The Bathtub Carp that Inspired the Architect


Inspiration can come from the strangest places.

Famed architect Frank Gehry once explained how fish became such a popular motif in his work. Like many good Jews, Gehry, née‎ Goldberg, traced his fascination with fish back to his grandmother.

As a boy, Gehry used to accompany his grandmother, Ms. Lillian Caplan to the Jewish market of Toronto, where she would buy live carp. At home, she’d slip the fish into the bathtub and let the young Gehry watch until it was time to turn it into gefilte fish.

Though Gehry himself has since discounted the importance of these memories on his work, they’re too delightful to forget.

The architect, who criticized his fellow postmodernists for their stylistic reliance on Greek antiquity, rather grandiosely suggested that while they were going back in time thousands of years for motivation, he was going back millions. “[If] you’re insecure about going forward,” he said, “go back three hundred million years.” His glorious 1980s Fish Lamps are a monument to that inspiration. Aquarian elements continue to surface in Gehry’s work, including his blockbuster Guggenheim Bilbao Museum, which was named the most important work of contemporary architecture in 2010 by Vanity Fair. In 2014, Jewniverse named it the fishiest.

Recommended from JTA