Gehry and Greenwashing

Chicago014 Controversies in architecture are usually fairly timid affairs, not like the fistfight that broke out at the Cannes film festival on Sunday night. However, as architecture controversies go, Frank Gehry’s remarks about LEED and green building practices have caused quite a dust up. Last April 6 Gehry was interviewed at an event in Chicago. Apparently he had extra asshole sauce on his lunch that day. Clearly threatened by the prospect of another talented architect working in Millennium Park, Gehry admitted to trash talking Renzo Piano (“Renzo, come get me, baby,”), challenging Piano to re-orient the Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago so that it more directly faced Gehry’s own Pritzker Pavilion (above). When asked about Piano’s finished building, Gehry sneered, “He’s gotten better.” As far as local cultural buzz is concerned, Piano has gotten the better of Gehry.

Gehry also had nothing good to say about the LEED certification process, dismissing it as “bogus” and “political.” (None of Gehry’s buildings are LEED certified.) Metropolis Magazine’s Susan S. Szenasy accuses Gehry of being indifferent to all socially-conscious design. Fred Bernstein of ArchNewsNow, on the other hand, agrees with Gehry’s remarks about LEED. “Everyone who has analyzed the point system,” Bernstein writes, “well-intentioned as it is, agrees with him.” The Chicago Tribune‘s Blair Kamin agrees with Bernstein, adding, “Gehry has every right to criticize LEED. Yet as one of the profession’s leaders, he has a responsibility to show a better way, both for today’s generation of architects and tomorrow’s.”

Like Bernstein and Kamin (and Gehry), I suspect that at least some of the impetus behind the LEED process is mere greenwashing. What I found interesting is Gehry’s dismissal of LEED as “political,” as if this were some sort of problem. Of course green technologies are political. The whole issue of global warming and sustainable energy development is deeply political. Besides, is LEED any more or less political than choosing an architect for a public project like the Pritzker Pavilion? 

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