Photo/IllutrationThe Canadian-born architect Frank Gehry responds to questions in an interview. (Tsutomu Ishiai)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

BERLIN--Canadian-born architect Frank Gehry, one of the most influential architects of the 20th century, is renowned for the curvilinear surfaces of his many buildings.

Gehry recently celebrated his 90th birthday with a visit to Germany, where he agreed to be interviewed by The Asahi Shimbun.

He talked about how various aspects of Japanese culture had influenced his work as well as his interest in music. He also talked about the future of architecture.

Noted for a wide range of structures around the world, including the iconic Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain, Gehry revealed that at the roots of his design are elements found in traditional Japanese architecture.

"Growing up as an architect in the 1950s in the West Coast, Los Angeles was very Asia-centric," he said. "I was very impressed and inspired by Japanese architecture, especially the Ise Shrine, the Katsura Imperial Villa and Kiyomizu Temple."

That interest extended to "gagaku," the traditional court music of Japan. During his college days, Gehry learned how to play "shoko," a gong that is struck with beaters.

After the completion of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2003 in Los Angeles, Gehry proposed that gagaku musicians perform at the facility, which is the home for the Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra.

"I didn't realize it until then, but when you see them on the stage, with my building, it looks like a Japanese temple," Gehry said.

Gehry was born in Toronto to Jewish parents. It was a time when Nazi Germany was appearing to be increasingly menacing.

He once said his family would listen on the radio to speeches by Adolf Hitler. His special desire to design concert halls may arise from his love for classical music that was fostered from an early age.

"My mother was a student of violin and she did two things--took me to concerts and art museums when I was little," Gehry recalled. "When I was growing up in Toronto, Glenn Gould was famous for playing and I used to listen to him."

The Canadian Gould was one of the best-known classical pianists of the 20th century.

Another musical venue Gehry designed was the Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin. Gehry was asked by Daniel Barenboim, the noted conductor who holds Israeli citizenship, to design the facility.

It was completed two years ago to serve as a venue for contemporary and chamber music and concurrently serves as a practice stage for the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which was established in 1999 by Barenboim and the late Edward Said, the Palestinian-American literary critic.

Gehry said he designed the hall for free because he sympathized with Barenboim's efforts to bring together young Israeli and Arab musicians in the orchestra.

"I am not happy with some things that are going on in Israel with the Palestinians," Gehry said.

The architect changed his surname to Gehry from a more Jewish one because of concerns about anti-Semitism in his younger days. While he moved toward a more atheistic stance as a teenager, he said there were still traces of his Jewish upbringing in him to this day.

"The Jewish religion starts with the word 'why,'" Gehry said. "It's about curiosity and I think that creative work is about curiosity."

He added that he was all for incorporating artificial intelligence in daily life as well as to radically change the industrial structure.

"You have to give up old paradigms as it relates to technology," he said. "That's a very rich thing. Without that our lives would be very boring."

He noted that innovation is not always accepted at first.

"When Stravinsky did 'Rite of Spring,' people walked out," Gehry said. "New ideas are sometimes complicated and they take time, but they should be discussed with respect."

He may have been talking about his own architecture as well because many of his radical designs led to puzzled responses at first, although the structures are now widely admired.

As for young architects, Gehry advised them to "be themselves" rather than try to emulate him, or the Japanese architect Tadao Ando.

"Try to be themselves and be optimistic about it," Gehry said. "If they are themselves, they will find the place to succeed."