If fate had not designated that I become a film producer and journalist, I probably would have been an architect, a profession which has fascinated me all my life. I have written extensively about that art, from my Huffington pieces about the new Cal State Northridge Exhibition Hall to the various buildings at LACMA, the new Mullin Automotive Museum, from the redone Segerstrom Hall to my rather critical review of friend Richard Meier's restaurant, Wolfgang Puck's "CUT" at the Beverly Wilshire (which has grown on me over the years as I consume its juicy steaks and enjoy its kitschy diner look.) I have supported two associates in their endeavor to remake the film, The Fountainhead, based on Ayn Rand's iconic book about architect Howard Rourke and his actions after his new building is bastardized. (The wonderful original film starred Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal). I am currently reading a new book, Iconic Vision: John Parkinson, Architect of Los Angeles, by Stephan Gee (Angel City Press), which details the life of the Englishman who built Union Station, the Coliseum, City Hall and Bullock's Wilshire.
Architect Frank Gehry. All photos by Jay Weston
My hero is Frank Gehry, the octogenarian genius who created the magnificent Walt Disney Hall, the startling Guggenheim Bilboa Spain building, and so much more. Some years ago my friend, the late Sydney Pollack, did a documentary film about Gehry, the world's most famous architect, which obsessed me with its wonder and message. (I also enjoy that Gehry is a fervent food lover and reader of my monthly restaurant newsletter.) So when Jeffrey Deitch, the commander of my favorite downtown museum, MOCA, invited me yesterday to a panel discussion by leading architects prior to the opening of their exhibit, A New Sculpturalism: Contemporary Architecture From Southern California, I attended with pleasure... and will shortly write a review of the exhibition there of 37 local architects. But a greater surprise awaited me in a smallish room off the main hall of the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA where the exhibition will be located until September 16th.
A view of the proposed art museum in Beijing designed by Gehry.
The entrance to the museum.
The library of the proposed museum.
The room contains the never-to-be-built Gehry design for the National Art Museum of China in Beijing. What do I mean, never to be built? It seems that there had been a competition of some of the world's most famous architectural talents, people like Gehry, Zaha Hadid (she's a wonder and a terror), Jean Nouvel of France, and Moshe Safdie. From what I understand 'off the record,' the French government exercised their muscle with China to have their guy, Nouvel, declared the winner. (Did you know that the Chinese have become the fifth largest wine consumers in the world and a major buyer of Bordeaux wines? About half of China's imported bottled wine came from France last year and wealthy Chinese have been snapping up Bordeaux vineyards.) The Chinese Communist party and its leaders are a strange lot...and I am told that they have a habit of cancelling architectural jobs at the last minute 'for technical reasons,' then completing very similar works without crediting the architectural firm. As an NYU alumni, I am disturbed at my university's behavior this week in abandoning the blind Chinese dissident, Chen Guangcheng, because they didn't want to offend the Sino government as they open an NYU Shanghai campus.
Another view of the museum showing the possible changing displays on the building.
A view of the proposed auditorium of the building.
..and it would contain classrooms for the artists.
A possible gallery displaying international art.
Another suggested art gallery.
So Gehry didn't win the competition, but Jeffrey told me that he had wanted the world to have a chance to see what he and his Santa Monica-based team had created, and when I spent an hour or two viewing it, I was truly astonished (and outraged, for the Chinese blew it... this is one of the finest example of creative architecture I have ever seen!)
Another view of the building in the proposed park.
It would have offered a magnificent setting for important gatherings and exhibitions.
At 1.3 million sq. ft, the project is due to sit next to the celebrated Beijing 'Bird's Nest' Olympic Stadium. I've seen pictures of Hadid's curvaceous design, with draped folds characterizing the building's façade and three individual structures. Gehry's proposal has a basic cubed form with a series of cylindrical forms erupting from the center and organic silhouettes of trees gracing the exterior, finished with abstract patterns and a translucent façade. (Nouvel's winning design appears similar Gehry's design., but I am prejudiced.) Gehry has said: "I was kind of proud of our scheme and wanted to exhibit it at MOCA. It shows the complete way we work, it was very thorough as a building proposal, and it looked different from some of our other stuff. It relates to our perception of the sense of China and how we interpret it." You may recall that Gehry won architecture's top prize, the Pritzger, in 1989.
Gehry even planned for several retail stores on the ground floor.
As I wandered around the room yesterday, examining the models and proposal, I was overwhelmed by the thoroughness of it....sketches, models, and a fabulous movie, even a full-scale mock-up of a piece of the wall. There is even a sample of the translucent stone blocks he would have used...a block that gave me a strong sense of the sacred stone, jade, so treasured by the Chinese (and me, who always wears a 100-year old jade Buddha around my neck 'for luck.' It was given me by Chef Kimmy Tang when I helped get her a liquor license for her Vietnamese restaurant. She sent her father from Saigon to Burma to get the rare object, and she told me to never take it off and it would bring me great luck....which it has!) I should have asked Frank Gehry to rub my Buddha's belly for luck, as everyone does. But this museum building design is too exciting, too brilliant, to be discarded...someone out there will have the sense to revive the Gehry proposal and build it. Hopefully, here in California. Henry Segerstrom, Lynda Resnick, Eli Broad, are you listening?
A final view of what would have been a superb addition to the Chinese capital.
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