John Cook, vice president of Minneapolis-based HGA Architects, has worked with Frank Gehry on three projects in the past 25 years: the 1993 Weisman Art Museum and its current expansion, plus a 1987 guest house that Gehry designed for Twin Cities arts patrons Mike and Penny Winton. He reflected on their long association in a recent interview.
Q What kind of a guy is Frank Gehry, and what is it like to work with him?
A Warm, friendly and diplomatic. Compared with other "starchitects," it's a picnic working with Frank. He's always willing to do the right thing. He'll look at a challenging issue as an opportunity to make it better, even if that means lowering the cost.
Q How does his office operate?
A It's very demanding to work there. My experience is that the architects show up between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. and the intensity builds. Between 3 and 5 in the afternoon it really starts buzzing and many of them work into the night. He is there quite often. His projects demand a lot of travel, but when he's in Los Angeles he's usually in the office. He can be the first one there and the last to leave.
Q How do he and design partner Edwin Chan interact on projects?
A Edwin played a key role on the first Weisman project in 1990 and a primary role as designer on this project, more so than Frank. Frank will focus a higher percentage of his time on bigger projects like the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi or the residential tower in New York that is just finished. But he does oversee every project in the office, absolutely. Edwin says that working at Gehry Partners is like learning a language. Once you understand the language of the architecture it becomes a Gehry project, and Edwin is very good at it, very fluent.
Q How did changes in architectural technology in the past 20 years affect the design and construction of the Weisman expansion?
A When we did the first building we basically had a fax machine in our office and a fax machine in Gehry's office. They weren't using the computer at all, and we had one in our office that we basically didn't use. The first project was basically hand-drawn, and they were doing strictly 2-D plans.
At that point Gehry wasn't comfortable with the computer yet. He only trusted the physical model. They built a physical model and measured off the model and gave us the dimensions and we would do the drawings. It was, by today's standards, very primitive. Now they have designed a computer software program, Digital Project, that they market to other architectural firms that has the capacity to do very easily the kinds of shapes and structures that he designs.
Mary Abbe • 612-673-4431