The article you just read was brought to you by a few thousand dedicated readers. Will you join them?

Thanks for coming by The Tyee and reading one of many original articles we’ll post today. Our team works hard to publish in-depth stories on topics that matter on a daily basis. Our motto is: No junk. Just good journalism.

Just as we care about the quality of our reporting, we care about making our stories accessible to all who want to read them and provide a pleasant reading experience. No intrusive ads to distract you. No paywall locking you out of an article you want to read. No clickbait to trick you into reading a sensational article.

There’s a reason why our site is unique and why we don’t have to rely on those tactics — our Tyee Builders program. Tyee Builders are readers who chip in a bit of money each month (or one-time) to our editorial budget. This amazing program allows us to pay our writers fairly, keep our focus on quality over quantity of articles, and provide a pleasant reading experience for those who visit our site.

In the past year, we’ve been able to double our staff team and boost our reporting. We invest all of the revenue we receive into producing more and better journalism. We want to keep growing, but we need your support to do it.

Fewer than 1 in 100 of our average monthly readers are signed up to Tyee Builders. If we reach 1% of our readers signing up to be Tyee Builders, we could continue to grow and do even more.

If you appreciate what The Tyee publishes and want to help us do more, please sign up to be a Tyee Builder today. You pick the amount, and you can cancel any time.

Support our growing independent newsroom and join Tyee Builders today.
Before you click away, we have something to ask you…

Do you value independent journalism that focuses on the issues that matter? Do you think Canada needs more in-depth, fact-based reporting? So do we. If you’d like to be part of the solution, we’d love it if you joined us in working on it.

The Tyee is an independent, paywall-free, reader-funded publication. While many other newsrooms are getting smaller or shutting down altogether, we’re bucking the trend and growing, while still keeping our articles free and open for everyone to read.

The reason why we’re able to grow and do more, and focus on quality reporting, is because our readers support us in doing that. Over 5,000 Tyee readers chip in to fund our newsroom on a monthly basis, and that supports our rockstar team of dedicated journalists.

Join a community of people who are helping to build a better journalism ecosystem. You pick the amount you’d like to contribute on a monthly basis, and you can cancel any time.

Help us make Canadian media better by joining Tyee Builders today.
We value: Our readers.
Our independence. Our region.
The power of real journalism.
We're reader supported.
Get our newsletter free.
Help pay for our reporting.
Entertainment

'If One Meets an Architect, Slap Him'

Cities, slums and 'The Sketches of Frank Gehry.'

By Dorothy Woodend 9 Jun 2006 | TheTyee.ca

Dorothy Woodend has been the film critic for The Tyee since 2004. Her work has been published in magazines, newspapers and books across Canada and the US, as well as a number of international publications.

Dorothy worked with the Vancouver International Film Festival, the Whistler Film Festival and the National Film Board of Canada. She is a member of the Vancouver Film Critics Circle, and sits on the Board of Directors of the Alliance for Arts and Culture in Vancouver. Dorothy is also the Director of Programming for DOXA Documentary Film Festival in Vancouver.

Reporting Beat: Film.

Dorothy's Connection to BC: Born in Vancouver and raised in the wilds of the Kootenay, Dorothy's favourite spot is her family's farm on Kootenay Lake.

Twitter: @dorothywoodend

image atom
Gehry’s ‘Dancing Building’ in Prague.

If cities are the future, then now is the moment to ask some important questions about the future of cities.

The World Urban Forum runs June 19 - 23, in the fair city of Vancouver. The thinkers and the talkers will be hard at work, posing questions about sustainability and design and envisioning new urbanities. Particularly relevant to those discussions will be contributions from architects, who have the responsibility for shaping those cities.

But, as Bob Geldof says in the new documentary, The Sketches of Frank Gehry, architects have a lot to answer for. No wonder architects all seem to be in long-term therapy. To paraphrase Geldof paraphrasing Evelyn Waugh, "If one meets an architect at a party, one's first duty should be to slap them."

And indeed, a slap in the face of straight edges everywhere is the work of Gehry, who does to steel and aluminum what someone else might do to a crumpled piece of paper. There is beauty in chaos, but there is also ugliness, and as some of the people interviewed in the film note, many of Gehry's designs are extraordinarily ugly.

Concrete risks

But artists take risks; that is their job. And Gehry is both architect and artist with both job descriptions bringing the weight of insecurity. Despite the fact that Gehry is, by most accounts, an architectural superstar, he is prone to agonizing bouts of self-doubt. Upon visiting the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, a structure that is perhaps one of the most celebrated contemporary buildings in the world, Gehry claims to be horrified. "How could they let me do this?" he asks. Whether he is in fact being disingenuous, is difficult to say.

The man is a bit of a paradoxical creature, both an “aw shucks” everyman and a superstar, lauded and loathed in equal measure. The film lets Gehry tell his own life story, from his childhood in Toronto, to his move to L.A., art classes, a failed first marriage, a couple of bankruptcies, a name change from Goldberg to Gehry and, finally, the glories of fame and fortune. Of course, in the film, as in life, things are not nearly so linear.

The film is made by his friend Sydney Pollack and features the usual talking heads yakking away, although the cast of characters is a curious combination of chairmen of the board (Michael Eisner, Barry Diller) and freaky artists. (Julian Schnabel, get some clothes on for God's sake!) Details of Gehry's life are casually discussed, and much of the film's charm comes out of his exchanges with Pollack. It's like listening in to a conversation between two friends looking back over the course of their lives.

Plans of infinity

Pollack is not a particularly introspective documentary maker; he is content to let his subject merely expound and ramble at length. However, in Gehry's case, this actually works. He is a good raconteur: witty and amiable. And as he drives and talks, and caresses the skins of his own buildings, he is never less than easy to listen to. The fact that larger issues related to architecture are only cursorily addressed is not the fault of the film.

Whether or not Gehry has any insights about the larger issues of designing buildings and cities themselves, his work is interesting in light of urban planning: not simply because it elevates the notion of architecture to something beyond mere service, but in that it reworks the rules themselves. If his work offers any type of lesson, it's that in rethinking the idea of cities we need to entertain infinite and hitherto never considered possibilities, all grounded by practicality -- transit, sewage, schools and a good grocery store. Urban Fare begone!

We are living the results of some of these conversations in Vancouver. If you visit it regularly, you might not recognize the Vancouver downtown core from one week to the next; the pace of change is so rapid as to outstrip human comprehension or, more importantly, understanding. And yet the nature of making art (or architecture) requires an act of trying to understand what you are doing in mid-leap. But of course, a painting won't fall down on your head and kill you if it doesn't work (with the possible exception of Schnabel's work that is). Only the long view of history will enable us to clearly ascertain what worked and what did not; we are all forced to let time be the judge.

Tenuous certainties

The larger questions of architecture, cityscapes and the politics of city-building are deserving of a film all of their own. Luckily for us in little old Vancouver, the World Urban Forum will examine in depth the issues surrounding modern cities, and they are multiple. Not the least of which is that, in the next 50 years, most of the world's population will be living in cities. How then to house this influx? If you want an example of what not to do, look only to City Limits: Slums of the World, a series of films offered next week at the Vancity Theatre. As for what happens when there are too many poor people all in one place: you end up with every possible variation of human suffering, and quite possibly some that haven't even been invented yet. These films -- Pixote, Tsotsi, The Cool World, In Vanda's Room, Ali Zaoua, Salaam Bombay -- often focus on the poorest and the most vulnerable, especially small children living lives of desperation, poverty, and often unremitting horror. But despite the dark side of urban living, people love their cities with a remarkable passion. They are home after all to billions of souls worldwide.

Vancouver has been hailed recently in such magazines as Canadian Geographic as something of an urban planning success story (the downtown core in particular with its mixture of live/work space and density). It offers a direct contrast to many U.S. cities, with their dead city centres and urban sprawl everywhere else. Despite the good press, things are far from perfect here. If Vancouver is to learn anything from such films and from the Urban Forum, it has to look to the examples (good and bad) of other major centres, which are all similarly grappling with issues of sustainability, transportation, housing and social issues so complex that they might necessitate some mass slapping of architects everywhere.

But the vexatious problems of huge numbers of people in an increasingly tenuous world won't be solved by any abstract combination of glass and steel, no matter how artful. How exactly, or if, they will be solved at all, is the much bigger question. Having recently visited two of the world's most remarkable cities (Paris and London), I discovered one can learn a lot from the simplest things, like that living and working close together is a good idea, or that underground subways work better than buses to transport the masses hither and thither. The parks of Paris continue to be a revelation, utterly beautiful, and somehow wonderfully democratic, with attractions for every age -- puppet shows, carousels, sculpture, and grass that no one is allowed to sit on. Despite the curious last fact, Parisian parks live in my brain as the truest embodiment of a truly world class city. Vancouver has a ways to go.

Dorothy Woodend reviews films for The Tyee every Friday.

Related stories: David Beers talks with Dream City author and urban planner Lance Berelowitz; James Glave interviews Dr. Sustainability, UBC’s John Robinson; and Charles Montgomery writes about the 'Dialogue of Cities.'  [Tyee]

Share this article

The Tyee is supported by readers like you

Join us and grow independent media in Canada

Facts matter. Get The Tyee's in-depth journalism delivered to your inbox for free

LATEST STORIES

The Barometer

Tyee Poll: Are You Preparing for the Next Climate Disaster?

Take this week's poll