EVEN THE avid roller skaters pulsing their way to music down the nearby skate path stop and take off their earphones to look at the unusual lifeguard tower. Unlike the other towers on the beach here in Venice, Calif., this one is part of a private beach house designed by Los Angeles architect Frank Gehry. With exposed steel struts, unpainted plywood, wood panels and outrigging, the room is a type of pop sculpture that sums up the casualness of the chic-but-scruffy beach town.
While Gehry has built an international reputation based on similar buildings in the area, the buildings also have been an example for younger Los Angeles designers: They have either followed in his footsteps or simply been inspired both by the spirit of the work and by its strong art orientation. With Gehry as the avuncular senior, and with such designers as Brian A. Murphy, Frederick Fisher, Eric Moss, Craig Hodgetts, Robert Mangurian, Michael Rotundi and Thom Mayne as impertinent and talented juniors, the group is emerging as one of the most original poles of design in the United States.
It was perfectly clear to Gehry why the Venice beach cottage he remodeled for Bill and Lyn Norton needed a lifeguard station poking up from the roof. Norton, a screen writer and director, had been a lifeguard. "Bill had fantasized about writing in a lifeguard tower," Gehry said, "and I'm into realizing other people's fantasies for them."