Organization of the artist

Organization of the artist

The organization of the artist is a concept devised by architect Frank Gehry and first used in writing by Oxford University professor Bent Flyvbjerg in 2005 in Harvard Design Magazine. The term denotes the organizational set-up Gehry enforces when his designs are being built to avoid subordination of the design creator and is part of his approach to effective project management. The organization of the artist places the architect/artist in control of the design throughout construction and deliberately eliminates the influence of politicians and business people on design. The purpose of the clause, "organization of the artist" is to ensure that it is the design of the architect/artist that is actually built and not some compromise decided by political and business interests.


Gehry initially developed the concept of the organization of the artist as a reaction against what he calls the "marginalization of the architect/artist." Gehry explains:

There's a tendency to marginalize and treat the creative people like women are treated, 'sweetie, us big business guys know how to do this, just give us the design and we'll take it from there.' That is the worst thing that can happen. It requires the organization of the artist to prevail so that the end product is as close as possible to the object of desire [the design] that both the client and architect have come to agree on. [1]

Gehry argues that the organization of the artist, in addition to making possible artistic integrity, also helps keep his buildings on time and budget, which is rare for the type of innovative and complex designs that Gehry is known for. The organization of the artist thus serves the dual purpose of artistic freedom and economic prudence.


The term "organization of the artist" first appeared in print in Harvard Design Magazine in 2005 in an article by professor Bent Flyvbjerg on cost overrun in major projects[2]. Gehry's Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (1991-97) is argued in the article to be a rare example of innovative, complex, large-scale architecture that is built on time and budget. Frank Gehry explained this achievement to Flyvbjerg in terms of enforcement of the organization of the artist.

In other projects, Gehry has been less successful in enforcing the organization of the artist. For the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles (1989-2003) there was much interference from business and political interests, which caused large delays and cost overruns and an attempt to oust Gehry from the project. The integrity of Gehry's design was preserved only by the Disney family stepping in and demanding that Gehry stay on and finish the building[3]. Here Gehry learned the hard way the negative consequences for the architect when the organization of the artist is not fully in place.

The organization of the artist is a concept and a setup that is particularly relevant to organizations that place innovation and innovators at the core of their business model. Apple Inc. and Pixar are such organizations and they are both organized according to versions of the organization of the artist. Apple CEO Steve Jobs explicitly celebrated the ideas of Frank Gehry in Apple's "Think Different" campaign.


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