You Are So Wrong, Frank Gehry!

The blogosphere is buzzing with Frank Gehry’s derogatory remarks about green design. Our editor-in-chief, Susan S. Szenasy, responds.

The blogosphere is buzzing with Frank Gehry’s derogatory remarks about green design. In a recent public interview, the starchitect summarily dismissed the movement that’s working to make the built environment more responsive to our deteriorated natural environment. With buildings known to produce more than half of the world’s carbon output, surely those who design and build them have to shoulder some responsibility. But not, apparently, Gehry. He cavalierly called out LEED ratings (and thus the many efforts made every day by architects and designers to make our world less toxic, use available energy and water more carefully, pay mind to the site and its proximity to public transit, etc. ) as “political” and “bogus.” This is unfortunate for everyone concerned, and everyone must be concerned. But I’m not surprised, though I am saddened no end.

Gehry’s recent remarks remind me of another time, nearly 20 years ago, when Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act to protect the equal rights of those whose needs had been overlooked by every design discipline. Back then, too, the leading lights of the architecture community were on the sidelines of a discourse that could have built beautiful as well as universally accessible cities, buildings, and products. At that time, like now, as we begin to understand the implications of climate change for life on earth, serious discussion was needed to draw up the most forward-thinking and aesthetically pleasing design-based solutions to the new realities identified by the then new civil rights law.

But while architects held meetings about the legal implications of the ADA, none of their anointed “leaders” came out to cheer them on. No Gehry or Meier identified the ADA as presenting an important design problem. And so in the ensuing years, as insensitive interpretations of the law grew in number– from obscure way-finding to awkward ramps–I kept wondering, How would the world look and feel if the stars of architecture decided to stand up for the good of humanity? What if, I kept asking, they admitted that great architecture could also be kind to people and the environment? Would such an act of involvement diminish their star status? I don’t think so.

Categories: Architecture, Sustainability