Another Bilbao! by Carlos Brillembourg


The proposed construction of a new branch of the Guggenheim Museum on the East River forces us to examine the architecture of Frank Gehry under a new light. Looking at the project, the first question concerns the building’s scale: Why so large, and why on this particular site?

Perhaps Gehry is a latter-day Shingle Style architect whose voluptuous exterior forms are picturesque in an eclectic 19th-century manner. As in the Shingle Style houses normally built on balloon frames, Gehry’s proposed building has more to do with the technology of roller coasters than with the rational use of structure that we admire in the iron bridges of the early 19th century. Do the forms of Gehry’s proposal for the museum have to do with nature, as in the work of Antoni Gaudí? Gaudí’s famous experiments with the hyperbolic paraboloid, inverted into a static model for the new structure, are very different conceptually from the formal experiments of Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. It seems that here the structure is secondary to accidental whimsy, a form that pleases the eye of the architect on a particular day (note: the metallic shingles are now coming loose in Bilbao).

Can architecture be reduced to packaging? Must we bend to the endless publicity generated by the extraordinary and the expressionistic? If Bilbao were of a smaller scale and inside Gagosian’s new gallery in Chelsea, what would we think? A lesser Frank Stella?

The problem is that architecture, more than sculpture, cannot be put away in a house or a garden. Its public nature is amplified when we are speaking of an institution, a museum that in my opinion already has the most radical work of architecture of the 20th century in Frank Lloyd Wright’s exceptional building. Why spit into the wind?

Project for a New Guggenheim Museum in New York City is currently on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.