Downtown, Gehry Style ~ Los Angeles, California

Architect Frank Gehry is a visionary; his use of lines, curves, and metallic materials in design are emblematic of his harmonious style.  From the impact of the titanium rich Guggenheim Bilbao Spain, to the subtle twist in design of residential skyscraper New York by Gehry at 8 Spruce Street, his designs challenge our perspective on architecture’s relationship to culture, tourism, art, space, and living.

Walt Disney Concert Hall, home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, was designed by Gehry.

In 1987, the late Lillian Disney made an initial gift of $50 million to build a world-class performance venue as a gift to the people of Los Angeles and a tribute to Walt Disney’s devotion to the arts. Since then, other gifts and accumulated interest bring the Disney family’s total contribution to over $100 million. (source: laphil.com)

Nudging past better known architects including Gottfried Bohm, James Stirling, and Hans Hollein, Gehry won the competition to design this prestigious building. He presented his design in 1991, construction began in 1999, and the Concert Hall finally opened in 2003. The project had its fair share of challenges; lack of funding, design disagreements, construction delays, and cost overruns pushed back the timeline.

Construction of the concert hall itself stalled from 1994 to 1996 due to lack of fundraising. Additional funds were required since the construction cost of the final project far exceeded the original budget. Plans were revised, and in a cost-saving move the originally designed stone exterior was replaced with a less costly metal skin. Upon completion in 2003, the project cost an estimated $274 million. (source: wikipedia)

Though we’ll never know how the original design would have fared, I am confident in saying that the stainless steel structure of today will stand the test of time. Here’s a tour of the Hall’s exterior. Enjoy!

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“‘Wow! Did I do that? Holy shit! Did I do that?’ Sometimes you look at it that way,” Gehry says, taking in the flowing ribbons of steel at street level and then gazing up at the luffing “mainsails” at the center of the building—forms which seem to defy engineering, and which were conceived by Gehry as squiggly lines on a piece of paper …*

Located in LA’s downtown on South Grand Avenue, Walt Disney Concert Hall dominates as the fourth Hall of the Los Angeles Music Centre.

Frank Gehry was born in Toronto, Canada though Los Angeles is the city he has lived and worked in since 1947. The Walt Disney Concert Hall was his first big LA-based commission; when he and his mother relocated to California, they lived two miles from this site.

The Walt Disney Concert Hall was designed before the Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain (1997), but because it opened much later (2003), it was the Basque museum commission that put Gehry on the radar.

Prior to either commission, Gehry had made his name in the 1970′s in Southern California with what he called “cheapskate” architecture; a mixture of high concept with cheap materials–chain link fencing, corrugated metal, pressed plywood–that labeled his work “populist,” which generally means brainy but cheap.**

I recently read that when Gehry presented a then ninety year old Lillian Disney, widow of Walt Disney, with his modern, spiraling designs – which he had developed with the help of software used to design fighter planes – she was left baffled.

To convey what he had in mind, he brought her a white rose floating in a bowl of water, an image that captured both her love of flowers and the sailing ships that are his favorite way of explaining the place he eventually built. The Disney Hall, he says, “is a boat where the wind is behind you.”***

Suffice to say, he gained Lillian Disney’s confidence; unfortunately, she didn’t live to see the beautiful result.

Away from the street, the Blue Ribbon Garden rests behind the Hall. A gift from the individual members of the Blue Ribbon – an organisation of women devoted to the support of the Music Centre and its resident companies – it is juxtaposed against a building that took more than a decade of struggle to build.

Gehry has been quoted as saying:

A lot of gray hairs on this one. Very emotional. Up and down—a lot of funny people involved. You know, it’s hard to imagine, but when it all fell apart, everybody blamed the architect. It was hard. Because it was thought to have been too difficult, too expensive. Well, it was difficult. And we knew how to build it—they didn’t. They are a big, amorphous group of lawyers and money people and architects, construction companies, county officials, city officials.*

Mishandling and misunderstanding of his design by the project team accompanied by massive overrun costs had Gehry threatening to take his name off the building if the Hall wasn’t constructed to meet his specs.

Finally constructed in 2003, Matrix Revolutions held its world premiere in the Hall of that year; it was the first movie premiere ever held there.

The troubles didn’t end after the construction, however. Due to the highly polished mirror-like panels of the building’s exterior, reflection off of its more concave sections meant neighboring condominiums suffered from excessive heat (and higher air conditioning bills), residents were blinded by the sunlight’s glare, and adjacent sidewalks were singed with hot spots that reached temps of 140 °F (60 °C). In 2005, the ‘guilty’ panels had to be lightly sanded; their matte finish intended to eliminate unwanted glare.

Even before it opened, the Walt Disney Concert Hall was referred to as the iconographic symbol of Los Angeles. As Time magazine described it, the cascading exterior of the building brings to mind Disney’s magic wand sketching silver arcs in the air.

A product of LA’s creative energy, the Walt Disney Concert Hall speaks to the city’s foothold in the entertainment industry. The evidence is in the details; situated across the road from a multilevel parking lot, the building’s location is perhaps symbolic of its contribution to the revival of Los Angeles’ downtown area.

My shining tribute to the Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall.

*vanityfair.com

**vanityfair.com and time.com

***time.com