California Architect Frank Gehry Named 1989 Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize

Frank Gehry of Santa Monica, California has been selected as the twelfth Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate. Although born in Canada, he became a citizen of the United States in 1950. He is the sixth American to receive the prestigious prize since it was established by The Hyatt Foundation in 1979. Architects from six other countries have also been so honored in the past decade.

The prize, consisting of a $100,000 grant, a medallion and formal certificate, will be presented in a ceremony on May 18 in Nara, Japan at Todai-Ji Buddhist Temple, the world's largest and oldest wooden structure, with the status of a National Treasure in that country.

Having just celebrated his sixtieth birthday, Gehry has achieved considerable fame in recent years due in part to some of his more unusual projects, making use of materials such as chain link fencing, cardboard, and corrugated metal in unorthodox ways. His own home in Santa Monica is a well-known example.

Gehry received his Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Southern California in 1954, with further study at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 1956 and 1957.

His career was launched with the design of a highly regarded Los Angeles landmark, the Danziger Studio/Residence in 1964. A retrospective exhibition of his work, organized by the Walker Art Center of Minneapolis, Minnesota, toured major museums over the past two years, drawing record crowds.

In Los Angeles, the recent awarding of a commission to design the Walt Disney Concert Hall for the Music Center, estimated to cost one hundred million dollars to some of his more unusual projects, brought him added acclaim. In the past year, he has also received a commission for a major high-rise building for Progressive Corporation in Cleveland, and he won the competition for another in New York.

Gehry has received more than 25 national and regional AIA Awards, the Brunner Prize, and many others. He is a much sought after lecturer for museums, architecture societies and universities. In addition to his building designs, he has become widely known for his cardboard furniture concepts, and for designing museum exhibitions at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art—from Art Treasures of Japan to the Treasures of Tutankhamun as well as for the works of contemporary artists.

Jay A. Pritzker, president of The Hyatt Foundation, announced the 1989 choice of the jury, saying, "The great body of work of architect Frank Gehry, which includes residences, museums, libraries, schools, shops, concert halls, restaurants, all manner of public buildings, and even a hay barn, demonstrates a range of styles that defies classification, but certainly warrants recognition for his contributions to the art of architecture."

Bill Lacy secretary to the jury, reported the formal citation from the selection panel, that reads as follows: "In an artistic climate that too often looks backward rather than toward the future, where retrospectives are more prevalent than risk-taking, it is important to honor the architecture of Frank Gehry.

Refreshingly original and totally American, proceeding as it does from his populist Southern California perspective, Gehry's work is a highly refined, sophisticated and adventurous aesthetic that emphasizes the art of architecture.

Bill Lacy, the executive director of the Pritzker Prize, wrote in his 1991 book, 100 Contemporary Architects, “As an architect/philosopher/artist, Dutchman Rem Koolhaas has expanded and continues to expand our perceptions of cities and civilization.”


Refreshingly original and totally American, proceeding as it does from his populist Southern California perspective, Gehry's work is a highly refined, sophisticated and adventurous aesthetic that emphasizes the art of architecture.

His sometimes controversial, but always arresting body of work, has been variously described as iconoclastic, rambunctious and impermanent, but the jury in making this award, commends this rest less spirit that has made his buildings a unique expression of contemporary society and its ambivalent values.

Gehry's architecture reflects his keen appreciation for the same social forces that have informed the work of outstanding artists through history, including many contemporaries with whom he often collaborates. His designs, if compared to American music, could best be likened to Jazz, replete with improvisation and a lively unpredictable spirit.

Always open to experimentation, he has as well a sureness and maturity that resists, in the same way that Picasso did, being bound either by critical acceptance or his successes. His buildings are juxtaposed collages of spaces and materials that make users appreciative of both the theatre and the back-stage, simultaneously revealed.

Although the prize is for a lifetime of achievement, the jury hopes Mr. Gehry will view it as encouragement for continuing an extraordinary 'work in progress,' as well as for his significant contributions thus far to the architecture of the twentieth century."

The jury that selected Gehry consists of its chairman and founding member, J. Carter Brown, director of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; and (alphabetically) Giovanni Agnelli, chairman of Fiat, from Torino, Italy Ada Louise Huxtable, author and architectural critic of New York; architect Ricardo Legorreta of Mexico City; 1982 Laureate/architect Kevin Roche of Hamden, Connecticut; and Jacob Rothschild, chair man of the board of trustees of the National Gallery of Art in London, England.


Read Frank Gehry's Essay