The Walt Disney Concert Hall, Frank Gehry’s Curvaceous, Stainless Steel in Los Angeles

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Brenda Nyawara

Brenda Nyawara is an editor at Archute. She is a graduate architect with a passion for edge-cutting ideas in design, fashion, art and modern world interests.
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Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall is a world-class performance venue to the privileged people of Los Angeles and a tribute to Walt Disney’s devotion to the arts, an idea coined by his wife, Lillian Disney. To any eye, it’s an intriguing combination of fervent shapes and forms, a mystery that sort of regenerates itself to the point that it’s never the same to any onlooker.

In a down-town of 90 degree angles, Frank Gehry took the road less travelled in this monumental expressionist piece of architecture. With it’s ridiculously churning form, this road less travelled must have not even existed before, to start with. It exudes a presence and a sense of uniqueness that gives everyone else an excitement as they identify with it. To some extent, it is also a disturbance, a conflict that defies the norm of straight lines and rectilinear predictability in the neighbourhood. Basically, whatever Frank Gehry was aiming at, bless him, someone somewhere agreed to a $274 million structure with no standard angles or dimensions and every possible construction challenge that could be encountered with that particular style of design.

Herbert Muschamp from the New York times called it a French curve in a city of T squares, “It’s a home for everyone who’s ever felt like a French curve in a T square world.” I call it an exonerating piece, releasing architects and designers from the clear cut lines of expectations to broader possibilities and imagination. It has released a spirit of expression that gives freedom to any thought that can be built.

Coupled with intelligent play with lighting fixtures, at night the metal is a one-of-a-kind canvas that is flexible to any form of ambience that can be created by the reflection of light. These surfaces that are already dancing in undulating further come alive in different hues that wow guests and leave lasting memories.

We’ve all know this building, but grasping it’s every twist and turn is mind-boggling, let alone writing about it. It takes such a metaphorical approach, drawing more questions to the architect, then to the concept and back to the sanity of the architect himself. But then again, if it were another ordinary building we wouldn’t talk about it, would we?

As designed by Yasuhisa Toyota, the acoustian, the sound in the main room is pristine and almost palpable, designed with spatial and material considerations. Serendipity or not, the concert hall’s partitions and curved, billowing ceiling act as part of the acoustical system while subtly referencing the sculptural language of the exterior.

One of it’s wonders is the massive concert organ built by Caspar Glatter-Gotz inside the main hall seating up to 2,265 people. The organ stands at the front of the hall, a bouquet of 6,134 curved pipes extending nearly to the ceiling. It is the unique result of a collaboration between Gehry and Manuel J. Rosales, a Los Angeles-based organ designer. The Los Angeles Philharmonic are one lucky lot. As home to also the Los Angeles Master Chorale, Disney Hall also broadens its focus to encompass pop, jazz, R&B, electronic and country musicians like Dianne Reeves, Ryan Adams, Kraftwerk, John Legend, Trey Anastasio and Willie Nelson. What more? The complex includes a book-store, a cafe and several bars. Parking is available in an adjoining underground lot.

On the other side of the argument, the type that normally takes place in the commentary section, Gehry’s style at times does seem unfinished or even crude. The glare from the shiny metal roof heats up nearby apartments and dazzles motorists, not in the exciting kind of way. The slanting leaning walls, glittery wrappings, and curvy surfaces are unjustifiably expensive, burdensome to maintain, and infuriating to use.

Gehry, not to be confused with Frank Lloyd Wright, far from it, is the least likely to say “Let’s keep this nice and simple”, according to The Guardian. As king of the outsiderdom, of anything that is outside the box, Frank Gehry is good enough to convince billionaire clients, and that’s his niche.

Project Information
Architects: Frank Gehry
Client: Los Angeles Philharmonic
Location: 111 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles, California
Project Partner: James Glymph
Project Manager: Terry Bell
Project Architects: David Pakshong, William Childers, David Hardie, Kristin Woehl
Senior Detailer: Vartan Chalikian
Project Designer: Craig Webb
Structural Engineer: John A. Martin & Associates, Inc.
Mechanical Engineer: Cosentini Associates, Levine/Seegel Associates
Electrical Engineer: Frederick Russell Brown & Associates
Landscape Architect: Lawrence Reed Moline Ltd.
Civil Engineer: Psomas & Associates
Acoustical Consultants: Yasuhisa Toyota and Nagata Acoustics, Inc., Charles M. Salter Associates, Inc.
Exterior Wall Consultant: Gordon H. Smith Corporation
Garden Designer: Melinda Taylor Garden Design
Landscape Architect: Lawrence Reed Moline Ltd.
Organ Builders: Rosales Organ Builders, Inc., Glatter-Gotz
Lighting Consultant: L’Observatoire
Graphics Consultant: Bruce Mau Design, Inc., Adams Morioka
Accessibility Consultant: Rolf Jensen & Associates
Theater Consultant: Theatre Projects Consultants, Fisher Dachs Associates
Area: 200000.0 ft2
Project Year: 2003
Photographs: Gehry Partners, LLP, Carlos Eduardo Seo, Matt Blanchard, Michael Smith, Philipp Rümmele, Kwong Yee Cheng, Jayson Oertel, Dave Toussaint, Andrew Barber, 2013 Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, G. Hanami, Stephen Bird, Filippo Vancini

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About the author

Brenda Nyawara

Brenda Nyawara is an editor at Archute. She is a graduate architect with a passion for edge-cutting ideas in design, fashion, art and modern world interests.
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