Eric Owen Moss began the conversation with a brief history of modern architecture: it's always been a constant appropriator of other fields. He said architects like Walter Gropius took an industiral aesthetic from assembly lines, Le Corbusier was inspired by Cubism, and Kenzo Tange used anatomical terms to formulate the metabolist movement. Throughout this history of modern architecture, each movement has thrived on opposition: "architecture needs an adversary, a target... what is it taking down or remedying?"
The idea of avant-garde architecture—and how to judge its succeses and failures—set the stage for their discussion of Los Angeles and Frank Gehry. Goldberger's latest title, Building Art (Knopf, 2015), is exploration of the life and work of Gehry. Both panelist's close familiarity with the book's subject filled the discussion with funny anecdotes (if you get the chance, ask Goldberger about Frank Gehry, his psychiatrist, and chain link fences). However, you can't talk about Gehry without talking about where he got his architectural start: Los Angeles. Was Gehry's success due to the city's freer artistic atmosphere in the 1960's? L.A. was farther from the the cultural and institutional gatekeepers of New York City. There was no absolute agreement among the panelists (PG: "L.A. cares a lot about being thought to not care as much." EOM: "That's something a New Yorker would say.") but there was consensus that Los Angeles has changed. It's no longer a backwater of sorts: "The expectations for LA are different, now it's a city among cities," said Moss.
Is Frank Gehry still avant-garde, now that he's regularly awarded, sought-after, and part of the established architectural scene? "Everyone says you're nuts," said Moss, "then everyone wants you to do [your architecture] everywhere." Golberger reflected that this was the paradox of the bestselling filmmaker, dancer, or painter: "It's hard for a best-seller to be avant-garde." Ultimately, Moss mused that you'd have to walk through Gehry's office, look at the models, and "make a judgement for yourself" whether his work is still radical. While Goldberger countered that "all work is in a social and political context, and how work relates to that is in interesting story," it seems the fate of the successful avant-garde architect remains in the eye of the beholder.