An admiring life of the celebrated architect who designed, among other notable structures, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.
Vanity Fair contributing editor Goldberger, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize (Distinguished Criticism, 1984), has published other works on architecture (Building Up and Tearing Down, 2009, etc.) and has known Gehry for decades. His affection and admiration are patent throughout the book. Although he acknowledges some of Gehry’s personal weaknesses—e.g., he does not like firing people and passes on such tasks to subordinates—the closest he comes to something full-on negative is when he comments that when Gehry’s recent design for an Eisenhower Memorial in Washington, D.C., received some noisy opposition, it was just “one of those moments when Babe Ruth strikes out.” In many ways, Goldberger presents a traditional biography. He begins with a key event (the opening of a New York City apartment tower in 2011; he returns to it some 350 pages later) and then chronicles some family history before following Gehry, born in Canada in 1929 as Frank Owen Goldberg, a name he would change in 1954. The author takes us through Gehry’s schooling, his decision to try architecture, his early struggles, and his eventual ascension to what has been a career to rival that of Frank Lloyd Wright. Goldberger highlights Gehry’s pioneering use of design software, credits his most valuable associates (some of whom he later fired), and comments periodically about his relationships with his children (from two marriages), whom he didn’t see much, although one son joined the firm and has risen to prominence there. The author ends with the heartaches that all long-living human beings must endure—deaths of loved ones and the decline of health, mental acuity, and creative power.
Richly researched, intelligent, and graceful, but some readers may wonder if Gehry has a dark side.