This is an archived article. For the latest news, go to the Advance Homepage
For more archives, go to the Advance Archive/Search Page.

Banner Advance Home Navigation Bar Advance Home Issue Index Read past articles Weekly Calendar

  April 5, 2004

Gehry Discusses Designs For Fine Arts Facility

Internationally famed architect Frank Gehry has been described in the media as 'a genius,' 'a visionary,' 'rumpled,' even 'shy.'

So a respectful silence descended upon UConn's von der Mehden Recital Hall as the legend entered, to seek input from faculty, staff, and students on his designs for the new School of Fine Arts complex.

Interior design by Frank Gehry

A preliminary design for the concert hall interior planned for the new School of Fine Arts.

Photo by Peter Morenus

But Gehry emanated a special brand of warmth and humor that kept the audience of several hundred people entertained and still glued to their seats well past the time the forum was to have ended.

The session began with the screening of a somber 60 Minutes segment on Gehry.

Once it had ended, Gehry quickly changed the mood with the words, "So, now you are allowed to ask questions, and I am allowed to take the 5th Amendment," he said, with a sly half-smile.

When a faculty member asked how he would incorporate plants into the design, he began by saying that the answer started with himself, because he considered himself a plant.

When a journalist inquired which of his previous buildings he liked the most, Gehry asked, "Are you familiar with that song, 'Love The One You're With'?" He went on to say that he simply tries to create beautiful spaces that stand the test of time.

But within the sometimes quirky responses, Gehry attempted to answer each question. For example, when responding to a question about building frames, he described his technique as "an overlapping shingle process, similar to the kits that kids buy for making dinosaurs. You start out with the bones of the dinosaur and then you put on the skin."

Although only a few people ventured to the microphone initially, a line quickly formed as the audience realized that this high-profile international figure was approachable.

The Gehry signature project award came after the School of Fine Arts successfully applied to the National Endowment of the Arts for support of an international architectural competition. Seventy-five selected architects received invitations to submit qualifications and references and 56 submissions were received. After review by a faculty committee, three finalists came to campus to present their ideas and models for the new building to a jury of architects and university representatives, and Gehry was chosen.

"This could very well be the most prominent, the most important fine arts facility in the country," Gehry has said.

He said he sought the design bid not only because it combined working with elements he loves, such as art, music, and theater, but also because the complex will be for students, whom he described as "the future of the world."

Gehry also said that although there was a specific design that won the bid, that it didn't have to stay that way, and could change in accordance with budgetary demands as well as those of students and faculty.

Last week's forum is one of many ways that School of Fine Arts Dean David Woods plans to ensure that the design meets the needs of the students, faculty, and staff. Gehry and his staff have already spent time speaking individually with heads of the various fine arts departments.

Gehry said his goal with all of his projects is to create something that moves him, is unique, and still "fits in with the neighborhood."

"The shapes of the designs I construct," he said, "are close to the bone of the program."