Los Angeles Abuzz With Disney Hall Expectations

I'll be going to my first concert there soon. I'll be sure to blog about it. Here are some photos I took of the Disney Hall. Enjoy!

The Disney Hall is probably the most high profile addition to downtown LA in an ongoing effort to revitalize the area. The other big addition was Staples Center and the Cathedral. I suppose it does say something about our humanity that the downtown renewal project would include a non-traditional looking Cathedral, a "shrine" to sports (Staples) and a "temple" to the musical arts (Disney). Perhaps, it could be said that these are places to celebrate, the body, soul and spirit?

I am hopeful that LA Downtown will be revived. I was recently in Minneapolis and the downtown there has its not so good areas but there are definite areas that were alive at night with restaurant options, cafes, bookstores, etc. However, in Los Angeles, when the office workers leave, the downtown is nearly dead.

And so now opens Disney Hall, over a decade in the making and over $200 million, the Walt Disney Concert Hall will officially open at the end of the week. The local print and electronic media are doing profiles left and right to mark this special occasion.

Here are two LA Times articles, one about the building by Gehry and the other a book review about acoustics.

Here is an excerpt from the article about the acoustics:

ALL reports indicate that Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall, designed with the acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota, sounds fantastic. It is an acoustical success, perhaps the finest symphony hall built in modern times. From the point of view of concert hall acoustics, Gehry and Toyota triumphed earlier this year with the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College. Despite these accolades, it is not at all obvious what expectations and standards of judgment lead us to praise or condemn the sound of a hall.

What are good acoustics? Are there objective, stable criteria for optimal listening, particularly to music? Emily Thompson's fine book reveals that acoustics, like most other cultural values, have always been subjective and influenced by historical circumstances.
The greatest acoustics in the world are said to be found in Vienna's 1870 Musikverein, designed by the Danish-born architect Theophil von Hansen. It is telling that the Musikverein is affectionately known as the Golden Hall, a term that refers to its gilded interior. Built for the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, the leading society for the patronage and performance of music in Vienna, the design was driven by visual symbolism. The hall Hansen built was an oversized, palatial ballroom, evocative in a neoclassic manner of the era of Mozart and Beethoven and their aristocratic and imperial patrons — and of the classicism of Greco-Roman antiquity.
As performers and audiences delight in the new concert halls brilliantly produced by Gehry and Toyota, there is a lesson to be learned from these books: We need to reconnect listening to life and think about how and why we listen. We should reconsider our connection to the spaces and social circumstances in which we listen. Gehry's particular genius as an architect is that in his new venues for music, he invites us to look as we listen and to embrace the public space we share with others. There may well be no philosophical priority to the live performance. But in our post-postmodern world, there is an imperative that Gehry reinforces: to relinquish occasionally our privacy, our CD players and our portable machines and sit alongside our fellow human beings to be moved by the sounds made by musicians we can see as well as hear, in real time and real space.

Here is an excerpt from the article on the building:

Few buildings in the history of Los Angeles have come burdened with greater public expectations than the Walt Disney Concert Hall. None has lived up to such expectations so gracefully.

Designed by Frank Gehry, the hall is the most significant work ever created by a Los Angeles architect in his native city. The hall's flamboyant undulating exterior — whose stainless steel forms unfold along downtown's Grand Avenue with exquisite lightness — is a sublime expression of contemporary cultural values. Its intimate, womb-like interior should instantly be included among the great public rooms in America.

But what makes the building so moving as a work of architecture is its ability to express a deeper creative conflict: the recognition that ideal beauty rarely exists in an imperfect world. It is this tension — and the delicacy with which Gehry resolves it — that makes Disney Hall such a powerful work of social commentary. That he could accomplish this despite a tortured construction process that dragged out over 16 years is a minor miracle. Its success affirms both Gehry's place as America's greatest living architectural talent and Los Angeles' growing cultural maturity.

In many ways, Disney Hall occupies a privileged place in the evolution of Gehry's work. Commissioned in 1988, the project marked his emergence as a major voice in American architecture. At the time, the architect was beginning to turn away from the rough-edged chain-link and plywood aesthetic of his early residential commissions to a more flamboyant style.

Construction began several years later, but it ground to a halt in 1994, when problems were discovered with the working drawings. The five-year delay was a major source of embarrassment for the city, but it allowed Gehry to update his design. The building's cladding was changed from stone to steel, giving the structure a tougher, more industrial look. A series of vertical slots was carved out of some of the foyers to allow natural light to flow into the interiors.

The completed hall joins a series of cultural landmarks and office buildings along the top of Bunker Hill in downtown Los Angeles. The Music Center's bland Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, completed in 1964, stands across 1st Street to the northeast; the Arata Isozaki-designed Museum of Contemporary Art is just across Grand Avenue to the south. Beyond it, a mix of imposing corporate towers and barren plazas forms a perfect snapshot of tabula rasa planning formulas.

Disney Hall's shimmering forms erupt out of this context with a sort of mad exuberance. The hall's main auditorium — enclosed behind canted walls — is set at an angle on the site, giving it a dynamic relationship to the street. A series of voluptuous stainless steel walls wraps around this interior shell. Housing the lobbies and foyers, their layered surfaces spill out above the avenue like the petals of an exotic flower.

They also evoke a city that has been violently torn apart and gently pieced back together. Surfaces break open to offer views of the interior from the street. Along Grand, a swooping steel wall floats above the entry, echoing the more static curved facade of the Chandler Pavilion.
In effect, the entire building functions as a seductive tool, luring the public into an increasingly intimate architectural experience.

The design is also a pointed rejection of the cool, machine-inspired aesthetics of late Modernism. In its place, Gehry proposes an architecture rooted in the messiness of everyday life. His aim is to break down accepted social norms, to liberate the creative imagination.

That sense of an architecture rooted in a more complex psychological experience becomes clear as one moves through the building. Visitors arriving via underground parking ride a series of escalators up to the Grand Avenue lobby. Light filters down through a large skylight at the top of the stairway, drawing the eye upward. When visitors reach the lobby level, a sweeping view opens up to the avenue, momentarily reconnecting them with life outside.

From here, a series of foyer balconies carves up through the interior, the forms wrapping around the volume of the main auditorium. At the third-level foyer, the curvaceous line of a rose-colored marble bar frames the edge of a narrow balcony. Visitors can peer down into the main lobby or out to the intersection of 1st and Grand. As one slips along the bar, this view disappears, and the space opens up to the sky. The effect is remarkably tranquil, as if one were temporarily suspended between two worlds. The eye is in constant motion, engaged in a remarkable voyeuristic dance.

Only as one finally enters the auditorium, however, does the meaning of that social pact finally become apparent. Gehry has said that the design was influenced by Hans Scharoun's Berlin Philharmonie, completed in 1963 — a landmark of postwar architecture. And like Scharoun's work, Disney Hall's interior is organized in a so-called vineyard pattern, with seats arranged around all four sides of the stage. In Berlin, the layout is more open, its energy less focused; Gehry's hall is more compact, its composition almost classically conceived.

Viewed from the uppermost balcony, the orchestra seats cascade down toward the stage in a series of terraces. Two convex walls press in toward the stage on either side, a series of staggered concave balconies rising up behind them. Above, the Douglas fir ceiling's voluptuous form droops down over the room like a billowing canopy. A bundle of large wood and brass organ pipes bursts from between several more rows of seats behind the stage, tying the entire composition together.
By wrapping the seats so tightly around the stage, Gehry engages the audience in a remarkable communal experience. Concertgoers become intently aware of both the orchestra and others in the room. Music, here, becomes a socializing force, a place of shared human solace.

Leaving such a space is not easy. And Gehry goes to great lengths to nurture this sense of intimacy. Just as the foyers allow visitors to withdraw from it, they now function to slow the process of reentry into the world outside. Various views open up again to the surrounding cityscape.

On the fourth-floor foyer, the building's layered exterior peels apart to offer a perfectly framed view of City Hall. On the opposite side of the building, doors lead out to the elevated garden. The mirrored stainless-steel Founders Room anchors a corner of the site. A view of the San Gabriel Mountains opens up to the north, framed by the glass facade of the Department of Water and Power building and the back of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. To the south, the downtown skyline rises in the near distance.

These urban elements become part of the architectural composition. It is as if Gehry were pointing out the moments of optimism in downtown's hard-edged urban landscape. His aim is to change our perception of the city, to suggest its secret, untapped potential.
Los Angeles is an ideal testing ground for such an experiment. Largely a 20th century creation, the city has always been remarkably free from Old World traditions. Its landscape represents a vision of life where individual expression rules.

It is also a model of suburban alienation — one that has often been criticized for lacking the traditional urban glue of older cities.

The wonder of Disney Hall is its ability to resolve that conflict.

It is neither as isolated as Richard Meier's Getty Center nor as introverted as Jose Rafael Moneo's Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels — two other recent Los Angeles landmarks.

Disney Hall's power, instead, stems from its ability to gather the energy of that swarming landscape and imbue it with new meaning.

In this way, it should be ranked among America's most significant architectural achievements.