Autobiography of Walt Disney: Journey from concept and composition to critic and commitment

“[Gehry’s] buildings are shocking. They don’t please the eye the way Taj Mahal does, but they give you a mysterious feeling of delight.” Philip Johnson

Autobiography of Walt Disney Concert Hall - Sheet1
Walt Disney Concert Hall ©

I was born out of the creative mind of a man who expresses his emotions through architecture to enrich human experiences. His philosophy embodies architecture as art. Yes! I am talking about the very well-known Frank O. Gehry, a Canadian-American architect known for his post-modern designs with the bold use of forms and materials. His buildings are entertaining, surprising, and functional, bringing in tourists from all around the globe. Apart from designing me [concert hall] to life, during 1990, he had designed some of the iconic buildings like Bilbao Guggenheim of Spain, the Biomuseo in Panama City, the Dancing House in Prague, and many more.

Let me tell you my interesting story!

Autobiography of Walt Disney Concert Hall Sheet2
The above sketch of Walt Disney Concert Hall by Frank Gehry reflects his passion for sailing ©Pinterest

Everyone is aware of Walt Disney and the autobiography of Walt Disney and his devotion to art and the city of California. Lillian Disney, as a tribute to her beloved one, wanted to design a performance venue as a gift to the people of Los Angeles. It was during 1987, Frank Gehry was selected from amongst several talented architects as his proposal was largely oriented towards the public and open gardens. Lillian Disney liked the idea and donated $50 million, enough to build a concert hall, right? So, you can see how devoted they are when it comes to art and architecture that even Walt Disney’s company – Disney made $4.038 billion from theme park admissions in its fiscal year 2020 and this is not only because of their entertainment and rides but because of the beauty of each infrastructure inside their theme parks.

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The above image shows exterior planning of Walt Disney Concert Hall ©Graphics Los Angeles Times

But the initial stage didn’t go as planned. Gehry completed designing me by the end of 1991 and the construction of my underground parking garage began in 1992 which got completed in 1996. Wondering why it took so long for my substructure? Well, the garage had cost us $110 million, quite double what Lillian donated. The construction was on hold from 1994 to 1996 due to lack of fundraising and later had to be paid by Los Angeles County and few other private donations. Was it a shame for LA? I guess not because what I was going to deliver back was far beyond their expectations.

Meanwhile, Gehry had a good amount of time to revise the plans keeping in mind that this time he had to bring down the overall cost of the building, yet keeping his architecture alive. So this was when my heavier stone exterior facade was replaced by a less costly stainless steel clad. Oh! Yes! It definitely shines, blacking out the passers-by for a moment during bright sunny noon. Or maybe you want to stop by and see what is going inside! But you do have to agree, I seem more dramatic with varying seasons and changing times. Attractive isn’t it!

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The above image shows various elements of Walt Disney Concert Hall©Graphics Los Angeles Times

Now, let me give you a glimpse of my interior! The acoustics of the concert hall was designed by Minoru Nagata and the final completion was supervised by his assistant and protege Yasuhisa Toyota. Born near Hiroshima and grew up listening to classical music, Toyota was inspired by Gehry’s design. His ‘vineyard style’ of acoustics was interesting and attractive with its flexible and versatile nature. “Disney Hall was a very complicated room shape, not simple,” Toyota says. “What we could do with a computer was very limited; it took a lot of time. I clearly remember we developed our own program; computing time for one calculation took overnight!”

The composition of undulating free angular forms of my exterior reflects the musical movement, motion, and life-style of Los Angeles. While the interior curved partitions and the billowing ceiling subtly reflect the exteriors. This example broke the monotony of boxes and balconies of a typical concert hall which implied social hierarchies within the audience.

The above image shows interior of Walt Disney Concert Hall ©Pinterest

Construction almost got completed around the spring of 2003, when the Philharmonic postponed its grand opening in the fall. This was a good time for the artists to rehearse so as to adjust themselves to the new place before they could perform in front of the public. During this summer rehearsals, important people of the city and media were invited for their feedback. Writing by Los Angeles Times music critic Mark Swed for Autobiography of Walt Disney says:

When the orchestra finally got its next [practice] in Disney, it was to rehearse Ravel’s lusciously orchestrated ballet, Daphnis and Chloé. … This time, the hall miraculously came to life. Earlier, the orchestra’s sound, wonderful as it was, had felt confined to the stage. Now a new sonic dimension had been added, and every square inch of air in Disney vibrated merrily. Toyota says that he had never experienced such an acoustical difference between a first and second rehearsal in any of the halls he designed in his native Japan. Salonen could hardly believe his ears. To his amazement, he discovered that there were wrong notes in the printed parts of the Ravel that sit on the players’ stands. The orchestra has owned these scores for decades, but in the Chandler, no conductor had ever heard the inner details well enough to notice the errors.

Delay in project completion causing many financial problems was a backdrop for LA. But today, I stand proudly amongst the best cultural attractions one can ever experience!


Komal Chokshi definitely has an entrepreneurial mind, observes architecture as body and writing as her soul. She thrives for adventures, eager to experience and always ready for collaborations that impacts our society, positively. is her personal, experiential and experimental blog, that you would want to read some day.

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