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ENCORE! CELEBRATING 25 YEARS OF THE MUSIC CENTER : TOMORROW : THE CROWN JEWEL : Frank Gehry on Disney Hall: 'We're very close now to a final design . . . a very simple,nontechnological space . . . the common denominator of all the great halls I've seen'

September 10, 1989|Barbara Isenberg | Times staff writer

Designed by Santa Monica-based architect Frank Gehry, the $100 million Walt Disney Concert Hall is expected to open on Sept. 1, 1994, with a 2,500-seat symphony hall and a 600 - to 1,000-seat chamber music hall across 1st Street from the existing Music Center complex. On Grand Avenue, a large, glass foyer--which Gehry calls a "living room for the city"--will open onto the street, host lectures and recitals and welcome visitors into extensive gardens beyond. Also expected are a hotel, with 300 to 400 rooms, and facilities for the Los Angeles Philharmonic on its lower floors, as well as possible retail spaces. Although final designs aren't expected before next March, Gehry talked with Times staff writer Barbara Isenberg about some of his plans:

When I first moved to Los Angeles in 1947, Bunker Hill was a bunch of Victorian houses and quite beautiful. Now what we're trying to do is rebuild Bunker Hill, and it's a whole different kind of thing: We've got the beginning of a cultural hill (with) the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Mark Taper Forum, Ahmanson, Museum of Contemporary Art, Disney Hall and maybe a dance gallery.

If you think that way, you want to orient everything you can to street level so that it feels accessible. I think the building could have body language, and the body language should be that it is inviting to everybody. To that end, we designed it with big sliding-glass doors and huge openings so that in our scheme, the foyer would be open in good weather.

It's going to feel comfortable, welcoming and a drop-in place. You might be able to get a sandwich and you might be able to sit on a park bench and you might run into Isaac Stern. And you might, once you're in there, walk up a few steps to the garden and wander back and hear members of the Philharmonic practicing their instruments. And you will find a musician's cafe with orchestra members sitting there having coffee or whatever.

You would hear a choral group practicing; it would absolutely sound like a music school in that garden. It's possible because it's Los Angeles; it wouldn't be possible in colder climates to have that kind of garden. So we should take advantage of that--you could have flowers and trees and shade and grass, and it should feel park-like.

I LOVE THE Concertgebouw in Amsterdam because it sounded the best to me. I like the Berlin Philharmonie because it felt the best to me. A great hall has to feel good and sound great; the priority is to sound great first and feel good second, but hopefully that would meld into one experience. The mystery is the acoustics.

We're striving for a natural acoustic. We want to be able to hear without sound reinforcement. On the other hand, the design will include very sophisticated electronic equipment for electro-acoustic experiences so that sometimes you could add electronic music and whatever.

We're very close now to a final design of the concert hall. We're trying to go for a very simple, nontechnological space. It's the common denominator of all the great halls I've seen. The orchestra risers will move, but the ceiling, walls and volume of space will be fixed. The orchestra and audience would be on a wooden construction like the deck of an old wooden ship and it would be sitting within the plaster walls of the building. It will be largely on one stepped level like an amphitheater, and the issue of balconies is to be decided.

The concert hall itself has to derive its form from what is the best shape musically. I was really taken with the simplicity of Boston Symphony Hall. And we thought, after talking to the orchestra and the acousticians and (conductors such as) Zubin Mehta that as long as you could move stuff in and out easily and as long as the orchestra had movable risers so you could change the configuration, that all the rest of the gadgetry was not what we want to do in this hall.

From a musical standpoint it may not be ideal, but having people behind the orchestra is important from a feeling aspect. A lot of people feel that the intimacy, the feeling of being surrounded, makes for a better feeling in the hall. So what we're trying to do is get just enough (seats) behind the orchestra to make that connection. Some people like it, some people don't. The real solid musical purist likes to sit in front because the orchestra's designed to aim forward. It's a question of trade-offs and we've been studying all these issues and playing one trade-off against another.

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