TORONTO — Frank Gehry was recently honoured by Barack Obama at the White House, but the celebrated Canadian-born architect isn't too thrilled with the man next in line for the U.S. presidency: Donald Trump.
Less than two weeks after receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom — America's highest civilian honour — the California-based Gehry was back in his hometown of Toronto on Saturday for a discussion about his life and work. The conversation took place at the Art Gallery of Ontario, which he transformed in 2008.
Co-moderator Lisa Rochon asked Gehry if he was serious about accepting French President Francois Hollande's offer to self-exile to the European country if Trump was elected. While Gehry plans on staying put, the dual Canadian-American citizen expressed serious concerns about the incoming commander-in-chief.
"I don't know whether we should get into politics here because some of you may think Trump is OK, but I'm very worried about him," said Gehry, 87.
"I remember in 1937 and being in Canada and listening to Hitler's speeches on radio — and this resounded similar to me. It's just frightening."
Born in 1929, Gehry said he later changed his original surname — Goldberg — to "satisfy" his first wife, Anita.
"I remember going to restaurants that said 'No Jews Allowed,'" in the 1930s here," he recalled of his childhood years in Toronto.
Gehry relocated to Los Angeles with his family in 1947. Gehry was asked by Rochon about another incident where he felt the anti-Semitic sentiment, where he thought he may have been disallowed from completing his Air Force training because he was Jewish.
"I was an Air Force ROTC at (the University of Southern California) and architecture is a five-year class," he recalled. "I was in four years of Air Force ROTC training like every week, marching, training, wearing the uniform, doing the whole thing.
"Just as I was getting into the fifth year — the final year — they called me in and said they'd made a big mistake that I had not been really accepted back at the beginning," Gehry added, to audible gasps of the audience. "If I had been lawyer-thinking, I could have sued the hell out of them." He was drafted into the Army after graduation and served 21 months, getting out three months early to study city planning.
Gehry was the centre of a wide-ranging discussion at the AGO spanning well over an hour, which touched on some of his best-known buildings, which include the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. He talked about his creative process, which includes having his office work mainly on 3D models which are later transferred to the computer.
Gehry's more recent projects include the design of Facebook's new headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., and he has plans to revitalize the Los Angeles River.
He also spoke of his philanthropic efforts through Turnaround: Arts which helps transform priority schools through the arts. Gehry has adopted an elementary school in Hoopa, Calif., working with students on design projects.
Despite his role as an arts education advocate and having his signature stamp on buildings around the world, Gehry made it clear he has no intention to rest on his laurels as he continues to expand on his wide-ranging portfolio of architectural works.
"I call it a healthy insecurity," he said. "I've been fortunate to meet a lot of creative people, very well-known ones, and I talk to them about this. Everybody that I know and respect in other fields has the same feeling, I think. They talk about it very similarly, and I think it's part of the territory — that it's exciting. ... You're searching the unknown."
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