Frank Gehry asked me to call him. I thought it was to answer questions about how the Great Recession was affecting the next generation of architects. But before we could get to that, the founder of Gehry Partners and an instructor this term at the Yale School of Architecture said he wanted to clarify his comments about LEED building standards. (I posted this blog after Gehry spoke on that topic during a public appearance on April 6.)
Yes, he did say that efforts to win a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification can be a waste of time and money. But he told me on the phone that what he really meant to attack was the posturing around the LEED seal of approval. He’s all for energy-efficient buildings, he said, and has been since before there was an Earth Day, in the late 1960s.
Though he reiterated that he had never designed a building just to gain a LEED tag, he noted, in fact, that his Stata Center at MIT has been awarded a LEED silver from the U.S. Green Building Council.
“I’m not against LEEDs at all,” he said. “I think it’s wonderful. I think we’ve got to do this.” But then Gehry, who acknowledged that he is something of a cranky old man, got back on a soapbox to decry today’s automatic embrace of LEED certification. “It’s become ‘fetishized’ in my profession. It’s like if you wear the American flag on your lapel, you’re an American. That’s what I was trying to say. You get people who are holier than thou. I think architects can do a lot, but some of what gets done is marketing and doesn’t really serve to the extent that the PR says it does.”
With that off his chest, our conversation turned to other subjects including the job market for architects today, which is simply rotten. Gehry said he has 10 “superb” students in his graduate-school class. In previous years, he would have hired a few of them. But this year, with too little to do at his Los Angeles-based firm, he said he can’t. “Some of them will have trouble. And I don’t think they can all afford to have trouble.”
He said the students probably would work for less money, and some would be happy to be unpaid interns. But he said he insists on paying the prevailing salary for entry-level architects, and his partnership doesn’t have the work for more paid employees. For now, he said, the profession is in serious trouble, too. “You just hope it’s going to come back.”
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