6 August 2013


walt disney concert hall
Disney from the Street

One of the things that I appreciate the most in coming to Disney Hall here in Los Angeles is the experience of getting from my home or wherever I am to my seat in the concert hall. The last little bit of the approach from where I am to where I'll be sitting is just wonderful. The only part better then this processional experience is the concert itself--the hall is a big musical instrument that you sit in.

Everything about moving up through the building helps to build the excitement. We'll start with the long and deep red space that houses the linear assent up from the parking garage. The zig and zag through the main lobby spaces, a sequence of unexpected volumes, all lined with the beautiful fir paneling, foretelling the concert hall inside. Working up to more intimate spaces that lead to the part of the hall you are headed towards. Free flowing and refined, adventurous and in good taste, with a sense of movement the whole time. Finally, the concert goer moves through a discreet portal and into the great concert space, the musical instrument in which you will experience the concert. Wonderful experience in site and sound. The very culmination of why the procession is so important in architecture. It places you in the right frame of mind to experience great art.

Notice that I didn't start my glowing speech from down the street, or even at the front door of this lauded building. This experience ends up being a far more satisfying thing from within then the physical reality of the building itself and how it fits into a street in Los Angeles. It isn't that one can't step back from it and declare it shimmering and beautiful. It just prefers to stand apart, and refuses to take place in its surroundings.

Most arrive to the Disney by private car, as opposed to by foot, sad to say for a cultural edifice in a major city. Sad, because it adds the layer torment and trepidation in front the wonderful experience within. One maneuvers their vehicle through heavy traffic, from remote parts, finally arriving below the decked surface of Grand Avenue to the underworld of the natural grade, and into the garage, either by obscure side entrance, or worse, through a service way under the decked avenue above. Then the garage is entered, and there are enough irregularities between the parking decks and the baton waving staff to thoroughly confuse, especially for the uninitiated. Whew. Ready for the red escalators?

It's a completely disconnected experience, the ultimate product of one of the best creative minds fused to a discredited passenger car planning model, provided to us for our pleasure from another generation. The results are a sublime internal procession and concert experience, attached to the motorized traffic horrors of modern Los Angeles. It's an experience doesn't acknowledge the concert-going social experience of an individual, or couple, or group of people partaking in the area around the building. If you're meeting friends, or going out to dinner prior to the concert, or even if you're just moving through the city to get to the concert, the process lacks the grace one should experience in a great city. This building has no interest in trying to help.

The way it stands right now, the great cultural edifice Disney Hall provides very little contribute to the urban fabric around it. It refuses to be a part of its surroundings in a collective way, even as a contrasting foil to the surrounding commercial, residential, and cultural buildings that surround it. And it doesn't expect to be easy, or pleasant to get to, or to express any poetry in the process as you make your way to it.

Here's what Gehry has to say about it. From the article in Los Angles Magazine, "Perfectly Frank":

Gehry says that if he’d had his way, he would have put Disney Hall where the Geffen Playhouse is in Westwood and lobbied to have the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels positioned by MacArthur Park, near where so many of its parishioners live. The idea is to make a city that is user friendly and accessible rather than insisting that people assemble at one sanctified locale. “Santa Monica is the downtown of the Westside,” he says, “and they are doing very interesting things there.” He also contends that MOCA should have been built across the street from LACMA, a symbiotic cultural draw, a natural twofer. “There have been,” he says, “missed opportunities.”

The Disney is a silver talisman for the City, a jewel. But it was conceived in concept to be interchangeable and placed wherever in the City was the most deserving. A shape inspired by the movement of the City, of shining vehicles freely moving on freeways and boulevards, not concerned with interacting with anything around it. And it happens to have one of the world's great concert halls situated inside of it.

In the linked article, Frank Gehry mentions the numerous attempts, many futile, at getting life going in downtown Los Angeles. He seems to believe that after a lot of wasted effort something may happen on the street where his hall is built, but he infers that it is all kind of forced. The reality is that he didn't help as much as he should, making the building so stand-offish about the space around. Not to worry. All of that effort that will around his building, on purpose, and accidental, year upon year to come, will eventually envelop and embrace what he has made. Grand Avenue will have life, and then it will be a pleasure to process to his building and enjoy a concert.

I believe that architecture needs to integrate and be very active in its surroundings in the most complete way possible. I find the notion that a certain building, especially of such aspiration would be 'moveable' and to distain its surroundings, to be breathtaking in its assumption. It isn't a matter of style. This building has no option but to address the neighborhood that it has been placed in; for the neighborhood will most certainly address it. Think how great it could be if this building took more of an 'activist' role in the neighborhood around it. An architectural triumph this would have been exciting and essential.

© 2010-2016 Douglas Joyce Contact Me