Frank Gehry and 5 Unique Roof Designs

When Frank Gehry was growing up in Toronto, his grandmother encouraged him to build little cities out of wood scraps. The scraps, designs, and construction kept young Gehry entertained for hours. Soon he began building small structures out of other materials, including corrugated steel, unpainted plywood, and chain link fencing.

As Gehry grew older, he further developed his knack for one-of-a-kind architecture and has since become one of the most renowned architects in the world. Many consider his works as the most important of contemporary architecture and Gehry himself as the “most important architect of our age.”

Take a look at some of Gehry’s most eye-catching structures, structures with exterior walls and roofs that cause every passerby to stop and stare.

Vitra Design Museum – Weil Am Rhein, Germany

Located in Weil am Rhein, Germany, the Vitra Design Museum is one of the greatest museums, both inside and out. Its collection—centred on furniture and interior design—becomes more interesting due to its unique architecture.

As Frank Gehry’s first building in Europe, the museum’s architecture drew in crowds from all over the world. Using his trademark deconstructivist style, Gehry combined angles with curves, and he relied heavily on white plaster and titanium-zinc alloy as building materials. The results are exquisite.

Interestingly, it’s hard for most observers to pinpoint the exact “roof” on the Vitra Design Museum. This is because it features a series of roofs—each pointing and slanting in different directions—that surprises the eye and sets the tone for the museum’s unique interior.

Maggie’s Centre – Dundee, Scotland

Founded in 1995, Maggie’s Centres provide a caring environment for people affected by cancer. One of the centres, located in Ninewells Dundee, opened in 2003. Frank Gehry designed the building himself.

Of the design, Gehry said, “I think it’s an inviting building, I think people will want to come inside and spend time there, and I really hope that in some small way it might contribute to a sense of rejuvenated vigour for moving forward and living life.”

The building’s architecture and design is inviting and rejuvenating. Its roof features corrugated metal, arranged in angles and waves to create a juxtaposition of disorder and peace. It also has a giant silo-like chimney attached to the roof that directs the eye heavenward.

Ray and Maria Stata Center – Cambridge, Massachusetts

Also designed by Frank Gehry, the Ray and Maria Stata Center (or Building 32 on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus), is a central building on campus.

One professor, Jerome Y. Lettvin, once said, “You might regard it as the womb of the institute. It is kind of messy, but by God it is procreative.”

Gehry took Building 32’s purpose into mind when he designed it. Its deconstructionist architecture, teetering walls, scary angles, odd swerves, and random colliding angles look messy, but Gehry knew that ingenious minds needed an ingeniously designed building.

The rooftop, composed of brick, brushed aluminum, mirror-surface steel, corrugated metal, and brightly coloured paint, is so angled and varied that one might assume it would cave in during a storm. Its very design is inspiring to behold; so many look to it when they need ideas.

Biomuseo – Panama City, Panama

Located on the Amador Causeway in Panama City, The Biodiversity Museum: Panama Bridge of Life (commonly referred to as the Biomuseo) was Gehry’s first design for Latin America. It’s no wonder Gehry chose to build something in Panama—his wife is Panamanian.

The massive building had a 60-million-dollar budget and remained in construction for over a decade. The interior contains eight exhibitions that revolve around Panama’s biodiversity. The exterior—an assortment of radical shapes and angles—includes bright colours to attract the eye.

If you were to look at the Biomuseo straight on, you would see well over ten possible roofs. Each angle creates an interesting shape and makes those traveling along the Panama Canal "ooh" and "aah."

Chiat/Day Complex – Venice, California

Frank Gehry designed the Chiat/Day Advertising Complex, also nicknamed the Binoculars Building, in 1991. The main façade, located on Main Street in downtown Venice, includes a massive sculpture of binoculars. The other parts of the building are complete with roofs that resemble a ship’s prow and tree trunks.

Gehry doesn’t take full credit for the design. Instead, he shares credit with two artists—Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen—who designed the binoculars and collaborated on the entire design process.

Whether you live in Germany, Scotland, Massachusetts, Panama, California, or elsewhere, you needn’t travel far to visit one of Gehry’s designs. Gehry’s also designed buildings in Spain, Minnesota, Czech Republic, Ohio, Washington, New York, and Nevada. Take the time to research his buildings so you can appreciate the ever-evolving design of roofs and other exterior elements. Perhaps his work will inspire your own roof one day.