Gehry on LEED: Humbug

April 12, 2010 | By Yetsuh Frank | Make a Comment »

Poor Frank, its sad when someone so talented seems so out of touch.  Business Week attributes all sorts of disparaging remarks about LEED to Frank Gehry in an interview with Thomas Pritzker last week.  There are lots of things about LEED that need improvement but for Mr. Gehry, the creator of some of the most expensive buildings on the planet, to complain that LEED is too expensive is a little ridiculous.  And his comment that most of the measures within LEED “don’t pay back in your lifetime” defies multiple studies to the contrary.  Why can’t the master sculptor just come out and say he doesn’t really care about the environmental performance of his buildings?

I wonder if Gehry understands the degree to which his work, like the visually stunning but unprotected east-facing glass facades of the IAC building, might seem deeply anachronistic in just a few years time.  There is an unmistakable cultural movement away from Mr. Gehry’s brand of design bauble architecture to work that carries with it an additional layer of meaning beyond the simple sculpting of shapes. I speak of not just the broad aspirations to environmental design within the design professions but also the increasing influence of social justice and other issues raised by the Architecture for Humanity and Design Like You Give a Damn movements.

Sadly, the impressive technological innovation found in Gehry’s work is solely devoted to the creation of plastic shapes out of solid materials.  It’s impressive in it’s own right but to this observer it lacks intellectual heft.  And it bears pointing out that sculptural innovation and environmentally responsive design are not mutually exclusive.

Thom Mayne’s work has grappled directly with green issues without ever giving an inch in pursuit of the avant-garde.  In fact, his radical form-making has been undeniably influenced by what he has called “Performalism”- the performance based design of building elements, like the operable metal screen facade of his Cooper Union building.

Jean Nouvel (whose Agbar Tower is on the left) is another example of a daring formalist whose work is deeply rooted in a projects’ environmental context.

The term “formalist” is already used as a pejorative in design circles- the implication being that if you are ONLY interested in form your work is missing a critical element.  Perhaps Gehry’s rudeness regarding green design reflects the uncomfortable realization that he is only working in three dimensions while everyone else is working in four.


- who has written 261 posts on Urban Green Blog.

Yetsuh Frank is a consultant in New York City. An architect, educator and writer, Yetsuh has more than 15 years experience spearheading sustainability throughout the building industry. Yetsuh was Director of Programs at Urban Green Council from 2008 to 2011.

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