‘Building Art’ is a term associated with the signature architectural style of Frank O Gehry. Gehry has attained worldwide acclaim for his audacious and sculptural works that have spurred extensive discourse amidst the public and architectural critics alike. In the era of modernism, skylines of sleek buildings with clean edges and boxes, minimalist approaches, he experimented with fervent forms, futuristic materials, computer-aided structural design, and striking facades to create unforgettable spatial experiences. Gehry has earned the impression of a totalitarian among some critiques due to his bold free-form deconstructivist buildings that do not abide by the architectural norms of the century. Yet in actuality, he puts immense emphasis on human-scale, spatial experience, light, ventilation, and context integrity (and the toilet blocks too). Apart from being an aesthetic piece of art, his buildings are engineering marvels. He believes that architecture lies in between the practice of problem-solving and crafting creative forms.
The Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles, a class-apart performance venue, is amongst the most notable works of Gehry. The octogenarian architect was chosen to build the project as a result of a design competition.
It was commissioned by Lillian Disney in 1987, in the memory of Walt Disney and his love for arts. The project was shut down in 1994 in view of rising political and administrative concerns. Home to the Philharmonic group of LA, the concert hall was revived by a fund-raising group three years later and was completed in 2003.
“Architecture should speak of its time and place, but yearn for timelessness” –
The Walt Disney Concert Hall has stood well against the test of time and place. It looks like a rogue cousin of the rectilinear modernist buildings in glass and steel that form the LA skyline. The monumental presence of the hall instigates a sense of individuality and exhilaration to the onlookers, at every twist and turn, as they identify with it. The dynamic nature of the reflective metallic surfaces is further enhanced by the play of daylight. At night, the reflections of city lights dance gracefully to the harmonic tunes of the undulating surface and bring the entire building to life. Owing to the asymmetrical band of glazing at its base the structure appears to be dissociated from the ground, like a floating ship. It may be interesting to note that the otherwise opaque facades fetch an ample amount of light in its interiors through the glass fissures in between the metallic surfaces.
The Walt Disney Concert Hall has been referred to as the largest public room in Los Angeles. A major portion of the site features open public gardens which serve as a civic amenity and a melting pot for the people of LA, tourists, concert-goers, and architecture lovers. Gehry, as a tribute to Lillian Disney, designed a rose fountain with an intricate inlay of Delft China. The installation serves as the soul of the public garden. The complex also hosts other facilities such as several bars, a library, a café, an outdoor amphitheater, and a book-store.
The entry stairway to the concert hall falls at the junction of Grand Avenue street and 1st Street. Yet the magnificence of the staircase is curbed by the distinctive architecture of the façade. The intent to do so is to savor the element of surprise and grandeur until one enters the main concert room. The steel-clad exterior combined with the warm and expansive interior of the building justifies the architect’s vision of building inside out. It is only upon entering the complex that one experiences a warm, well-lit yet dramatic interior and lobby spaced between columns covered in Douglas fir, tilted at slant angles. The experience is intimate yet overwhelming.
An acoustical and structural wonder, the concert hall is amongst the most prized locations of performing arts in the world. The entire hall is designed as a single volume that fits 2265 audience members along with the performing artists. The large spanning stainless steel roof allows for a column-less space, thus eliminating any visual partitions. Yasuhisa Toyota, the acoustical consultant, designed with material and spatial considerations, to achieve immaculate and profound sound quality in the main room. Rightly said, the Walt Disney Concert Hall is a place to be seen, heard, and experienced. The billowing ceiling and curved partitions covered in Douglas fir, act as a part of the acoustical system while hinting at the sculptural exterior of the hall. One of the major attractions of the main room is the massive concert organ built by Caspar Glatter-Gotz. It is a composition of 6134 curved pipes that touch their head up to the ceiling and stand in front of the hall. The bright floral fabric of the audience seat spices up the earthy tone of the hall.
As much as one may be bedazzled by the outside-of-box nature of the concert hall, it comes with its own set of repercussions. The glare from the reflective metal surfaces increases the temperature of the neighborhood apartments and irks the passing motorists. The curvilinear surfaces, slanting walls, and shiny metal roofs require heavy expenses to be made and maintained. Gehry has pushed the boundaries of creative thinking to newer limits, opening architects and designers to a wide range of possibilities. He has expressed through his work that any thought can be built. As Herbert Muschamp from the New York Times calls his work – ‘A French curve in the world of T-squares’.