Monday, 23 September 2013

Disney and Gehry: two showmen

In downtown LA, almost at the heart of this vast city, and sitting close to City Hall and other such institutions, is the most flamboyant of civic monuments.  Largely funded by Walt Disney's widow Lilian, who made an initial gift of $50 million in 1987, this building is the Walt Disney Concert Hall, home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic. 

It was designed by Frank Gehry, with essential acoustic design by Yasuhisa Toyata, and opened in 2003.

In the way of these things, it occupies a whole block of the city, with its entrance on the Grand Avenue

I approached it with reservations, thinking it must be all about external show, with a less than enjoyable interior.  This is the third Frank Gehry building I've seen on this trip; the Music Experience in Seattle and his Venice Beach House being the others.  If the client's wish was for a 'signature building' they've certainly got that. 

The stainless steel skin covers a framework of steel beams erected in the shape of billowing sails or flower petals, depending on your point of view. Inside, the building houses one of the best concert venues in the world, with an auditorium known as much for its acoustics as its stunning design.

Inside, my reservations disappeared.  The spaces really do soar, with most of the structural columns clad in beautiful Doulas fir. The carpets, and the seating within the hall, are boldly done in a way I haven't seen before in such arts buildings, the legroom seemed generous, yet the whole space quite intimate; surprising given that it seats 2,200. 

Of course the real judgement can only be made by experiencing music, in live performance conditions, with a full audience.  I doubt I shall ever do that, but I really did like what I saw.

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