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PERFORMING ARTS

Thinking Outside the Bowl

With plans to replace the shell in limbo, we asked creative types for some radical ideas. Big-screen movie theater, anyone?

July 01, 2001|DIANE HAITHMAN | Diane Haithman is a Times staff writer

The county of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Philharmonic had a plan: to use the months between the end of this summer's concert season at the Hollywood Bowl and the beginning of the next--roughly, October to June 2002--to construct a new, larger, acoustically superior orchestra shell to replace the white concentric rings that have framed the outdoor amphitheater's concert stage since 1929.

Now, barring an 11th-hour resolution of the matter, that project will remain on hold for a year because of a lawsuit filed by Robert Nudelman, president of the preservationist Hollywood Heritage Inc., and the Friends of the Santa Monica Mountains Parks and Seashore in an attempt to save the 72-year-old shell.

Although a Los Angeles Superior Court denied the request to halt construction, the preservationists say they will appeal the decision, and the ongoing legal battle has pushed the county, the Phil and the new shell's architects, the Culver City firm of Hodgetts & Fung, past the deadlines for ordering materials and setting construction plans in motion.

Nudelman, et al, think the old shell can be modified to accommodate a full orchestra and improve the acoustics for the musicians (who now cannot hear themselves play). The Phil and the county, which have looked at and rejected lots of plans for the stage area, believe the best approach is to tear it down and start over while maintaining the basic shape and style.

In fact, both plans call for keeping the shell--and the Bowl--pretty much as it is now. But the pause in the process allows for reflection: What else could the Hollywood Bowl become?

The Times took the opportunity to invite other creative minds--not just architects, but representatives of the worlds of theater, music, and the entertainment industry--to brainstorm about what they would do with the world-famous outdoor amphitheater if money and tradition were no object. This is what they came up with.

Frank Gehry

The Santa Monica architect who designed Walt Disney Concert Hall--the new home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic under construction at 1st Street and Grand Avenue--has had as much input as anyone into the many attempts to improve the current shell's acoustics. He was responsible for designing 1970's "Sonotube" arrangement around the stage, as well as 1980's addition of 11 white spheres that now hang inside the shell above the stage like the planets of some galaxy far, far away. In collaboration with Ronald Hays and artist Peter Alexander, Gehry also expanded the stage with projection screens during the 1984 Olympics. Gehry has recently designed a band shell and pedestrian bridge for Chicago's Millennium Park. The project involves a trellis-like grid that extends over seating for 11,000 people. Speakers can be hung on the grid to distribute sound.

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It's impossible to fix [the old shell]. To continue to flog the old form as the important issue is counterproductive to what really has to happen acoustically. It's got a flawed premise--and then the ambient noise from all the traffic and aircraft and stuff is always going to be a problem.

The Bowl was originally designed in a place where there was no traffic, at a time when you could commune with nature, the birds and the bees. I think it's possible to find a site to build a new Hollywood Bowl, and do it within a national forest or park in a way that does not destroy the natural forest or park, and develop some kind of transit. And then sell the current one to a developer and they can leave the shell up and charge people money to look at it, if they like it so much. It's so idiotic to carry that legacy forward when it is counter to the idea of an outdoor concert hall.

The problem with the [existing] Bowl is hanging the speakers. I would put a grid out over the audience like I did in Chicago. For the Bowl, I'd do it with cables. I'd do a square design for the stage, to improve the acoustics for the musicians, with the cables for speakers for the audience.

Stefanos Polyzoides

Born in Athens, Polyzoides and his wife, Elizabeth Moule, head the Pasadena urban planning firm of Moule & Polyzoides. In 1992, they teamed up with four friends to found the Congress of New Urbanism, a think tank dedicated to making urban centers more livable. Local projects include rebuilding a five-block neighborhood in South-Central L.A. in 1998, the Metrolink Bus Plaza at Union Station, campus housing at UCLA and restoration of the Huntington Library's art galleries to seismic code.

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I know the place well, been there many times and enjoyed the Bowl. But this is an enormous site, an important site, and it is conceivable to imagine many other things happening. I think the notion of trying to figure out what alternatives there are to reusing a site like this over the next century is a good idea.

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