hall, and the Foundation Louis Vuitton.

With a successful architectural career spanning more than half a century, Frank Gehry has amassed quite a fortune. He is estimated to be worth approximately 50 million dollars.

The Life & Architectural Career of Frank Gehry

Quick Facts about Frank Gehry

  1. Frank Gehry’s real name was Frank Owen Goldberg. He changed it due to the antisemitism he experienced during his childhood.
  2. He has done numerous jobs away from the field of architecture. He once even joined the United States Army.
  3. He was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and holds citizenship for both Canada and the United States.
  4. The “Vanity Fair” described him as “the most important architect of our age.”
  5. He loves sailing and has a yacht named “Foggy” and is a member of the California Yacht Club.
  6. He is a recipient of numerous awards in the field of architecture, among them the Pritzker Prize for Architecture.
  7. He designed his own residence in 1977 and it is among his most notable designs, and he still resides there with his family.
  8. Frank Gehry voiced himself in an episode of the Simpsons where he designs a concert hall for Springfield after gaining inspiration from crumpled paper.
  9. Most of the buildings that Frank Gehry has designed are major tourist attraction sites.
  10. His father thought that he was a dreamer and that he would not amount to anything.

Frank Gehry’s Family

Frank Gehry was born to Irving Goldberg and Sadie Thelma. His father, Irving Goldberg was born in Brooklyn, New York and was of Russian Jewish origin. His mother, Sadie Thelma was a Jewish immigrant from Poland and was born in Lodz. Frank has a younger sister, Doreen Gehry, who has spent over 40 years as an educator.

Early life

Frank Gehry was born Frank Owen Goldberg on February 28, 1929, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He was very close to his Grandmother, who helped to nurture his creative side by spending time with him building little wooden cities in the living room. His grandfather had a hardware store from where they would obtain scraps of wood for the building.

His childhood influenced his style of architecture which involves the use of unconventional building materials such as chain-link fencing, unpainted plywood, and corrugated steel. Gehry once said, “But my father thought I was a dreamer, I wasn’t going to amount to anything. It was my mother who thought I was just reticent to do things. She would push me.”

Frank Gehry was brought up in a Jewish family. At his bar mitzvah, he was given the Hebrew name “Ephraim” by his grandfather, though he never uses it. He changed his name from Frank Owen Goldberg to Frank O. Gehry due to the antisemitism he experienced during his childhood.

Frank Gehry’s Education

Frank Gehry’s family immigrated into the United States in 1947, settling in California. He studied at the Los Angeles City College. He was also a truck driver at around the same time. He later moved to the University of California’s School of Architecture, where he graduated with a degree in Architecture in 1954.

Before that, however, Frank Gehry tried a hand in many things before opting for architecture. He drove a delivery truck, attempted being a radio announcer, which he admits he was not very good at. He also tried chemical engineering but he had no passion for the field. He then remembered his childhood passion for building imaginary cities, finally opting for architecture.

After completing his bachelor’s degree, he took some time away from the field of architecture, involving himself in other activities which were not related to architecture. This included him joining the United States Army.

In the Fall of 1956, Frank Gehry moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, with his wife, Anita Snyder to enroll at the Harvard School of Design. He studied city planning at the institution. He, however, left before completing the program.

Frank Gehry’s Architecture career

Frank Gehry later went back to Los Angeles after staying in Massachusetts for a short while. He worked for Victor Gruen and Associates. This was where he had received his apprenticeship while he was still at the University of Southern California School of Architecture.

In 1957 at the age of 28, he was assigned a project to design his first private residence. He was given this assignment together with his old classmate and friend Greg Walsh. The construction took place in Idyllwild, California. The design of the building expressed a style that would later become synonymous with his future work.

The project, which is a mountain retreat, occupied an area of approximately 2000 sq. ft. The design of the project was unique, exhibiting strong influence from Asia, especially the Shosoin Treasure House in Nara, Japan. 

In 1961, Frank Gehry moved to Paris, France to work for Andre Remondet, a Paris based architect. He worked there for approximately a year.

In 1962, Gehry moved back to California, United States. He established his own practice in Los Angeles, California, which became Frank Gehry and Associates in 1967. The practice later changed its name to Gehry Partners in 2001.

All of the earliest commissions that Frank Gehry got under his own practice were in his local Southern California. He designed several commercial structures using innovative designs such as the Santa Monica Place. He also designed residential buildings such as Norton House in Venice, California.

Of his early works, however, his most iconic design is arguably the renovation of his own residence in Santa Monica. The renovation involved a metallic exterior primarily made of corrugated steel and a chain-link fence surrounding the bungalow. This avant-garde design by Frank Gehry caught the attention of the architectural world.

Frank Gehry was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1989. This is one of the most prestigious awards in the world of architecture. He was awarded for his innovative designs and being always open to experimentation. This greatly boosted his name, career, and reputation to new heights.

Frank Gehry began to receive huge commissions both nationally and internationally. He no longer got commissions from just his local California region. The world was finally being introduced to Frank Gehry’s revolutionary architecture.

He got his first European commission for the design and construction of the Vitra International Furniture Manufacturing Facility and Design Museum in Germany, which was completed in 1989. He got other major commissions such as the design of the Frederick Weisman Museum of Art in 1993 and the design of the Dancing House in 1996.

Frank Gehry achieved celebrity status for the design and construction if the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao which was completed and opened in 1997, in Bilbao, Spain. The New Yorker magazine described it as a “masterpiece of the twentieth century”, while famous architect Philip Johnson described it as the greatest building of our time. 

This established him as one of the most notable architects in the world. He has since regularly won major commissions around the world.  Some of his most iconic buildings include the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, the Millennium Park, the New World Center among many other projects.

There are other major projects whose construction is still ongoing. One such project is the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates. In some recent years, however, some of Frank Gehry’s designs have failed to be realized. These designs include the expansion of Corcoran Art Gallery in Washington D.C. and a Guggenheim museum in New York.

Frank Gehry’s Early Projects

Davis Studio and Residence, Malibu, California

The design and construction of the Davis Studio and Residence in Malibu, California, started in 1968 and was completed in 1972. This was Frank Gehry’s first powerful movement towards a personal style. The building has a trapezoidal shape and had a corrugated metal clad and coated metal fences

Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, Germany

The design of the Vitra Design Museum, which is located in Weil am Rhein, Germany, was completed in the late 1980s. The design is a clear transition between Frank Gehry’s smaller-scale Deconstructivist projects and the grander, sleek aesthetic, which he is more well known for.

Gehry House, Santa Monica, California, United States

The Gehry House, which is in Santa Monica, California, is Frank Gehry’s own house. Gehry designed the Santa Monica residence for himself and his family. Frank Gehry and his wife bought an existing house in Santa Monica and decided to renovate it. The project enveloped the existing bungalow in angular volumes clad in a riot of everyday suburban materials like plywood and chain link.

The radical design of the residence which exhibits a symbol of deconstructivism brought fame to Frank Gehry. In 2012, it won the American Institute of Architects’ prestigious Twenty-Five Year Award. Although the neighbors hated it, it did not change the fact that the house was a statement of art entwined with architecture,

Chiat/Day Complex, Venice, California

The Chiat/Day complex was designed in 1985 and completed in 1991. This Postmodern style architecture was built for advertising agency Chiat/Day. It is commonly known as the Binoculars Building because of an enormous pair of binoculars structure which is at the entrance of the building. The structures of the office resemble a ship’s prow.

Frank Gehry’s Major Projects

Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, California

The construction of the Walt Disney Concert Hall which is located in Los Angeles, California, was completed in 2003. It is one of Frank Gehry’s most well-known projects. It demonstrates the extravagant forms that have become synonymous to Frank Gehry’s style. The aim of the project was to devise a new home for the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Frank Gehry designed the building in 1988. The construction of the building began in 1991. The construction of the building took more than 10 years and was subject to much criticism. Today, however, the critics and the public agree that the building was worth the wait. The building was initially designed to be clad in stone but a more malleable material was chosen.

Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis, Minnesota

The Weisman Art Museum, which is in Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States, was designed and constructed by Frank Gehry. It was completed in 1993. It is one of the major landmarks on the University of Minnesota, situated on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. In 1992, Gehry won the Progressive Architecture Award for the Weisman Art Museum.

Dancing House, Prague, Czech Republic

The Dancing House, or Fred and Ginger, as it is commonly known, houses the Dutch bank, Nationale-Nederlanden and was designed by Frank Gehry in collaboration with Czech architect Vlado Milunic. The building was designed in 1992 and completed in 1996. The building was constructed on a site that housed a building that was destroyed in WWII.

Prague is a city known for its magnificent Gothic, Neo-Baroque, Neo-Gothic and Art Nouveau buildings. The design is very non-traditional as the building stands out from its neighboring buildings. The building is surrounded by elements of great plasticity, which despite a deconstructed style, harmonizes with the environment.

Gehry considered a single concrete building to be too “masculine” and was motivated to develop the idea of a feminine counterpoint: a feminine Yin balancing the masculine Yang. This gave an impression of a dancing couple, which people named Fred and Ginger, after a legendary film couple who rallied the entertainment industry in the 1930s.

Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, which is located in Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain, is a museum of modern and contemporary art, whose construction was completed in 1997. Although the metallic form of the exterior looks almost floral from above, from the ground, the building resembles a sailboat, a tribute to the past industrial life of the port of Bilbao.

The curves of the exterior of the museum were constructed using Titanium, limestone, and glass. The exterior surface was designed to catch the light and react to the sun and the weather. This makes the surface to ripple in the changing light and giving the whole museum an extraordinary iridescence to the overall composition.

EMP Museum, Seattle, Washington

The construction of the Experience Music Project (EMP) was completed in 2000. Frank Gehry’s unique design required a creative approach to engineering and fabrication. The EMP museum is the brainchild of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The EMP Museum was later renamed the Museum of Pop Culture in 2016.

The inspiration for the Museum of Pop Culture was rock ‘n’ roll. Frank Gehry is said to have purchased several electric guitars, sliced them into pieces, and used them as building blocks for early model design.

Peter B. Lewis Building, Cleveland, Ohio

The Peter B. Lewis Building houses the Weatherhead School of Management at the Case Western Reserve University, which is located in Cleveland, Ohio. The brick exterior of the structure is covered with stainless steel ribbons. Inside, an open floor plan symbolizes and encourages cross-disciplinary learning.

Richard B. Fisher Center, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York

The design and construction of the Richard B. Fisher Center, which is located in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, was completed in 2003. It is a concert hall that showcases opera, orchestras, and other musical performances.

Of the Design, Gehry writes, “The front facade of the building can be interpreted as a theatrical mask that covers the raw face of the performance space. Its abstract forms prepare the visitor to be receptive to experiencing the performances that occur within…” 

The IAC Building, Chelsea, New York

The IAC Building is located in Chelsea, New York. It is Frank Gehry’s first structure to be constructed in New York. The building has two major levels, which conceals the fact that the building has a design that has 10 stories. The white and grey glass exterior represents a shift for Gehry, who had initially planned for wrinkled titanium.  

Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris, France

The design and construction of Fondation Louis Vuitton, which is located in Bois de Boulogne, Paris, France, was completed in 2014. It is a private modern and contemporary art center and museum. Frank Gehry’s design was inspired by both the traditional 19th-century glass and steel greenhouse architecture and the image of a sailing ship.

What is Frank Gehry most famous building?

Frank Gehry has designed some of the most famous buildings in the world. His most famous building, however, is arguably the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Bilbao, Spain. The museum was visited by almost 4 million tourists in its first 3 years, causing an increase in the economy of Bilbao. This was referred to as the “Bilbao effect.”

Later Life

In recent years, Frank Gehry has served as a professor of architecture at Columbia University, University of Southern California and Yale.

He also has ongoing projects such as a new Guggenheim facility in Abu Dhabi and the new Facebook headquarters in California.

Architectural style

Frank Gehry’s style involves experimentation with unconventional materials. His style seeks to escape the modernist style but still uses some of its underlying transformative ideas.

His style of design is crude and seems unfinished, leading to some classifying his work with some elements of deconstructivism.

Top 10 buildings

The top buildings designed by Frank Gehry include:

  1. Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain
  2. Dancing House, Prague, Czech Republic
  3. Foundation Louis Vuitton, Paris, France
  4. Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, Germany
  5. Gehry House, Santa Monica, California, United States
  6. The IAC Building, Chelsea, New York
  7. EMP Museum, Seattle, Washington
  8. Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis, Minnesota
  9. Peter B. Lewis Building, Cleveland, Ohio
  10. Beekman Tower, New York, New York

Personal life

In 1952, Frank Gehry married Anita Snyder. While at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, he dropped out and divorced his wife in 1956. Gehry has two daughters with Anita Snyder. In 1975, Gehry married Berta Isabel Aguilera, who is Panamanian. He has two sons with his current wife. 

Frank Gehry holds dual citizenship in Canada and the United States. He lives in a house he designed for himself and his family in 1978, in Santa Monica, California. He is an avid fan of ice hockey, having grown up in Canada. He is also a member of the California Yacht Club in Marina Del Rey, California and is on the Leadership of the New York Stem Cell Foundation.

Frank Gehry architects

It was established by Frank Gehry in 1962. It was then renamed Gehry Partners, LLP, in 2001. It has a staff of over 120 people. The practice is based in Los Angeles, California. The firm’s philosophy states that; at the heart of the firm’s design approach is a method in which the client is fully brought into the design process as a member of the design team.

Frank Gehry’s Influences

Frank Gehry designs buildings with elements such as exposed studs and angled windows. For his buildings, Gehry obtains his inspiration from various sources. Throughout his career, he has been inspired by Cubist artists such as Pablo Picasso. He is also inspired by the structures he made while making play cities as a child.

Frank Gehry Awards and honors

  • 1987: Fellow of American Academy of Arts and Letters, received an honorary doctorate from the California Institute of the Arts, an honorary doctorate from Rhode Island School of Design
  • 1988: Elected into the National Academy of Design
  • 1989: Won the Pritzker Architecture Prize, an honorary doctorate from Otis College of Art and Design, an honorary doctorate from Technical University of Nova Scotia
  • 1992: Praemium Imperiale
  • 1993: Honorary doctorate from Occidental College
  • 1994: Won the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize
  • 1995: Won the American Academy of Achievement Golden Plate Award, an honorary doctorate from Whittier College
  • 1996: Honorary doctorate from the Southern California Institute of Architecture
  • 1998: National Medal of Arts, an honorary doctorate from the University of Toronto
  • 1998: Gold Medal Award, Royal Architectural Institute of Canada
  • 1999: AIA Gold Medal, American Institute of Architects
  • 2000: Cooper–Hewitt National Design Award Lifetime Achievement, an honorary doctorate from Harvard University, an honorary doctorate from University of Edinburgh, an honorary doctorate from University of Southern California, an honorary doctorate from Yale University
  • 2002: Companion of the Order of Canada, an honorary doctorate from City College of New York
  • 2004: Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service, an honorary doctorate from School of the Art Institute of Chicago
  • 2006: Inductee, California Hall of Fame
  • 2007: Henry C. Turner Prize for Innovation in Construction Technology from the National Building Museum (on behalf of Gehry Partners and Gehry Technologies)
  • 2009: Order of Charlemagne
  • 2012: Twenty-five Year Award, American Institute of Architects
  • 2013: Honorary doctorate from Case Western Reserve University, an honorary doctorate from Princeton University
  • 2014: Prince of Asturias Award, an honorary doctorate from Juilliard School
  • 2014: Commandeur of the Ordre National de la Légion d’honneur, France
  • 2015: J. Paul Getty Medal, an honorary doctorate from University of Technology Sydney
  • 2016: Harvard Arts Medal
  • 2016: Leonore and Walter Annenberg Award for Diplomacy through the Arts, Foundation for Arts and Preservation in Embassies
  • 2016: Presidential Medal of Freedom
  • 2017: Honorary doctorate from the University of Oxford
  • 2018: Neutra Medal

Frank Gehry’s Reputation

Frank Gehry has a reputation of being a revolutionary architect who is often described as an unrepentant artist-architect, who uses materials others love to hate. He has gained the reputation of being an architectural provocateur.

Frank Gehry’s Net worth

With a very successful career in architecture which spans for more than half a century, Frank Gehry has amassed a great amount of wealth. Most of his wealth comes from architecture. It is estimated that he is worth approximately $50 million.

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