11/10/20 Dean Milton S. F. Curry Interviews Alumnus Frank Gehry ‘54 at USC Alumni Reunion Weekend
Pritzker Prize-winning architect Frank Gehry graduated from the USC School of Architecture in 1954, where he received his Bachelor of Architecture. Since he left the School, Gehry has worked on a multitude of renowned projects around the world, from designing buildings on university campuses and the Walt Disney Concert Hall, to a Hennessy Cognac bottle and jewelry for Tiffany & Company. Gehry sat down virtually with Dean Milton S. F. Curry to chat about his work and issues he’s passionate about in the field of architecture.
Gehry believes that practicality and aesthetic can and should go hand-in-hand within architecture. When he was a student at USC, he made sure to take both art and architecture classes to combine the two in his projects: “Architecture is an art, and I’ve always practiced it that way. It’s about curiosity and the exploration of ideas and 3-dimensional materials in the service of people. Architecture’s history has always been that, so I try to stay there,” Gehry said. “When I was a student at USC, the art department was very close—we were in the same building—and I always tried to manage the relationship between taking classes in both sides and maintaining relationships with the artists.”
He also explained that architects should bring art to social issues and lower-budget projects. “You don’t have to eliminate the art, it doesn’t just have to be cheaper buildings.’” Gehry stressed that when it comes to social justice and representation, we have to “dig in and make it happen.”
“[Architects are] racially unbalanced,” Gehry said. “We don’t have a high representation of Black architects…we’ve got to change that.” He continued to share that “our office has 40 percent women, maybe a little higher. That was easier to do but the racial thing is harder. We can’t give up. We have to keep at it and make sure it happens and offer our services, when we can, to social justice issues.”
One of the most influential professors Gehry learned from at USC Architecture was Henry Burge, who taught pro practice. Burge encouraged Gehry to give 100 percent to his clients for every job, and to always deliver a project to the best of his ability. Gehry uses Burge’s advice to this day, and holds him near and dear to his heart and work. When second-year M.Arch student Kevin Ness asked him about an architect’s number one responsibility, Gehry remembered the advice Burge gave him: “Be a good listener, understand the task that you are being assigned, take responsibility for it...no matter how small, you deliver it, you deliver it on time and on budget. And with as much beauty as you can muster.”