Thursday, January 06, 2011

The house that Frank built

When we first visited LA in the early 1980s, a sighting of Frank Gehry’s own house in Santa Monica was on the list. We had seen photos of it in magazines, debated its radical deconstruction of suburban architecture and couldn’t wait to see it for real. We’d knock on the door we decided and see if Mr or Mrs Gehry would let us in to have a quick look. Of course when we got there our bravado evaporated but our luck did not. No sooner had we stopped than a woman we assumed to be Mrs Gehry, walked up to the front door with a bag of groceries. And what's more, we knew she’d take them to the kitchen with the tar sealed floor that was once the driveway. The famous house was a home.

Every time we have visited LA since then we have done a drive-by of the Gehry house. Even from the street it is a fascinating piece of work. In the late 1970s and 1980s artists and architects often used to talk about deconstructing their work, but if you really want to see deconstruction in action the Gehry house is the place to go. By building around the original house and leaving markers of that original (for instance one interior wall of the kitchen is the old exterior wall of the original house complete with window), Gehry not only took apart the elements of a traditional bungalow but transformed it into something new.

Even at 33 years old it continues to sit somewhat uneasily amidst its more conventional neighbours still surprising and challenging the idea of suburban living.