Frank Gehry – He’s Coming Home

1 Jun

The (Canadian) fish that got away

Regina, Saskatchewan // He is being hailed from California to the Basque. He is the architect of the moment, having just completed what many are calling “the building of the century”, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Yet… with all the accolades, only small honourable mentions are made of his Canadian roots.

by Donald Wiedman
for Royal Architectural Institute of Canada

Well, he’s coming home, by special invitation of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada to receive his medal, the RAIC Gold Medal, the highest award the profession of architecture in Canada can bestow.

Regina, Saskatchewan is perhaps the most appropriate place in Canada to honour our wayward son. An oasis built in the middle of the Canadian prairies, like many of Gehry’s buildings, the city void of a major river was probably viewed by early Canadian planners as “unbuildable”. As well, Regina’s former moniker “Pile o’ Bones” could no doubt add vocabulary to Gehry’s critics who fail to accept the sculpture within his work.

With Gehry’s return to be celebrated in his birth country, one has to take a moment and wonder what the landscape of Canadian architecture and the skylines of our cities would look like today had he not left for California at the age of eighteen. If Frank had stayed in Canada and had continued to be influenced and challenged by our dramatic environment, he would have no doubt also have had in return a much stronger influence over the other architects of this country.

The carp and woven baskets of Kensington Market, the materials of his grandfather’s hardware store, and the chairs of his father’s furniture business would be credited with not only having a profound influence over today’s most talked about architects, but they may also have brought some interesting twists to say, Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, Toronto’s CN Tower or Vancouver’s Robson Place (to name a few). They may have been designed with a little more sculpture influence in their fight against the elements, a weather-worthy artistic style which may have then been seen internationally distinctly Canadian.

In fact, if Frank Gehry had built his name working within Canadian weather constraints, his hallmark of particular concern that people exist comfortably within the spaces that he creates, and an insistence that his buildings address the context and culture of their site, could have made things very interesting.

But regardless of the fact (or coincidence) that Gehry’s only two works in Canada to-date have been interiors (the Toronto branch of the Chiat/Day advertising agency, and the Montreal Museum of Decorative Arts) it is time to celebrate a great Canadian – and to celebrate that his career-long battle to build the “unbuildable” is strongly rooted in the Canadian psyche which is shaped by our constant battle to live within a very “unlivable” environment.

At this year’s RAIC Festival of Architecture in Regina (a symbol, like the Bilbao Guggenheim, of long-lasting beauty built up from flat, nondescript land, Frank O. Gehry will receive Canadian accolades long overdue, and address the College of Fellows convocation.

Like the fish that so inspired him, we’ve got him on the line, and we’re not going to let him go this time. At least for a little while!

RAIC Gold Medal Citation: Raymond Moriyama to Frank Gehry, RAIC Festival of Architecture

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