Dennis Lee is an American-licensed architect originally from Hong Kong who has years of experience in design in the US and China. Dennis received his degree and master’s in architecture at UC Berkeley and at Columbia, and worked with Frank Gehry and Swire Properties before founding ARCHITECTURE:INNOVATIV in Hong Kong.
The South China Morning Post has just published an opinion article of his titled “What Hong Kong can learn from Frank Gehry on delivering mega projects on time and within budget”.
In it, he mentions a study that “found that 99.5 per cent of large-scale projects globally fail to meet timelines, budgets and objectives,” he then points out that “Gehry’s projects do – because he retains control,” and then analyzes the situation in Hong Kong.
This double problem, delays and going overbudget, is an affliction that affects almost all public (and private) construction projects in the city.
To prevent them, or at least minimize them, he turns to Gehry’s answers when asked how he keeps his projects on time and under budget: “the people who know the design best should have more control,” which he calls the “the organisation of the artist.”
Far be it from us to deny the willpower, and ability, of this great architect to stay on top of deadlines and budgets. But the fact that this happened, so successfully, with the Bilbao Guggenheim does not mean that it’s enough, or that it’s always the case. One needs look no further than the Walt Disney Concert Hall, by the same architect, which suffered from extraordinary problems with schedules and budgets.
As Gehry has explained on more than one occasion, the reason for that perfect alignment between the plan and the execution is a team effort between the architect and the clients, in this case, the Basque institutions. That’s what he explained in an interview in the Harvard Business Review carried out by Katherine Bell. The whole of the interview can be found below, but we’d like to highlight one section.
You’ve said that one of the reasons the Guggenheim Bilbao is a great building is that you had a great client. What makes a client great?
It’s a collaboration. I’d say it’s 50/50. The client has got to be willing to talk to you. Imagine you get a job with IBM, you’re working with an executive vice president, and he shows the model to the president, and the guy says, “What the f— is that? That won’t work with my work.” So I only accept jobs where I work with the decision maker.
This isn’t the first time the architect has referred to the special relationship he has with his Basque clients, highlighting, for example, how serious the Basques are in meeting their obligations. The Spanish daily El País published an interview by Begoña Gómez Urzaiz in 2017 under the title (which was a quote by Gehry) “Los vascos mantienen su palabra como no lo había visto nunca” (The Basques keep their word like I’d never seen before)
Nothing about the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum can be understood without understanding the concurrence of the three creating and planning bodies: the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, the Basque institutions, and architect Frank Gehry.
Regarding the former, it’s worth it to recall the keys that Richard Armstrong, the director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, laid out when explaining the Museum’s success: political leadership, investment capability, and faith in the project.
To understand the role of the Basque institutions and to understand that this was a project that was integrated into a grand transformation plan and not just the result of happenstance or improvisation, we recommend reading the extraordinary double issue dedicated to Bilbao by the quarterly journal MAS Context, published by a non-profit headquartered in Illinois that was created in 2009 to look into the debate about the urban context through the active participation of people from different environments and points of view.
It’s 230 pages in English, full of thoughts, plans, photos, and explanations which help us understand the reasons behind how and why these changes occurred in the city. You can find it here.
And to understand Frank O. Gehry, and especially what this project meant for him, alongside reviewing everything we’re linking to here, we’d like to bring back a video recorded by five of the most relevant artists of our time who are quite close to the museum, who wanted to congratulate and pay homage to both the Museum and to the people of Bilbao for the former’s 20th anniversary. Frank Gehry, Richard Serra, Jeff Koons, Jenny Hozer, and David Hockney, whose works and exhibitions have left their mark on the city, use this funny video to poke a little good-natured fun at the citizens’ pride in their city, because, after all, “people from Bilbao are born wherever they like.”
What is clear is how important and relevant this museum is. Going over the many articles we’ve brought you over the years helps us understand it. Yet another good example is how the Association for Project Management (APM) included it in their “50 projects for a better future.”
It’s true that on this long list of articles, we’ll find those who wish to deny the museum its importance; those who present its success as more a question of luck than planning; or those who think that what happened in the Bilbao metro area was just the consequence of a few Americans, those of the Guggenheim Foundation, deciding to “invest” in the city.
We’ve tried to explain how they are all wrong, especially those who don’t see the Museum as part of a plan. For those who wish to truly understand what happened in the Greater Bilbao area, it must be clear that it was not a lucky break or improvised.
The global relevance of this work of art that also happens to be a museum (or vice-versa), is once again proven with this article.
South China Morning Post – 18/5/2023 – Hong Kong
What Hong Kong can learn from Frank Gehry on delivering mega projects on time and within budget
Delays and going over budget are the twin evils that haunt almost every Hong Kong government construction project. From the Sha Tin-Central rail link to the West Kowloon Cultural District and the Kai Tak Sports Park, we are accustomed to postponed openings, additional funding requests or cost overruns. Rarely has a project finished on time and within budget.
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Harward Business Review – 11/2011 – USA
Frank Gehry is, at 82, America’s most celebrated living architect. His designs, including the Guggenheim Bilbao and Disney Hall in Los Angeles, are all technically challenging and unmistakably his. Gehry’s creative process famously borrows from artists; less well known is his fierce commitment to budgeting and the architect’s role as project manager.
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Last Updated on May 22, 2023 by About Basque Country