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New World Symphony Designed by Frank Gehry: A Transitional Piece?

The New World Symphony designed by Frank Gehry may rank as one of the architects most important works. The New World Symphony located in South Beach is evolutionary in the same way that Gehry’s Santa Monica House or Guggenheim Museum Bilbao are now monuments that mark different periods in the  architect’s career. America’s most famous Canadian architect has crafted a pivotal work that will determine the future creative direction of Gehry and his office. The New World Symphony represents a much more restrained Gehry than we are used to seeing. Gehry’s work up to this point is objectified and obviously sculptural, but Gehry appears to offer South Beach something more. Now this whole article is based on physical models and a half completed structure, so it is subject to change upon completion, but at this point the New World Symphony is looking like a different kind of Gehry.

Photo Gallery:

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Gehry and the Scale of Pliable Surfaces:

I want you to build something in your mind. Begin to build a mental image of a Frank Gehry interior space. Can you do it? Now, build a mental image of a Frank Gehry building, exciting, huh? I always like to resort to search engines for research, specifically Google, because Google tracks something that books cannot, popularity. Google places importance on popularity when returning search results, now there are other variables that come into play, but popularity is the key difference in search rankings between this site and Dezeen.When googling images with the search term Frank Gehry one has to flip through many virtual pages before finding an image of an interior space. Nearly all of the images are pictures of exciting exterior compositions, most have Frank in them, and less then one percent are of Frank Gehry designed interiors. When googling images with the search term Frank Gehry Interior half of the images are exterior spaces portrayed as interior spaces, and the rest are exterior images of Gehry designed buildings or Gehry-esque buildings.

You now should ask yourself two questions: Why is this important? And why is this important to the New World Symphony? The renderings and floor plans suggest that Gehry is turning his attention to form and detailing inward. Although the Serpentine Gallery marks the first instance where Gehry’s free formed surfaces are defining space, rather than creating an object, the New World Symphony design takes this concept further. In the Serpentine Gallery the structural system is exposed on the exterior for what it is, and it is not hidden by drywall or other materials. Prior to the Serpentine Gallery, Gehry’s interior spaces were the resultant, not necessarily a force shaping the surfaces. The key difference between the Serpentine Gallery and the New World Symphony is scale, and that the Serpentine Gallery is an open air pavilion, while the New World Symphony must accommodate a highly complex program. The New World Symphony is a 100,000 sf state of the art facility, it’s complexity and scale will make it one of Gehry’s defining works.

Typically the excitement of Gehry’s active compositions seem to slow down on the interiors as if experiencing the building in slow motion. The reason that Gehry’s surfaces lose energy and slow down in his interior spaces is that Gehry has a difficult time translating his work at varying scales, and is perhaps his greatest weakness. Gehry needs a lot of space to work his magic, and in this project Gehry creates a box to work within, inside this box are large interior spaces that are shaped by his pliable surfaces. The interior spaces in this project are intricate, not because they are detailed and small, but because of the way that the smaller interior spaces relate and flow into larger interior spaces. The interior spaces relate in scale to one another and form an assemblage that is dynamic and memorable. It appears in the physical model that Gehry has finally bridged this gap in scale, but what remains unclear is if Gehry is able to to achieve this effect in the built structure, and thus conquering the differential in scale between the person and the larger spaces in the New World Symphony.

Formal Sophistication:

In order for this building to be given the same degree of importance as the Gugenheim Museum Bilbao, Gehry must do something that he has not been able to do thus far, and that is create a formally sophisticated composition without strictly relying on free formed curves. At this point, all I can say is that the juxtaposition of the orthogonal verse the free form is a strong start, and we will have to wait for the final verdict when the building is completed.

Containing the Beast:

The partí is simple, the creative energy and the music inside cannot be contained by the rigid order that supports and frames it. Gehry wisely chooses to be gehry in select places and not everywhere.

gehry [gair-ee, gar-ee]

verb  – to place free formed surfaces in a whimsical and playful manner similar to that of Frank Gehry.

-noun –  whimsical or playful surfaces in the style of Frank Gehry. Yah-yah.

In time, history may refer to things being gehry in the same manner that Gaudí inspired things to be gaudy. Gehry spills out at the main entry in the form of a canopy, at the top of the building, and in a few other skillfully selected areas. The careful placement of gehry in the overall composition suggest something, but is unclear in the Florida sunlight. At night the composition changes and the curves contained by the glass curtain wall are on display for everyone to see, and the surfaces appear to spill out of the rigid structure. What was not clear in the sunlight is now crystal clear. Behind the glass is entertainment, music, energy, gehry. The surfaces are metaphorically music, and represent the energy that sound of music and its ability to leak through any structure, no matter how rigid.

A More Mature Frank:

It appears that at the ripe old age of eighty that Frank has finally matured, and unless he does something shocking or daring in his old age, he has entered the final and most memorable stage of his architectural career. Frank’s architecture is now about developing interior spaces that relate in scale to its users. His interior spaces in the New World Symphony are now as memorable as the exterior compositions that have made him famous. The New World Symphony is lastly about showmanship, it is not the flashy Frank that we are used to, but a more mature Frank that understands that sometimes the anticipation of something is greater than the actual thing. The construction is set to complete sometime in 2010, at which time I plan on seeing a show, and hope that America’s favorite Canadian architect is able to surprise us one more time.