It's not clear if he does.
The story so far: Frank Gehry (so famous as to need no descriptor such as "star architect") appears at a conference in Aspen and and takes questions from the audience.
Fallows' take — Fifty-nine and a half minutes of brilliance, thirty seconds of hauteur — (he was there):
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.
Putting aside the de haut en bas "insistent character," Fallows restates the starchitecture question in a fair if unenthusiastic way and he doesn't seem to grasp the importance of the question. But he is rightfully shocked by Gehry's rude answer and it is that rude response which is the subject of his post here, which chides Gehry for his tone (though not for Gehry's lack of response.)
Gehry didn't like the question and said that the indictment didn't apply to his own buildings. He said that the facts would back him up -- and as the questioner repeated the challenge, Gehry said that he found the question "insulting."
Fair enough. The guy did keep pushing. On the other hand, anyone who has ever appeared in public has encountered questions a hundred times as personally challenging as this.
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.
I was sorry that I witnessed those thirty seconds. They are impossible to forget and entirely change my impression of the man. I was more amazed when part of the audience, maybe by reflex, applauded. When the video of this episode goes up on the Ideas Festival site, judge for yourself.
I think Gehry's behavior is weird long before his overt rudeness. Gehry refuses to answer the question and claims his buildings don't fail in creating public places.
Well Mr. Gehry, climb down off that horse. It's for us, the public judgment over decades, to say whether you produce urban architecture or not. It is not for you to pass judgment on whether your architecture helps create a city or just a big suburb.
No fool Gehry. He can recognize a useful ally i.e. a writer widely respected (and correctly — I think Fallows is one of the most perceptive and balanced socio/political critics we have) , with access to reputable media and best of all with no obvious experience in writing about buildings and the cities they make. So he emails Fallows, whom I gather he doesn't know. Fallows posts the email. Gehry writes:
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.
Yes it was good of Gehry to make the gesture of an apology.
But overall his "apology" was a veiled attack on a perspective which he wouldn't name and with which he wouldn't deal.
The perspective, of course, is that "starchitecture" can and most often does have a negative impact on cities. And that as a (or the) leading starchitect, Gehry should be willing to answer the question, the question being, framing it in terms of a battle of the celebraties: What would Jane Jacobs think of Gehry's work? Does Gehry's work meet, on any fairhanded assessment, "the Jane Jacobs test" for a good street and city? I say it fails profoundly.
And one can agree or disagree with my own ultimate conclusion, but I was sorry to see that Gehry was unable/unwilling to address the issue. He dismisses the question with an ad hominem attack and appeals to the authority of "Tommy" (Pritzker — presumably of the family which has done its own share of city-destruction through its usually anti-urban hotels) that the "insistent character's" questions are unimportant. But the question is important and deserve Gehry's response.
Fallows characterizes the apology as "classy." I see nothing classy in it except that it pretends to be an apology which is better than no apology at all.
My own view is that one can thread the needle — it is in fact possible for starchitecture to be good urbanism if it is done with urbanism in mind. No time for the explanation right now but the solution is extremely simple. Why won't Gehry take up the issue? He must be able to see how profoundly un-urban a building Disney Hall is. And he's gotta be able to see the extremely simple solution. Why the silence? Let it rip Mr. Gehry. Come down off your throne.
Sorry about the weird formatting. I am having trouble figuring out the new TypePad.