Aug 31, 201309:00 AMPoint of View

Q&A: Edwin Chan

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Edwin Chan and Frank Gehry

Courtesy Thomas Mayer

IA: Looking at Spiller House in Venice, California, which is one of Frank’s early projects, we see that interest in using the mundane corrugated metal or wood. But beyond that I think even the way the house is assembled and how the materials come together express that mundane quality. The materials seem so raw, untreated or unpainted, and you can actually see the joints and connections that bring them together.

EC: That is true and part of this has to do with the construction culture in the west coast and the use of two-by-four wood framing and corrugated metal. Also there is an unfinished aspect to the building, which is one of the characteristics of Frank's early work. But I think this project is important because it is very much part of the street-escape. The building on the front has a lower piece, which relates to the street scale and adjacent buildings, and there is a second piece in the back that is taller. So in Frank's work there is always this idea of breaking the building into smaller pieces as a way to address the scale. You can also see that kind of scale and aesthetic is very much aligned with other buildings in Venice, California. So there is a unique industrial character to it that makes it fit right in.

IA: You spoke earlier about your interest in art, and that one of the main reasons that attracted you to Frank Gehry’s work was what you saw as a strong connection with the art world and the dialogue with the artist. Art is of course a vast concept and could often be ambiguous. What is your definition of art? And what aspects of art are you particularly interested in?

EC: It is interesting because if you sit down with any architect I know, they would tell you exactly that they are interested in art. And I cannot imagine one architect who would tell you that they aren't interested in art. So in some ways it's a little bit of a cliché for me to say that. Although I would have to say that I am much more visual because my eyes are much better developed than my ears. As I worked, through the projects that I have been involved in, I shied away for the longest time from concert halls, and I have been more interested in museums. So for me art is visual. But I think nowadays the younger generation of artists work in multidisciplinary ways, which is also interesting for me. I admire artists who work in traditional mediums, but I think I'm more interested in artists who work with different types of media. And although I said I was interested in art, I never fantasized myself as a sculptor or a painter. I do like taking pictures, but I never have the patience to paint or make a sculpture. I think for me it's the dialogue with the artist that is interesting. Because the issues that interests artists are in some ways more tactile or less theoretical. So the discussions that you would have with the artist on the creative process are usually in different kind of topics, and that is what interests me and excites me.

IA: So in that sense, do you consider architecture as another medium of art?

EC: I wouldn't define it like that. I think in a sense we are all involved in a kind of creative endeavor and I think that architecture is one of many different creative endeavors. I hesitate to label it because I don't think it's healthy to think about it that way. It’s just that in architecture, the medium that we choose to express these ideas happen to be the built-environment, whereas the artists might have chosen a different medium to explore the same set of ideas.

IA: I would like to talk about the Chiat/Day/Mojo building. This project is particularly interesting for me because of what you were describing as the dialogue between art and architecture. The large binoculars are a collaboration between Frank Gehry and sculptor Claes Oldenburg. Claes' work here is interesting, and ironic, to me especially because his work is about taking everyday-objects and building them out of scale.

EC: The building was designed at the time for Chiat/Day/Mojo advertising company, but is now owned by Google as a part of their Los Angeles campus expansion. Jay Chiat was a longtime friend of Frank. Jay really wanted to create a building that would encourage creativity. So going back to your question; is this art or is it architecture? Of course the binoculars were collaboration between Frank and Claes. He was one of the important pop artists of the time (starting in the 1960s). A lot of people looked at the building as a kind of pop architecture with the binoculars. But I would like to think of it as a kind of urban response.

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