The world as we see it or freedom to be different

“So you get an idea. A stupid idea but you like it.” (Frank Gehry, Manifesto)

Japan is a country of norms and rules, some written and even more implicit that you discover only as you go along. Everyone wants to be in line with everyone else, in other words, somewhere in the middle and around the average. One could argue, but I think it is difficult for a child to grow up creative and full of ideas, as the whole system is designed to prevent that.

As a contrary, exhibitions featuring different look to the world come to Tokyo one after another. Last month we talked about Oscar Niemeyer, this time I suggest to visit 21_21 Design sight, currently hosting Frank Gehry’s exhibition “I have an idea”*.

21_21 Design Sight in Tokyo Midtown, Roppongi

Currently 86, Frank Gehry is an iconic person, still involved in numerous projects in numerous places around the world. To name just a few of his works, Guggenheim museum in Bilbao (gave start to a so called “Bilbao effect”), Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA, Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris and many others. No wonder, he is labelled as “the most important architect of our age” and his works were cited as among the most important in contemporary architecture in the World Architecture Survey 2010.

“I have an idea” exhibition

Gehry says he starts each project as the first project, with all the accompanying uncertainties.

“I am always scared that I am not going to know what to do”, he says, then adding “then when I start, I am always amazed that it wasn’t that bad”.

To understand the process from idea to the building, you have to start with the Manifesto (you can read and listen here).

Frank Gehry, Manifesto

Gehry looks for inspiration around him, starting with a clutter of various personal items and objects in the office.

The Gehry residence in miniature and various personal objects in the background.

Also, he looks for movement and forms. It may sound strange, but movement is inspired by a fish! As he puts it “you can cut off the tail, cut off the head, cut off everything, and you still got a sense of movement”.

The design process involves lot of experiments with 3D objects, e.g. wooden blocks, cardboard, paper.

The forms are created, destroyed, and rebuilt endlessly with new ideas born along the way that bring the project to the desired goal. “If I knew where I was going, I wouldn’t do it”, he says.

Interior does matter as well. In fact, he designs inside out, aiming to ensure that a building is a place where people want to be.


He has never been aligned with any broader stylistic tendencies or movements, leading to my take away, summarized by one more Frank Gehry’s quote:

“The most important thing, however, is to be yourself” Don’t try to be someone you are not”.

What is the world as you see it?

If the weather is nice, you can stop by and reflect in one of the Tokyo midtown cafes.

Tokyo Midtown area

*The exhibition “I have an idea” is open until February 7, 2016, at 21_21 Design Sight in Tokyo Midtown, Roppongi.

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