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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Gehry cuts his cloth to suit credit crunch era

Architect's revelations show that no-one can hide from the financial crisis

Frank Gehry has admitted that even he is not immune from the global credit crunch, having lost half his staff over the last year as prestigious projects have been cut back or put on hold.

The architect, who celebrated his 80th birthday on February 28, admitted to the LA Times on March 1 that despite new work that includes another Guggenheim museum – this time for Abu Dhabi as part of a new cultural district called Saadiyat Island – funding for other major schemes has been pulled, forcing the internal cull. These include massive mixed use projects on LA’s Grand Avenue and at Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards. “I’ve had a disappointing year with Grand Avenue and Brooklyn”, Gehry told the LA Times. “All my life I’ve wanted to do projects like that and they never came to me. And then all of a sudden I had two of them. I invested the last five years in them, and they’re both stopped. So it leaves a very hollow feeling in your bones.”

The LA Grand Avenue project is a $3 billion scheme aimed at reviving LA’s downtown with a new boulevard that is likened to the Champs-Élysées in Paris and Central Park in New York. It consists of two high-rise residential and hotel towers and several low-rise two- to four-storey retail buildings on a common podium base.

The Atlantic Yards scheme includes a sports and entertainment arena, landscaped open space, a boutique hotel, ground-floor retail space for local businesses, offices and more than 6,400 housing units. Backed by Bruce Ratner, CEO and chairman of Forest City Ratner Companies, the project passed a recent environmental review but Gehry said he was forced to lose two dozen staffers last November when he was asked to stop design work. Spokesman for the project Joe DePlasco confirmed it was on hold, telling WAN: “We anticipate additional delays because of pending litigation”.

This is not the first time Gehry has downsized, however – in 1978 he slashed his staff back from roughly 50 to three in a bid to start afresh. “I’m prepared to do that again if I have to”, Gehry said. “Today, if there’s frugality, I’m ready.”

“I’d do corrugated [metal] again. It’s fun to work in that way, and it’s easy. Why spend all the money for fancy details and stuff? You don’t need it. You can get the passion with simpler things.’

Another project facing cuts is rather closer to home. Gehry’s own plans to build a house for himself and his family on three contiguous plots in Venice, California, have also been curtailed. Gehry will instead parcel up the land and give one each to his son Sam, who works at the Gehry Partners office, and one each to a pair of young colleagues: Meaghan Lloyd and Anand Devarajan.

The news comes hard on the heels of job cuts at other leading architecture firms, including Foster and Partners, which announced 300 job losses and Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, which was forced to lose 35 from its 160 staff.

David Taylor
Business Correspondent
architecture NOW

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