Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Thoughts on Gehry’s Visit

When I first heard John DeWolf say that he was going to bring Frank Gehry back to Columbia I didn’t really expect the visit to be much more than window dressing. As much I have applauded the plans to remake Columbia’s downtown, my expectations for the future cityscape were modest. I fully expected that the end result would resemble something like the Annapolis Town Centre at Parole project, nice but not exactly inspiring.
Annapolis Town Centre at Parole
I may have underestimated John on this score. Judging from what I read in this story by Edward Gunts in The Sun, Columbia may set a new standard in neo urban design.

“He would like Gehry, who has gained international fame for his highly sculptural buildings, to do more work in Columbia. DeWolf visited Gehry in California last month to outline his company's latest redevelopment plans and issue a personal invitation for the architect to return.

"We're working with world class architects all over the country," DeWolf said. "We want to use him" in Columbia.”

It would be a fitting bookend to Columbia’s development. Before he gained international fame for buildings like the Guggenheim-Bilbao and the Dancing House in Prague, Frank Gehry designed buildings for Jim Rouse in Baltimore and Columbia. His Columbia imprint is seen in Merriweather Post Pavilion (1967), the Exhibit Center Building (1967) and the former Rouse Company headquarters building (1974) and the Banneker Road Fire Station. In a sea of suburban office park architecture, these buildings stand out.

I actually had the opportunity to meet Frank Gehry in 1980 when The Rouse Company was developing a shopping mall in his adopted hometown, Santa Monica, California. Gehry designed the mall and would often sit in on our development progress meetings held in a vacant storefront across the street from the site. He even lent the development team his conference room table and chairs which were made out of cardboard.

Of course its too early to tell what role the iconic architect may play in Columbia’s makeover, but the very thought of what that role might be is exciting. Two years ago in this post, I pondered whether we should be concerned with the new leadership of the Howard Hughes Corporation after they fired Greg Hamm. It appears those concerns were misplaced. These guys are the real deal.
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