When I heard on NPR this morning that today was Frank Gehry’s 88th birthday, I decided to salute my favorite building of his, even though I’ve never seen it in person: the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. The Hall, which opened in October of 2003, is the home base of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. While one might think that Gehry was lifting aspects of his design for the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, which had opened six years earlier, his conception of the Disney Hall actually predates his commission for the museum in Bilbao; financing difficulties delayed construction for a number of years. The Disney project was the earliest of Gehry’s projects to incorporate what has since become a trademark: those sail-like metallic curves.
The building was widely praised when it opened. In his review in The Guardian, Jonathan Glancey referred to it as “a richly complex building, a thing of compound curves, stainless steel fronds, leaves and petals, wrapped over and around an intriguingly customised steel frame, the whole caboodle occupying an entire city block….This building is a mature, confident and powerful work of art.”
In The New York Times, Herbert Muschamp, described the stainless steel exterior as “a moon palace, a buoyant composition of silvery reflected light.” (Some portions of the surface actually had to be dulled–via sanding– after the fact, when the intensity of reflected light drove up the interior temperatures–and air conditioning bills!–of condominiums in the vicinity).
After praising the silvery exterior of the building, Muschamp noted that “Inside, the light shifts to gold.”
Of course it’s one thing for a concert hall to look nice. It has to sound nice, too. By all accounts, the acoustics are sensational. And since that’s not something that can be conveyed aurally in a blog post, words will have to suffice. Here’s Muschamp again:
“Custom dictates that the architectural design of a new concert hall be reviewed separately from its acoustical performance. Yet after listening to music in the golden hall, I am unable to oblige. A recent rehearsal of Mozart’s 32nd Symphony nearly brought on an attack of Stendhal’s syndrome, the notoriously romantic state of panic induced by aesthetic ecstasy. Audience, music, architecture were infused by a sensation of unity so profound that time stopped.”
May we all be fortunate enough to experience Stendhal’s syndrome at some point in our lives.