Architecture: At home with the space generation

Gehry has pushed back the frontiers of design. How apt that his work should be celebrated in another great innovator's house.

THE AMERICAN architect Frank Gehry's Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, Spain is the most celebrated new building this century, so popular that "doing the Gu" has triggered weekend breaks to Bilbao from all over the world. More than just a pretty face, the beautiful building, clad in titanium and rising from industrial ruins, has brought new life to a once-overlooked, post-industrial Spanish city.

A brilliant new exhibition to explain Frank Gehry's method of working opens this week at the Soane Museum in London's Lincoln's Inn Fields, showing how he gives his buildings this dynamic centrifugal force.

The curator, the Danish architect Kirsten Kiser, persuaded a reluctant Gehry to ship over sketches that seem to spin off the page, the models that he endlessly tweaks over a building's evolution, cladding samples, and photographic collages of many different buildings. It is set up as though the architect had just left the studio for five minutes.

This is the first time that an exhibition has been shown in the drawing- room at Soane's museum, - "the most magical building in London", as the architecture critic Charles Jencks describes it. "Gehry and Soane share a quixotic brilliance, a sense of delight and a Spartan aestheticism. It's absolutely right that Frank is there."

Sir John Soane (1753-1837) lived in this tall, narrow, terraced house from 1813 until his death, and so strongly did he leave his mark that there is a mysterious sense of his presence lingering in the classical drawing-room. A hundred years after his death, Sir John Betjeman wrote in the visitor's book: "He must have popped out - sorry I missed him."

At first sight it seems as though a car boot sale has opened in the citric- yellow drawing-room of Sir John Soane's house. Dynamic sketches by Gehry of what appear to be monsters arising from pools - fluid, not at all like a building as we know it, but full of energy and promise - are propped casually against the wall.

Amid all the Georgian furniture, Frank's Big Easy chair, which is a complicated mesh of bentwood seamlessly woven so that there are no joints between backs, seat and legs, is pulled up to the table. So are his cardboard chairs with chewed edges, made for the Vitra Design Museum in Basel. On the table with his sketches are the only explanation of the exhibition, in the form of photocopies of newspaper articles on the great man and his latest works. It is a bold presentation.

Building-blocks pinned to tracing paper show the way in which Gehry plans the mass and volume that buildings occupy on site. He always begins with children's blocks, harking back to childhood games on his grandmother's veranda in Toronto. Now the game is serious, yet the architect dissembles to make it look playful. He divides these blocks and splits them, then swivels and skews them as he sorts out their relationship to each other.

"He always changes the scale of his models, making them much smaller or enlarging them as he reworks the project, so that they never become an object," says Kirsten Kiser. "They're not sculptural, but endlessly refined working models." Raw models of his buildings seem to be cut from loo rolls. Sometimes they have silver or mesh or Perspex pieces added to them, to spill over the sides or spew from the roof in waves of such fluidity that he puts a brain surgeon's probe inside the final models to explore in detail the curvature on screen.

Three big, shapely pieces stand on the 18th-century console table. "The three Buddhas," as Gehry graphically describes them, fit neatly over the campus at Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland to house free- standing lecture halls in stacks, with light beamed in from the roof. Some of the residents were dismayed when they saw the onion domes spilling out of a brick base; Frank Gehry hasn't always been feted. Like Soane, who was never accepted by the establishment in his lifetime, Frank Gehry was out in the cold for a long time.

A pair of riding-boot shoehorns cast in plaster turn out to be Fred and Ginger, as he calls the pair of towers built in Prague. The Nationale Nederlanden building is one of only three new buildings in Baroque central Prague. As the building turns the corner, opaque Fred, coupled with transparent glass Ginger, twirls on shapely legs.

The pair were cast in plaster, digitised and refined in virtual models. Then they were churned out again in physical form with the help of a three- axis, computer-controlled milling-machine and given to the contractors to help them get the accurate measurements for the building's irrational geometry.

Deep purple metallic sheets, vibrant against red and blue ones, lean against the yellow wall. This turns out to be the Experience Music Project at Seattle, which is a 110,000-square-foot faculty to celebrate American pop music. Buildings inspired in part by a shattered Fender Stratocaster electric guitar cluster around the purple Sky Church homage to Jimi Hendrix.

The longer you spend here looking at Gehry, the more you will discover about Soane. Long before electricity, this 18th-century architect beamed in daylight through domes to bounce around the walls with strategically placed inset mirrors and glass. Soane so hated the gloom of coal-smog London that he denied visitors entry to his home when it was raining.

Frank Gehry, who is every bit as fastidious about light, says the time to see the silvery titanium Guggenheim is just after a cloudburst on a grey day. Like Gehry, Soane questioned architecture, and turned lumpy stone and stodgy plaster into a billowing, tensile membrane. "He was always adjusting the pressure of space," as Christopher Woodward says. Gehry opens your eyes to what is around you. Suddenly you see why buildings look as they do. The process of building is difficult to document, which is why so many architectural exhibitions are so boring. To use an 18th- century word, it is a conceit to show Gehry in the Soane drawing-room as though the architect's studio had just landed there. "Conceit" as in witty game, not in its 20th-century, pejorative sense.

`Frank Gehry at the Soane' runs from 7 May to 19 June at the Sir John Soane Museum, 13 Lincoln's Inn Fields, WC2A 3BT (0171 430 0175). Admission pounds 2. Open 10am-5pm, Tuesday to Saturday

Arts and Entertainment

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Metallica are heading for the Main Stage at Reading and Leeds Festivals next summer

Music

Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain's daughter Frances Bean Cobain is making a new documentary about his life

Music

Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp

TV Jungle security stepped up after murder and 'suspicious death' near to camp

Arts and Entertainment
TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
News
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
people
News
Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996
people

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital