Inspiring Words from Inspiring People: Frank Gehry

Frank Gehry is an American architect whose buildings dot skylines across the world.

Inspiring Words from Inspiring People: Frank Gehry

Dear Frank,

I guess the most important advice I would give to you is to keep a copy of Don Quixote and Alice in Wonderland at your bedside for your entire life! The world is an upside-down place and you have to make your own logic out of the insanity. That can get pretty scary pretty quickly, but don’t be afraid of yourself, of who you are. Believe in yourself and be curious. Follow that curiosity every day in everything that you do, even when the world tells you that you are nuts. Create your own logic and follow it to where it leads you and try to enjoy the ride.

You were born Frank Owen Goldberg in Canada in a climate of anti-Semitism. You will experience this first-hand at restaurants with signs reading NO JEWS ALLOWED. Go in anyway. You will be the only Jewish kid in the elementary school and will get beat up regularly for killing Christ. You can’t change this, but recognize that there are people who will beat you up for your entire life for the stupidest reasons. You can’t change who you are, so stay your course even in the face of extreme idiocy.

In your family, your mother and father will be tough on you. Your father will be worried that you are a dreamer and that you won’t amount to much. You mother will compare you to the children of her friends and, in her eyes, you will always be lacking in some regard. You will feel misunderstood and hurt but understand that this is their version of love. They had many of their own obstacles to overcome. Watching them struggle through these hardships, survive, pick themselves up, and get to work in spite of their misfortunes will give you a model of courage that you will carry with you your entire life as you face larger and more complicated crises.

Despite your financial situation, you will have access to lectures and cultural institutions that will feed your curiosity. Your mother will introduce you to the Art Gallery of Ontario, where you will develop your lifelong love of painting and sculpture. She will take you to classical music concerts that will ignite your soul. You will not understand how it fits into your life or how it fits into your father’s conception of your life, but you know that art will be your salvation. Keep looking at it and search it out. Seek out others who have the same curiosity and don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise—they are simply not having as much fun with life.

You will figure out how art plays into your life in college. Your ceramics teacher at night school, Glen Lukens, will open up the world to you. He will see a real spark in you when he introduces you to architecture. He will even pay for you to take a course in architecture. His mentorship will change your life forever. You will find the profession that makes sense to you and gives you a sense of personal pride.

You will be tested again and again. You will have a teacher tell you, “This ain’t for you, Frank. Find another profession.” Get pissed off and ignore him and vow to prove him wrong. When you run into him later in life, he will say, “I know, I know—I was wrong.”

Once you find your passion for architecture, work your tail off to understand and build expertise on every facet of the profession. Listen to your professional practice teacher, who will tell you that no matter what you do, however big or small, make it the best thing that you can, because you will be judged on everything you do. Make sure that everything you design and build adheres to your highest standards. Push back on people who try to dilute this mission and partner with the people who support it. Be parental with clients—they are expecting your best work. Never presume anything; understand their point of view—the work is always a partnership. Take every crisis as an opportunity to do better work.

Create buildings and places that engage people. It doesn’t mean pandering to historical models of the past. It means finding a way in the present to engage in creating humanistic environments. Certain styles of art and architecture are about the denial of humanity. Remember that architecture is inclusive, not exclusive. It is meant to support and elevate feelings. Question everything, be curious forever, and never forget that life is about people. So make buildings for people and always use the natural light—it’s free!

Frank