The Man With the Most Unusual Lines
"Frank understood Mother's rather vague desires, that the hall be open and welcoming and not elitist," says Diane Disney Miller, Walt's only surviving child.
Making it happen was something else entirely. With the city, the county, the music center, the cultural establishment, the fundraisers, and the architects all focused on their own agendas, no one quite saw the big picture. By 1996, poor oversight and unchecked spending had virtually eaten up Lillian's gift, with nothing to show for it but a stack of incomplete architectural drawings (produced by an outside firm chosen by Gehry) and a pile of bills. The project was DOA; Gehry was MIA; and L.A. was back in the running for national basket case.
"Everywhere I went, people would stop me and say, 'How could you have done that; you knew it couldn't be built,'" says Gehry, who is notoriously thin-skinned. "I thought the project was dead. I didn't want to go out in public."
Hockey buddies. Enter Eli Broad, a billionaire philanthropist and power broker to whom failure is an utter stranger. "We had to get that thing built and prove we could actually get something done in Los Angeles," says Broad, who had been recruited to salvage the project by then L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan (who also happened to play hockey with Gehry). In almost no time, Broad and a handful of powerful friends raised nearly $175 million for Disney Hall. The project was saved.
There was only one problem: Gehry. He and Broad had a troubled history, which essentially consisted of Gehry's taking so long to finish Broad's ultramodern L.A. home that Broad brought in another architect to finish the job. Now Broad wanted to bring in another architect to do the drawings and manage the Disney project, leaving Gehry to handle the design. "He didn't believe I could get the building done," says Gehry, whose Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, which is similar in style to Disney Hall, had since opened to international acclaim. "He wanted the right to run the project with another architect. I couldn't accept that."
Gehry threatened to walk unless his firm was allowed to complete the drawings and manage the project. When push came to shove, Diane Disney Miller, whose mother had died the previous year, insisted that Gehry remain, and she put up an additional $14 million for the new drawings. The deal was done. Gehry had won.
His firm went to work on the drawings, using an innovative computer program called CATIA that had been adapted from an airplane-design program to translate 3-D shapes into two-dimensional mathematical formulas that could then be used by manufacturers to cut the pieces and by builders to put them together. CATIA not only allowed Gehry (who can barely turn on a PC) to take architecture in a whole new direction; it made documenting the design process easier, which led to better cost controls during construction.
Ironically, the same program that made it possible for Gehry to individualize his designs has also, according to some critics, made it a whole lot easier to mass-produce them. Gehry's trademark sculptural buildings have been derided as "Logotecture," or, as one critic put it: "Same Gehry, different city." Other detractors have branded his work as showy, self-indulgent, and egotistical.