Frank Gehry is one of the best known contemporary architects alive. His signature designs, often including metallic ribbon-like forms, are so well-known that Gehry has made his way into popular culture, as evidenced by his yellow and three-fingered likeness seen on the Simpsons. Gehry is both highly praised and heavily criticized in the architecture profession and his latest interview with Pritzker Foundation chairman Thomas Pritzker sparks the latest round of this on-going discussion. The subject? LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), a rating system which grades buildings on their human and environmental impact. From an article written by Bloomberg Businessweek blogger Michael Arndt:
What would you think, Pritzker asked him as they sat in hard-backed chairs on an auditorium stage, if a client said he wanted a LEED-certified building? “Oh, great,” Gehry answered in a high, mock-excited voice, as the audience laughed. Then, back in his regular voice, he dismissed environmental concerns as largely political concerns. “A lot of LEEDs are given for bogus stuff. A lot of the things they do really don’t save energy.”
He also said the expense of building to LEED standards often outweighs the benefits. On smaller projects, he said, “the costs of incorporating those kind of things don’t pay back in your lifetime.”
Days after the stir that this created, Gehry called Arndt to offer a clarification on his position:
“I’m not against LEED at all,” he said. “I think it’s wonderful. I think we’ve got to do this.” But then Gehry, who acknowledged that he is something of a cranky old man, got back on a soapbox to decry today’s automatic embrace of LEED certification. “It’s become ‘fetished’ in my profession. It’s like if you wear the American flag on your lapel, you’re an American. That’s what I was trying to say. You get people who are holier than thou. I think architects can do a lot, but some of what gets done is marketing and doesn’t really serve to the extent that the PR says it does.”
Aware of the continuing public outcry, Gehry goes even farther to patch things up with critics during an interview with PBS’ Need to Know, a TV and web news magazine.
Abigail Loenard (interviewer): Were you surprised by the negative reactions to your comments about LEED?
Frank Gehry: Yes I was surprised. But I wasn’t saying what they’ve reported I said. I never said I was opposed to the LEED program or to green building–I’m not.
Leonard: How important is it, in your view, to “build green?”
Gehry: I think [global warming] is a crisis, we’re led to believe that by our scientists who seem to have a pretty good idea of what’s going on, so we have to address it if we want to survive on this planet. Of course there are also some people making hay out of it and using the issue for financial gain, but green building is clearly something architects need to be concerned with.
Leonard: Is the LEED program a valid way to encourage that type of design?
Gehry: It is , but it’s one way among many. A lot of our clients don’t apply for the LEED certification because it’s complicated and in their view, they simply don’t need it.
This has become something of a story; “STAR ARCHITECT CLASHES WITH THE SUSTAINABLE MOVEMENT.” It’s really interesting reading and you can see the drama unfold for yourself here:
Michael Arndt’s original article Architect Gehry on LEED Buildings: Humbug in Bloomberg Businessweek , dated April 7, 2010 as well as the follow-up article Gehry’s Take Two on LEED Architecture dated April 15 2010.
PBS’ Need to Know interview by Abby Leonard titled Architect Frank Gehry talks LEED and the future of green building, dated June 14, 2010.
Image from Fox Broadcasting Company
- Andy Craven