Frank Gehry
Photo © Melissa Majchrzak / courtesy Gehry Partners
Frank Gehry

Gehry Partners, like many firms, has been pounded by the recession. The Los Angeles-based architecture practice recently lost one of its largest commissions, an arena in Brooklyn, and had another project—the Grand Avenue complex in L.A.— sidelined due to financing problems.

The setbacks have led the company to lay off half its staff: Today, it has 112 employees, down from 250 a year and a half ago. “Every economic cycle brings with it a unique set of challenges and opportunities,” explains Frank Gehry, FAIA. “We’ve worked hard over the years to build a firm that is nimble enough to adapt quickly to changing circumstances, and that is able to produce and embrace consistent innovation. These qualities are serving us well right now.”

Despite recent hardships, the firm still plans to relocate to a bigger office later this year. It signed a 10-year lease to occupy a 70,000-square-foot industrial complex in El Segundo. The space is 37 percent larger than its current offices on Beatrice Street in downtown L.A. “It was time for a change,” explains Gehry. “The big difference is that the neighborhood has more amenities for employees.”

Gehry made headlines in early June when he was ousted as the designer of the Barclays Center—a sports arena in downtown Brooklyn that would be home to the New Jersey Nets—and was replaced by Ellerbe Becket. The stadium is part of the Atlantic Yards project, a 22-acre mixed-use development that Gehry designed. (He remains the master-plan architect.) In a prepared statement, the developer, Forest City Ratner Companies, cited the bad economy as the reason for its decision, saying the arena “is undergoing a redesign that will make it more limited in scope.”

Meanwhile, construction of the $3 billion Grand Avenue complex in downtown L.A. has been delayed until 2012 because of difficulty obtaining construction loans. Gehry designed two towers and a retail pavilion for the 3.8-million-square-foot development. (A 16-acre park by Rios Clementi Hale Studios is still moving forward.)

There is some good news: Construction is progressing on Gehry’s Beekman Tower in Lower Manhattan, and despite rumors that its height would be cut in half, the building will rise 76 stories as originally designed. The 867-foot-tall tower is slated to be finished in 2011. It will be Gehry’s first skyscraper in New York City.

Gehry adds that his team is working on several sizable commissions, such as the Guggenheim Museum in Abu Dhabi and the Eisenhower Memorial in Washington, D.C. These projects, he says, “will help keep us busy and inspired hopefully through the duration of this global downturn.”