In honour of Canada’s 150th birthday, The CJN presents 40 profiles of some of the most prominent Jewish Canadians throughout our history.
There are few household names in architecture, so the fact that Frank Gehry’s name sits on that short list is a feat in itself.
Regarded by many as one of the most important architects of our time, with a career spanning more than four decades, Gehry came from humble beginnings in a predominantly Jewish part of downtown Toronto.
Born in 1929 to Thelma and Irving Goldberg, who were immigrants from Poland and New York respectively, Gehry grew up on Dundas Street West.
“Mr. Gehry tells stories about buying a carp in Kensington Market each week with his grandmother, Leah Caplan, who lived on Beverly Street, and watching the big fish flop in the bathtub before it was carved into gefilte fish,” the Globe and Mail reported in 2014.
Those early memories no doubt influenced his 1980s designs of fish-shaped lamps that were moulded with wire and embellished with glued-on pieces of plastic, as well as larger public sculptures, including the Standing Glass Fish for the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden in 1986 and the Fish Sculpture for La Vila Olímpica del Poblenou in Barcelona, Spain, in 1989.
After moving to Los Angeles with his family at the age of 17, he obtained his bachelor of architecture degree from the University of Southern California in 1954 and studied city planning at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design.
Due to his experiences with anti-Semitism, both as a child and as a student in Los Angeles, he opted to change his last name from Goldberg to Gehry in 1956. But that decision did not impact his willingness to work on projects with and for the Jewish community.
In 2000, Gehry considered designing an extensive renovation of Toronto’s Holy Blossom Temple. The shul’s renovation, which continues to this day, is currently being led by Diamond Schmitt Architects.
His latest Toronto-based project is a two-tower building complex on King Street West, which was commissioned by David Mirvish. Upon completion, the two towers, consisting of 92 and 82 floors respectively, will be among the tallest skyscrapers in the city.
Gehry is also working to design a Tel Aviv museum commissioned by the Winnipeg-based Asper Foundation that will showcase Jewish achievements.
Gehry’s projects and awards are too many to list, but perhaps his most critically acclaimed design is the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, which was completed in 1997 and has received many awards.
According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, “the design is notable for its fragmented, curving and undulating forms clad in glass, titanium and limestone.”
Gehry’s Bilbao design also inspired the term, the Bilbao Effect, which is the revitalization of cities through iconic, innovative architecture.
In addition to collaborating with Tiffany and Co. on six jewelry collections, designing the official trophy of the World Cup of Hockey and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, Gehry also made his mark on the Toronto landscape with his Art Gallery of Ontario renovation in 2008.
Some of Gehry’s other famous works include the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris, the MIT Ray and Maria Stata Centre in Cambridge, Mass., the Vontz Centre for Molecular Studies on the University of Cincinnati campus, the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle, the New World Centre in Miami Beach, Fla., the Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis the Dancing House in Prague, the Vitra Design Museum and the MARTa Herford museum in Germany, and the Cinémathèque Française in Paris.
Gehry is also the recipient of numerous awards, including the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize and was named a companion of the Order of Canada.