Frank Gehry Tells Designers, Architects When Faced With Arduous Projects, "Dog It Through and Prove Yourself"

Jordan Riefe
Frank Gehry, right, and Paul Goldberger

The famed architect reflected on his work at a talk preceding the Design Leadership Summit's award dinner.

The Design Leadership Summit hit Los Angeles for three days this week, achieving its own summit Oct. 28 with its second annual Design Leadership Award dinner, held this year at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Frank Gehry sat with biographer and architecture critic Paul Goldberger for a wide-ranging discussion about the hall and how architecture can define a city, while also dispensing pointers on giving back to the community and dealing with ornery clients. 

“If you’re the architect, you’re making the building. You should damn well be in charge of running it, make it happen on budget,” he told the audience of designers and fellow architects as he recalled the 15 arduous years it took to build the concert hall. “Bilbao gave people the confidence that I knew what I was doing,” he added, referring to his famed Guggenheim Museum in Spain that became an architectural game changer when it opened in 1997. “I know you’re going to experience things like this in your life. You just have to dog it through and prove yourself.”

Perhaps the most famous living architect, Gehry is a 1989 Pritzker Award winner whose work with CATIA Digital Project, a software originally developed for aeronautics and automakers to manipulate three-dimensional information, helped him to shape the soft curves that characterize many of his buildings as well as revolutionize architecture over the past 25 years.

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“I realized it was inevitable that people would learn how to design with it,” Gehry said about the difference between using software as a tool for execution versus creation. “Zaha Hadid, we trained her on our software. She took off and does do design with it. I’ve never been able to do that.”

Design Leadership Network co-founder Peter Sallick addressed the gathering about broadening the organization's leadership and fostering stronger relationships within the community as well as mentoring the next generation. The DLN is a closed group of top industry professionals; founded 10 years ago, it began as intimate regional meetings with high-level designers, architects, landscape architects and industry influencers. Today, with the goal of stimulating education and strengthening bonds within the community, its membership numbers over 300 top industry professionals across multiple disciplines.

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The organization's top honor, the annual Design Leadership Award, went to Suzanne Tucker (Tucker & Marks), the doyenne of San Francisco luxury design. A Santa Barbara native, Tucker earned her B.A. in design from UCLA before heading to the U.K. to further her studies. Returning to the West Coast, she worked under legendary designer Michael Taylor, who defined West Coast style. Combining his open esthetic with European elegance, Tucker established her own look, which she continued after Taylor's death in 1986, opening Tucker & Marks with husband/partner Tim Marks. “In my office, it’s not I, it’s we,” she said, after accepting the award. “It doesn’t happen with just one person. As Hillary Clinton says, it takes a village.”

Repeatedly named one of Architectural Digest's 100 Top Designers, Tucker recently launched Suzanne Tucker Home, a line of textiles and home furnishings. She’s founding director of the Northern California chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art, and also serves on the national board of directors of ICA, as well as the West Coast council of the Garden Conservancy. She co-chairs both the ICA’s Arthur Ross Award and the San Francisco Fall Antique show.

“The component of giving back, I think that is hugely important,” she told her peers. “The more I give back, the more I get back, the more I reap, the more benefits, the more joy. It’s actually a very selfish act, giving to others, cause you do get so much back when you teach and you mentor.”