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Frank Gehry Turns to Asia for Architecture Projects as U.S. Growth Slows

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Frank Gehry Turns to Asia for Architecture Projects as U.S. Growth Slows

| architect, architects, architecture, architecture jobs, Hiring trends, modern architecture, modern buildings, new buildings, recession, unemployed architects | October 26, 2011

Frank Gehry, designer of Los Angeles’s Walt Disney Concert Hall, is seeking projects in Asian countries including China and India as slower U.S. growth crimps development in the world’s largest economy.

The architect said he’s competing to plan a museum in one of China’s fast-expanding metropolitan areas, as well as a “very spiritual kind of a building” in India. He declined to give further details. Gehry designed an aquarium as part of the recent redevelopment of the Ocean Park attraction in Hong Kong.

Gehry, 82, is turning to Asia as developers start few projects in the U.S. The Architecture Billings Index, an indicator of American construction, plunged to 46.9 last month from 51.4 in August, reflecting lower demand for design services, according to the American Institute of Architects. Any score less than 50 indicates a decline in billings.

Meanwhile, “there’s an art explosion in China,” Gehry said in an Oct. 25 interview at Bloomberg’s Los Angeles offices. “It’s really great — very exciting.”

He expects to sign a contract within three to four months should an agreement be reached for the Chinese museum. One challenge of designing in a country such as China is the lower pay for projects, Gehry said. Architects get paid a percentage of construction costs, which in China are about a third of what they are in the U.S., he said.

“If you take a percentage and you work with western salaries, you can’t make it work,” Gehry said. “So it almost forces you to open an office in China and work with local people.”

Staying Near Home

Gehry said he would prefer to travel less and focus on projects in California or New York. The lack of development in the U.S. along with employees at Los Angeles-based Gehry Partners LLP who depend on him are forcing him to look elsewhere, the architect said.

“I have over 100 people in my office,” he said. “At my age, I would love only to work in Los Angeles, maybe Santa Monica, maybe Beverly Hills.”

Construction of one of Gehry’s projects abroad, the 450,000-square-foot (42,000-square-meter) Guggenheim Abu Dhabi museum, was halted earlier this month by Tourism Development & Investment Co. as the emirate scales back plans made before the 2008 financial crisis.

“The Abu Dhabi building we’ve been working on in the last five to six years has been stopped, and that’s painful,” said Gehry, who also has a contract for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial in Washington.

New York Apartments

Gehry, who designed a Manhattan apartment building on Spruce Street that opened earlier this year, also is seeking to win contracts by cutting construction waste, which often accounts for 30 percent of a development budget. His Los Angeles-based Gehry Technologies Inc. employs the same type of computer-aided, paperless, three-dimensional design used to build Boeing Co. (BA)’s 777 airliner.

“With two-dimensional drawings there’s a lot of room for error,” said Gehry, the 1989 winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize. “It creates so-called clashes that will result in costly change orders.”

There were few such conflicts at the 76-story Manhattan tower — called New York by Gehry, and developed by Forest City Ratner Cos. — even with its rippled and curved bay windows, according to Gehry. Almost 600 units of the 900-apartment building have been rented, he said.

“You’ve got to respect budgets because people are investing and building and have certain finite resources,” Gehry said. “So it behooves us to respect that.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Nadja Brandt in Los Angeles at [email protected]

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kara Wetzel at [email protected]

About the author

Drawing upon original ideas and extensive personal and professional experience in the field, David McFadden crafted this article to explore the untapped potential of making historic architectural masterpieces more sustainable. After working at various design practices—both full-time and freelance—and launching his design firm, David identified a significant gap in the industry. In 1984, he founded Consulting For Architects Inc. Careers, an expansive hub designed to align architects with hiring firms for mutual benefit. This platform enables architects to find impactful design work and frees hiring firms from the time-consuming cycles of recruitment and layoffs. David’s innovative approach to employer-employee relations has brought much-needed flexibility and adaptation to the industry. As the Founder and CEO, David has successfully guided his clients and staff through the challenges of four recessions—the early ’80s, early ’90s, early 2000s, the Great Recession, the pandemic, and the current slowdown due to inflation and high-interest rates.

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