“Ninety-eight percent of what’s built today, my colleagues and I wouldn’t consider architecture,” said Frank Gehry, looking seriously up through his glasses. “I’m making an honest attempt to build something that is uplifting and that contributes to the well-being of society. Something you can learn from.” Dressed all in black and seated on a chair in a cavernous industrial building at St. Helena’s Hall Winery last Friday, Gehry, 78, didn’t look a day over 58 and certainly didn’t seem to mind the electronica music of the rave-style party simmering around him at 10:30 in the morning. Winery staff poured rosé while black-clad waiters passed canapes. The party was to celebrate Gehry’s contribution to the Hall Winery, a new tasting room and public area that the Halls hope will be complete by 2010.
Most renowned for his Museo Guggenheim Bilbao and for L.A.’s Disney Concert Hall, Gehry chuckled when reminded of all the fuss that Craig and Kathryn Hall’s neighbors along Highway 29 have kicked up over his proposed design. “They launched a fatwa against me in the press,” he smiles, referring to the Spanish opposition to his curvy design for Bilbao. “And now I have a key to the city.” In deference to the neighbors, however, Gehry’s proposed buildings have been moved farther onto the Hall’s property to dissuade driving gawkers. The visitor center and tasting room, the models for which the Halls are displaying to the public while construction commences, is a glass box replete with an indoor glass elevator and a second-floor glass tasting balcony. The reporter squinted outside. By 11am, it was a good 90 degrees at the Hall Winery on this late July day. How to keep such an incinerator cool for guests?
“The trellis,” Gehry said shortly, clearly tired of repeatedly explaining his vision to those less acute. Indeed, the lattices are the distinctive feature of Gehry’s design, which he says is intended to mimic the natural swoop of the surrounding landscape. To be made of either wood or a new-fangled concrete–tests on the concrete are still underway–the trellis will cover the glass box of the tasting room like the lattice top of a berry pie that the chef was too hasty to fully pat down.
Ground was broken, more wine was drunk, Margrit Mondavi exerted her considerable charm and the Halls thanked the 300 or so people gathered for coming. Clasping her hands together, Kathryn Hall movingly related what a thrill it is to have the world’s most famous architect create a building for her family. As an ending note, Gehry praised Napa Valley’s natural beauty. “I just don’t want,” he grinned, “to screw it up.”
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