Aug 31, 201309:00 AMPoint of View
Q&A: Edwin Chan
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Iman Ansari: When we look at the work of Frank Gehry or Thom Mayne, as LA architects, there is a certain symbolic relationship to the city evident in the work: the industrial character of these buildings and elements of the highway or automobile culture that tie the architecture to the larger urban infrastructure, the scale of the projects, as well as the conscious use of materials such as metal, glass or concrete. But as freestanding machine-like objects sitting at the heart of the city these buildings also embody certain ideals and values that are uniquely American, such as individualism, and freedom of expression. In your opinion how is Frank Gehry's work tied to Los Angeles or the American culture?
Edwin Chan: Absolutely. I think Frank's work definitely has DNA of LA as a city. We talk about the idea of a democratic city a lot, and coincidentally Hillary Clinton mentioned that in her speech recently saying: “We need a new architecture for this new world, more Frank Gehry than formal Greek,” because it's the expression of democracy. In that sense you could think about the building embodying certain type of values that are manifested architecturally. You alluded to a lot of them already like diversity of materials, the scale and the heterogeneity, and those are also the DNA of the society we live in. But for me personally, I think in addition to everything you talked about, there are two main urban aspects that stand out: First one is light; LA is a city that you are very much aware of its unique horizontally. When you are in the city, you are constantly seeing the sky and the sky is always a part of your peripheral vision - as opposed to a city like New York where you are always surrounded by buildings - and because of that, you are very much aware of the change in light. Therefore, the architecture and also the materiality of architecture always have to be very sensitive towards the light. And sometimes they are very important part of the decisions. This approach also carried along to some of the projects that we worked on internationally. For example, one of the reasons we used Titanium in the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao was the way it reacted to the light in the city. It wasn't a stylistic decision per se. As you know, Bilbao is a city with heavy industries and steel, and we knew from the beginning that the building would be of a heavy metallic material that would speak about the industrial character of the place. So we looked at stainless steel and other materials for a long time but we didn't like the way they responded to the light. In northern Spain it rains lot and we wanted a material that would radiate a kind of warmth and bring the sky into the building. So that is why we came to the decision to use titanium in the building. In other places we used other types of materials. So it really depends on where the project is. But the idea of materiality and how it responds to the light is a very important thing, and I think we developed that sensitivity from LA.
The second aspect is the mundane quality of the city. In other words, when people visit LA, especially Europeans, they notice a very different kind of city than a traditional city. Part of it is the kind of "mundane" quality. But at the same time there is a beauty in the mundane. So how do you capture that quality? And how do you bring that into people's awareness? A lot of times people are in denial about that. Frank talks about that also, and that's how he arrived at the chain-link fence. It's a material that people use in their front yard all the time but when you use it as architecture people start to question it. So it's about bringing out those kinds of values and focusing on it. In some ways it's very Duchamp like, you know. Because it is part of a kind of sensitivity that came from modern art: to give value to mundane things or emphasize the beauty of the mundane.