March 25, 2013

Photo Essay: Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall

Out of all of the modernist buildings that I've visited in LA, none of them are really all that modern.

At least, "modernism" usually indicates mid-20th Century architecture, which explains why, for a relatively new city, Los Angeles still feels kind of old.

At least, in terms of its buildings. Although its neighborhoods aren't dotted with as many Victorian and Gothic structures as, say, New York, most of its building booms occurred in the late 1920s, in the post-war 1940s, and in the 1960s - 50 to 90 years ago.

Downtown has its modern, glassy high rises. But when people think of LA, people don't usually think of DTLA. Not anymore, anyway. Not since Hollywood happened.

Since it was completed in 2003, however, the Walt Disney Concert Hall - designed by architect Frank Gehry, who established his practice in LA in 1962, a year which some would consider to be towards the end of the modernism period - has become a landmark of both Los Angeles and its Downtown, its boat-and-sail design eliciting strong reactions from visitors and neighbors alike.

Regardless of what you think of the design itself, or its contribution to LA's architectural legacy, it is a marvel to walk around.

Its intricate, undulating design catches both light and shadows...

...with slivers of glass windows wedged into unexpected places.

There is an aerial pathway that takes you around the building's exterior...

...while down below, you can still spot a few panels of stainless steel that remain unbrushed, and fully, dangerously reflective.

These are the areas that only face other parts of the building, and not the neighboring condos...

...which become unbearably hot, and blindingly bright, when the exterior of the Founder's Room (shaped like an inverted tulip) was covered in highly polished, mirror-like panels that reflected the sun like a weapon.

The community feared the light would blind passing drivers, causing traffic accidents at the busy intersections below.

So most of the exposed, super shiny parts were given a matte finish to reduce their reflectivity.

Among the other public spaces is the Blue Ribbon Garden...

...which features plenty of flowering trees...

...and planted flowers.

Inside, the shape of the building becomes more intriguing...

...with natural light mixing with other elements evoking nature, like tree trunk posts covered in douglas fir wood...

...which also lines the perforated walls of the BP Hall, a tiny space for lectures and small performances.

The most breathtaking revelation for me (besides the auditorium itself, which we weren't allow to visit and photograph, but in which I've had the pleasure of attending an organ concert) was the interior of the Founder's Room.

Far away from shiny, mirrored panels, the shape of the inverted tulip really comes to life inside, with the plaster-covered metal petals sloping down from the cup, surrounding stamen, depicted by dangling light bulbs.

Gehry's designs have often evoked acclaim as well as ridicule and mockery, many being called an "eyesore." Of course, the same can be said for many other architectural styles, especially those that fell out of favor sometime after their contemporary period (perhaps most famously Brutalism, but even Arts & Crafts, whose style was once so rebuked, its furniture was burned for kindling). But if Gehry's designs inspire such extremes now, what lies in the future for them? Demolition when city planners come to their senses? Or preservation, and celebration?

Only time will tell...

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