Frank Gehry and breakthrough creativity

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by: John Caddell

"Smart World," the new book by Richard Ogle, describes how breakthroughs happen thusly: rather than turning inward, in lonely contemplation, creators turn outward, and look toward hotspots–emerging and long-lived trends–and draw capabilities from distant, seemingly unrelated areas to create vitally new combinations.

One of the examples Ogle cites is architect Frank Gehry, who combined the hotspots of modern art and CAD/CAM technology to create a new style of architecture. Previous generations of architects constrained themselves in two ways, according to Ogle. They stuck with the Bauhaus-era mantra of "form follows function" and only built things they could sketch with the tools they had–leading inevitably to the creation of thousands of buildings dominated by straight lines and right angles.

Gehry imagined something else, something freer and more artistic–function following form–and finally, with the advancement of computer-aided design and manufacture, could draw and build what he imagined.

Pat Metheny, the jazz guitarist and composer, voiced a similar thought in describing his composition "The First Circle," a significant break from his prior work:

After working with Jerry Goldsmith on the score for the film Under Fire, a lot of new ideas came up…. One comment that Jerry made really stuck with me, and that was as a performer, I should watch out for the tendency to just write things that I could already play, rather than the composerly thing of writing things beyond one's playing ability with the faith that somehow it will eventually be performed. ("The Pat Metheny Song Book," p. 440)

So Gehry designed things beyond the ability of them to be physically realized, with the faith that someday they would be built. After decades of struggle, when design and construction technology caught up with his ideas, then came Bilbao, and architecture was changed forever.

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