Did a starchitect just “phone in” their design for a commission in LA?

Architecture, as a profession, bears quite a few similarities to the consulting profession. Chief among those commonalities is the “feast or famine” cycle — there always seems to be either too much work to handle, or nothing but the sound of crickets. The same paradigm applies to that exalted class of designers known as “starchitects.”

Sometimes when architects get busy, they may have the capacity for completing the required work, but may not necessarily have the time for a completely fresh and unique design. Clients want the starchitect’s stamp on the drawings for the increased market value that comes with it, and may be willing to lower their expectations if time is in short supply.

It seems that the scenario described above may be the explanation for just how “un-Gehry” the latest Frank Gehry design to be unveiled seems. The project, known as Ascend, will result in an 80,000 square foot office building in El Segundo, not far from Los Angeles International Airport. Roger Vincent, reporting for the LA Times, has more (as well as renderings):

So-called creative office buildings, usually created by upgrading old structures that have outlived their original purpose such as manufacturing, are the darlings of today’s real estate market and often command higher rents than glitzy skyscrapers do.

The $50 million building in El Segundo with one big floor containing 80,000 square feet is intentionally unassuming, the architect said in a videotaped interview.

“It’s not architectural in the sense that you are making an architectural statement,” Gehry said. “It is really creating an environment that energizes and promotes interactivity in a less formal way.”

Not sure if I buy that statement. Commissioning Gehry to design a 1-story, open floor plan office building contained within a relatively unimaginative plain box for some reason seems akin to hiring Salvador Dalí to paint a fence.