At the age of 85 Frank O. Gehry has landed the Prince of Asturias Award for the Arts. With this the judges –presided by José Lladó and including figures related to architecture, such as Benedetta Tagliabue, Patricia Urquiola, and Elena Ochoa Foster — distinguish the career of this crafter of the random and organic, although one cannot help thinking that what is really being awarded is a particular work of his, the Guggenheim Museum, or, even more accurately, the economic and social consequences that this building has had for the northern Spanish city of Bilbao; effects which have been widely attempted in other places, almost always to little success. This is corroborated in the jury statement, which quite predictably praises the “virtuous play of complex forms” and “use of uncommon materials such as titanium” characterizing Gehry’s oeuvre, to then stress the Bilbao building’s “immense economic, social, and urban repercussion on its surroundings.”
The news has sparked some no less predictable reactions. Serious doubts have been thrown on the correctness or wisdom of such a decision at a time, precisely, when the iconic architecture that the Guggenheim of Bilbao so perfectly exemplifies has fallen into disrepute. Nevertheless, with the disrepute currently tending to apply to the field of architecture in general, the sheer fact that such a prestigious honor went to Norman Foster in 2009 and then to Rafael Moneo in 2012, and is now again going to an architect, has to be good news for the discipline.