Conversation: Frank Gehry’s New World Center Opens in Miami

BY Tom LeGro  January 25, 2011 at 12:45 PM EDT

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Designed by architect Frank Gehry, the New World Center in Miami opens Tuesday. The building will be the new home for the New World Symphony, America’s Orchestral Academy, which was founded in 1987 by artistic director Michael Tilson Thomas.

Jeffrey Brown talked to Gehry earlier Tuesday about the building, his intentions behind it and how it will serve the students of the New World Symphony and the city of Miami:

A transcript is after the jump.

JEFFREY BROWN: Welcome once again to Art Beat. I’m Jeffrey Brown, and joining me from Miami today is Frank Gehry, one of the world’s preeminent architects. He has a new building opening today, the New World Center in Miami Beach. Welcome to you.

FRANK GEHRY: How are you, sir?

JEFFREY BROWN: I’m fine. The attention for this building is sort of seen as an attempt to address the future of musical performance and the audience experience. I wanted to ask you, what was the starting point here? What was the problem that you wanted to address?

FRANK GEHRY: I’ve known Michael Tilson Thomas for many years. What he does with a very generous teaching program for young musicians in Miami, the New World Symphony, and the way he teaches is very special, and so this building is a teaching facility. It’s not a public building, except for public performances that they’ll have. It’s mostly a teaching facility, and it’s for that reason, I’d say it’s semi-private. So the facility addresses all of those things. It has technology that you normally don’t find in places like this, and it’s experimental technology with video. The room is like a video screen when they want it and there is projection outside of the building to involve people in a small park they built. It’s a building about connecting to the community as best they can.

JEFFREY BROWN: You’ve had a famous experience through Disney Hall, the Hall at Bard — I’ve been both of those. What did you take from those experiences that you used or didn’t use when you came to Miami Beach?

FRANK GEHRY: Bard is the closest thing to this. This building is a building in which the students are going to bump into each other. They are not hermetic in their little studios like they were in the Lincoln Theatre, the small practice rooms — you’d have to go seek somebody out. Here you’re going to run into everybody. It’s going to be interactive in that sense and I think this is more the kind of venue, the kind of scene that Michael will thrive in.

JEFFREY BROWN: I haven’t been down there to see it, but you described this as more of a neutral container. A lot of people are familiar with the swoops and curves of some of your other buildings, but this one — I read an interview where you said, ‘I wanted to do a neutral container with everything stuffed inside.’

FRANK GEHRY: The swoops and stuff — they’re public buildings. That’s a public museum in Bilbao. That’s a public concert hall in L.A. History has shown us that public buildings deserve a certain level of iconicity, and people of the cities are proud of those iconic centers, historically. And people go spend money to go see them all around the world. A school, it’s more private. It has a public persona, but it somehow didn’t ask for being more iconic. It wasn’t budget driven though. I could have made a Bilbao out of this for the same budget. That wasn’t why that happened. This was a choice that we all made, based on the local buildings, the buildings around it, what Miami Beach looks like. It’s contextual. When you come down here you’ll see that it fits in and it has a strong persona, but it fits in very well with the community, and that the action is on the inside because that’s where the teaching happens.

JEFFREY BROWN: There’s always a discussion — I talk with a lot of composers and musicians about the future of classical music, the future of audiences and how to attract them and how to engage them. And there you are building — I realize it’s a more private situation in a school — but a place that has the potential to attract audiences to it.

FRANK GEHRY: It’s more than a building that does that and it’s more than Michael that does that. Michael is interested in that, he’s got the venue to do it and he’s going to explore that. It’s the general education — musical education — in the public schools that’s problematic. If you go to Germany, you’ll see the lineup for the no-show tickets is kids in their teens. That wouldn’t happen in the U.S., you wouldn’t see that. I think it has to do with the lack of musical education in the public schools, the lack of arts education in the public schools. There’s a whole part of right-brained America that isn’t being serviced, that are undervalued.

JEFFREY BROWN: Can buildings help that problem?

FRANK GEHRY: Well, I think we can be part of the help, yes, if kids can be invited into the game. You know, when I let public school teachers bring their kids to my office in L.A., and the outpouring of drawings and response to just seeing the models in my office is extraordinary. There’s a lot of inquisitive kids that are open and ready. They just don’t have the opportunity.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, one last thing, because I know you just got there today and it’s opening today…

FRANK GEHRY: I’m tired.

JEFFREY BROWN: People must wonder this, when you first get to a building on opening day, what’s the experience like? Do you look at it and see, oh, you know, things that you’re not happy with that you wish you did, or is it?

FRANK GEHRY: Exactly. I’m terrified. It’s the worst thing to happen to me. I see all the mistakes, all the things. It takes me a couple years to get over it.

JEFFREY BROWN: Really.

FRANK GEHRY: And I’m my own worst critic. There’s no critic in the world that could ever say anything worse than I think myself.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, well, I hope you enjoy the day as much as you can then. All right, Frank Gehry from Miami Beach with his new building, New World Center. Thanks very much.

FRANK GEHRY: Thank you very much.

JEFFREY BROWN: And once again I’m Jeffrey Brown for Art Beat. Thank you for joining us.