The Rumble in Aspen

West
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
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Frank Gehry sat down with Tom Pritzker earlier this month at the Aspen Ideas Festival, of which a video was just posted on the Internet, and re-posted above for your viewing pleasure. How we found out about this was through the all-things-Ratner-Gehry-and-Times-related Atlantic Yards Report. Never one not to parse everything related to the above three–and our hats off to him for doing so–Norman Oder discovered the one contentious conversation of the otherwise lovely affair, when Gehry called no less eminent urban thinker Fred Kent of the Project for Public Spaces “a pompous man” for daring to question (admittedly repeatedly and somewhat annoyingly) Gehry’s placemaking skills. Yowza.

To be fair, this story has been percolating around the blogs since it happened, we just missed it until Norman brought it to our attention. In fact, The Atlantic‘s James Fallows’ original post on the matter bears attention, as that’s what got things started–and boy did it ever, as the man’s sure got a way with words:

Then the questions from the audience began. The second or third was from a fairly insistent character whose premise was that great “iconic” buildings nonetheless fell short as fully attractive and effective “public places,” where people were drawn to congregate and spend time. He said he was challenging Gehry to do even more to make his buildings attractive by this measure too. [For those watching the video, this all starts around the 54:00 mark]

[...]

But the questioner asked one more time, and Gehry did something I found simply incredible and unforgettable. “You are a pompous man,” he said — and waved his hand in a dismissive gesture, much as Louis XIV might have used to wave away some offending underling. He was unmistakably shooing or waving the questioner away from the microphone, as an inferior — again, in a gesture hardly ever seen in post-feudal times.

Double yowza! Even more amazing, though, is Gehry’s response to Fallows four days later. (How come he doesn’t return our calls?):

Dear Mr. Fallows –

Fair enough – your impression. I have a few lame excuses. One is that I’m eighty and I get freaked out with petty annoyances more than I ever did when I was younger. Two, I didn’t really want to be there – I got caught in it by friends. And three – I do get questions like that and this guy seemed intent on getting himself a pulpit. I think I gave him an opportunity to be specific about his critique. Turns out that he followed Tommy Pritzker [the moderator of Gehry's session] around the next day and badgered him about the same issues. His arguments, according to Tommy, didn’t hold much water. I think what annoyed me most was that he was marketing himself at everyone’s expense. I apologize for offending you. Thanks for telling me.

Best Regards,

Frank Gehry

Yowza yowza yowza! The guy puts Woody to shame. And ever since, the drama has been playing itself out on Fallow’s blog, the PPS’s, Curbed LA, and now, we’re happy to say, here. It also begs the question that, if Kent’s right, maybe we’re all better off without Gehry designing huge swaths of Brooklyn and LA after all.

Correction: That was Tom Pritzker, not James Fallows talking to Gehry. Fallows was in the audience. Thanks to Chris Hawthorne for the catch. We’ve updated our post.

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