25 Year AIA Award - and state of the Profession Part 2..?

pale shelter

All this talk on other threads, regarding the state of the profession, etc etc... I thought the following could perhaps lend us another angle into the discussion:

What does it reveal of the current state of the profession and say to the public that the AIA has awarded The Gehry Residence with a 25-year award?

Watching Antique Roadshow the other evening, I came across this:

The Beer Can House -

I wonder why the "designer" of the beer-can house has not achieved similar architectural acclaim - like an AIA award. I think the description and archi-type mumbo-jumbo talk from the AIA could be fitting for the beer-can house as well.

"...A seemingly ad hoc collection of raw, workmanlike materials wrapped around an unassuming two-story clapboard bungalow ... [the designer] found a literal, but unexpected, answer to the question of neighborhood context, and used it to forever re-shape the formal and material boundaries of architecture....Enormously influential in both theory and practice, the home’s fundamental material modesty and formal experimentation marks a Rubicon in the history of contemporary architecture, tearing down inherited stylistic standbys to declare a new design language for the modern suburban architectural condition" - AIA Website (Gehry Residence)


Jan 24, 12 8:18 pm

it comes down to influence, largely....maybe. 

you have to give gehry credit for having had the experience and the education behind him that made his exploration a much more sophisticated and intentional effort, whereas the beer can house maker's effort - while creative and innovative in some ways - is basically a vernacular problem-solving exercise in how to use alternative materials. it's surface decoration and assembly, mostly, while gehry was actively re-considering space-making rules, probably more here than in many/most of his projects since. 

Jan 26, 12 7:49 am  · 

check out the book 'beer can by the highway' by john kouwenhoven if you don't know it already. designers steal from the vernacular all the time but - i hope - we make more of what we find, bending it to new purposes and discovering new ways of using it. 


Jan 26, 12 7:51 am  · 

i say this in all sincerity - it's the difference between a jackson pollack and a rodney graham. there's a reason the second one isn't nearly as recognized. 

Jan 26, 12 9:09 am  · 

So, to answer the question, 'What does it say about...', although it's a provocative question, ultimately I think the answer is: Nothing. These are two different things.

Jan 26, 12 9:51 am  · 

Gehry's work back then was influenced by art and was looked upon as art-architecture, specifically the influence of Ron Davis and the Arte Povera movement. (look it up)

The beer can house is literally recycled garbage, pedestrian, conservative in form,  with no pretense to art.  The Watts Towers in Los Angeles are similar in recycled concept and much more visually exciting, almost futuristic, in form.

eric chavkin

Jan 26, 12 1:47 pm  · 

The difference is in the name.  Bubba nails beer cans to his house, and it's a beer can house.  If Gehry nails beer cans to the same house, he'll describe it in impenetrable pseudo-intellectual academic bullshit that will make the more-brains-than-money architectural groupie set swoon.  Starchitects know the value of a good con. 

Jan 27, 12 1:27 pm  · 

The media needs poster boys to sell advertising, so they create starchietcs.

Sheeple, herded by the dogs of conformity, blindly follow the path laid out before them.


Jan 27, 12 2:43 pm  · 

This house became noted in the profession over 30 years ago, before FOG became a starchitect.  Part of its allure (for those to whom it's alluring) came from its novel use of materials and architectural application, part from its/ FOG's ties to the art world, as Eric writes above.

Love it, hate it, whatever.  But this project became famous BEFORE its architect did.

It's on my bike ride route, and it's surprisingly compelling in person... as are so many buildings that photographs don't fully capture.

Jan 27, 12 3:02 pm  · 

pale shelter, you're joking, right?  All those things Steven and others said: Gehry's house is important because it's intentionally a work of architecture, by someone considering architecture as a medium and figuring out how to push it in new directions.  A beer can house - or tire house, bottle house, license plate house, etc. - is someone messing with a recognizable object by sticking stuff to it.  It could as easily be a beer can car, or a beer can refrigerator, or a beer can table.

I've been re-reading Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture recently and it's making me appreciate Gehry's early inventiveness all the more, even though the house came long after CaCiA was published.

Jan 27, 12 11:29 pm  · 

Really, I'm guessing you're joking, or just trying to get us all talking which is fun, but your comment is the direct parallel of someone looking at a Rothko painting and saying "My kid could paint that.".  That comment is revealing of the analytical ability of the viewer, not the ability of the artist.

Jan 27, 12 11:31 pm  · 

House on too much beer. Huell Howser Visits the Upside Down House

Jan 28, 12 12:02 am  · 

I have to respectfully disagree.

I hope paleshelter isn't joking.

I think it's funny how the use of conventional materials and the vernacular is just discarded as rubbish and not to the caliber of a highly designed object.

"The beer can house is literally recycled garbage, pedestrian, conservative in form,  with no pretense to art."

Architecture does not need an artistic pretense. Look at Rural Studio.

Are we going to write that off as a bunch of recycled garbage?

I think this is also troublesome because it seems to imply that architecture can only be designed by a capital A architect, which precludes any notion of participatory design, i.e., the average person isn't capable of design. Anything vernacular is just regarded as crude and primitive. I think that's a very narrow minded approach. I'd much rather wander around and explore a 19th century barn somewhere than go to LA and see FOG's little experiment.

This is probably also why all-non western architecture is disregarded in most history courses, but that's probably a different rant.


Jan 28, 12 2:03 am  · 

and to quickly make a similar comparision, since we're talking about's like writing off indie musicians. just because they're not on the top 40 doesn't mean it's garbage.



Jan 28, 12 2:06 am  · 

To take the music metaphor one step further, some would say that for a song to be in the top 40 it has to be garbage.

Jan 28, 12 9:52 am  · 

The old buildings are the best for inspiration.

Jan 28, 12 12:25 pm  · 
pale shelter

Is this post a joke? No. lol .... I really think it's a disservice to the profession and our profession's 'brand' / image to the public when we celebrate junk like Gehry's residence.

I'm right in line with Lance Smith's and Miles Jaffe's great comments - and as rebuttals to others' comments above who are defending in some ways Gehry's project as a spatial exercise (who cares? - we all experiment), work of art and obvious intellectual feat over some non avant-garde, college trained designer who's artwork is not celebrated from the architecture community. But let's be real, the architecture community is above the public in terms of identifying great work. You've got to be trained or have the title in order to experiment...right?

If it takes a thesis or book to understand the value of Gehry's clusterfuk, Donna, I don't think you're giving it much credit or value. A beautiful (award winning) project should be clear to anyone on the street, and no further reading req'd.

Too many of us I believe went thru college having become obsessed with the idea that we're going to design something NEW, flashy, re-invented, diagrammatic, color-coded, never-done before, a building that says  me me me my great idea... and have lost appreciation for just simple, crafted (as in it looks like humans built it) pleasant buildings. Simply, we're obsessed with anything innovative and requires theoretical, algorithmic defined Steven-Holl 'Parallax',  paradigm shifting bullshit. And architecture is above art in how we should critique it... because it's .. .well... we live in it !

Our urban neighborhoods will be much more successful, in my opinion, if we have more of this:

and less of this: (an AIA award winning project) (great firm, but... c'mon)

I think we are giving too much credit to anything different. I don't see timeless in picture 2, i see trendy.

Jan 29, 12 4:01 pm  · 
pale shelter

geezertect :

"The difference is in the name.  Bubba nails beer cans to his house, and it's a beer can house.  If Gehry nails beer cans to the same house, he'll describe it in impenetrable pseudo-intellectual academic bullshit"

yes! lol ... or perhaps Bubba didn't have the opportunity to have affairs with Peggy Guggenheim.

Jan 29, 12 4:07 pm  · 

great question eew.

old buildings aren't automatically better.  lot's of old buildings are demonstrably worse.

urban studio is not so different from frank gehry in many ways.  they are pushing things to achieve architectural and social effect, and that is why they are recognised.  if they just beuilt efficient sheds no one would care ( rural studio is very willfully baroque and not without ego by any means).  beer can house is just fun. not thoughtful.  and it is not influential.  which is the real point.  beer can house is not equivalent to begin with but even if it was it was not the project that caught the imagination. 

if want to compare with  music is like beetles versus the ruttles (or the monkees if feeling mean) or led zeppelin vs spinal tap. the latter might be enjoyable but they don't get in the hall of fame for obvious reasons...

think donna has right end of stick

Jan 29, 12 8:19 pm  · 

nothing wrong with the monkees, now. despite their origins, some good songs. gehry's neighborhood has, from all appearances, not been affected much by the house. It's still a neighborhood of handsome bungalows. not much to report except that - by 2005, anyway - his property had been developed to an uncomfortable scale. too much stuff going on, but this work was not the subject of the award and at least most of it was behind the house and not detrimental.

Jan 29, 12 9:37 pm  · 

pale shelter, has that second image (the orange one) won a 25 year award? It is indeed trendy, and I can't imagine it's older than you.

Think about who is giving this award.  The AIA has specialized knowledge about architecture as a discipline and awards buildings it acknowledges, 25 years later, to have been significant in the culture.

Gehry's house has been enormously influential and thought-provoking amongst architects; that really can't be denied.

Whether you think it's "beautiful" or not really doesn't matter; the Santa Monica Happy Neighbors Club can give buildings awards for being pretty.  The AIA gives awards, specifically the 25 year award, for being important.

Jan 29, 12 10:15 pm  · 

sorry "urban studio" was supposed to be "rural studio"


@ steven, i did say it would take a mean spirit ;-)  monkees indeed did make some good songs.  not the beatles level though.


what donna says - gehry house is and was influential.  therefore award.

if you don't like that i think there is room to take heart in the fact that many architects are also influenced by wren and palladio and walk the krier path. 

anyway, surely we should allow people to chose their own influences?  Or is this another example of offering complete freedom as long as you do what i say kind of thing?

Jan 29, 12 11:17 pm  · 

The red building is 1140 Formosa in West Hollywood, whose developer dedicated part of the site as a public pocket park to overcome opposition to the project.  Architect is Lorcan O'Herlihy.


Jan 29, 12 11:42 pm  · 
pale shelter

Okie-dokie, perhaps I'm failing at my original objection here (i obviously am) to argue that our profession is (currently?) too held up on glamorizing anything 'innovative' and droid-looking (think Seattle Public LIbrary) (or the ATT Performance Arts center in dallas) .. overly simplified and diagrammatic accompanied by some thought-provoking design move is the new trend...

I acknowledge that Gehry's house is an influential piece in architectural history - thought-provoking, what have you. Ok so maybe I'm wrong with reducing his experiments and disqualifying his 25-year award - being an award based on influence and not simply design. I understand.

Donna, the red project (above photo) is indeed an AIA award-winning project from recent past. (I suppose I have to ask anyone familiar with the project, what's the mojo here that makes it award winning also?!? consider citizen's comments "overcome opposition"... I have to again wonder how the public has responded to the project (I'm skeptic)....

Final thoughts: I've poorly articulated my argument so, I'll have James Kunstler help me out, as I think a certain podcast of his is relevant (and he's an excellent critic of thoughtful, urban architecture): the podcast is a discussion on "StarArchitects"... an excerpt from Jim:

"the idiology of academic architecture these days is based on the wish to confound our expectations on how buildings will work... to try and mystify the user... the object or game here is to make the architect appear more supernaturally brilliant for having created this mystification.. and the more mystification he/she creates, the more they supposedly  know things that we (the public?) don't... a con-game... the game of  the emperor's new clothes <> <i recommend listening to the whole discussion >

Jan 30, 12 12:46 am  · 

In that case, public opposition came on two scores (that I know of):

1.  "It's too big."  (a complaint about every new residential project in that city)

2.  "Its design isn't compatible with existing buildings."  (a less-frequent critique, usually aimed at modern buildings)

As for the Kunst-meister's critique, I think he makes a good point in a certain context.  Also, I'll take his transcript any day over having to listen to him.  My ear drums will beg for sharpened screwdriver points over that voice every time.

Jan 30, 12 2:03 am  · 

LOL citizen, me too!  Geography of Nowhere was a hugely influential book for me, but since then he's gotten so shrill I can't bear to listen!  Still makes good points, but nastily.

pale shelter, I *do* agree that we tend to celebrate weird design without being critical enough of whether or not it is good design.  I see it in schools a lot, too.  rusty posted a thread awhile back, sadly I can't find it, that showed a new proposal for a building, getting all kinds of press, that was just a dumb clusterfuck of swirling tessellated glass and cantilevers and shards and whatever else the designer could find to make it edgy; it was crap.  Sadly I think *some* developers do fall for that, and think the more wacky something is the better.  


Jan 30, 12 8:02 pm  · 

The problem, of course, is when you boil it down to this or that: dutch rowhouses are NOT the only alternative to red boxes with cantilevered shards. Thoughtful and inventive design and non-architect people can get along! And Gehry actually does have a larger audience - regular folks who like what he does. The fact that he's pulled that off is at least worth notice.

Jan 30, 12 8:25 pm  · 

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