AD Classics: Walt Disney Concert Hall / Frank Gehry

AD Classics: Walt Disney Concert Hall / Frank Gehry, © Gehry Partners, LLP
© Gehry Partners, LLP

Completed October 23, 2003, The Walt Disney Concert Hall celebrates its tenth anniversary today. Home to the LA Philharmonic, it has received wide acclaim for its excellent acoustics and distinctive architecture. In the decade since its opening, the hall's sweeping, metallic surfaces have become associated with Frank Gehry’s signature style.

© 2012 Carlos Eduardo Seo - www.carlosseo.com. Used with permission. © Matt Blanchard © Gehry Partners, LLP © 2012 Carlos Eduardo Seo - www.carlosseo.com. Used with permission. +26

© Philipp Rümmele
© Philipp Rümmele

In 1987, Lilian Disney donated $50 million to establish a concert hall in honor of her late husband, Walt. Frank Gehry was selected from among several candidates during a design competition the following year. His proposal was largely oriented toward the public, with much of the site allocated to open gardens. Several years into the project, a combination of political and managerial impediments threatened its realization. It was shut down in 1994, but revived by a press and fund-raising campaign two years later.

© 2012 Carlos Eduardo Seo - www.carlosseo.com. Used with permission.
© 2012 Carlos Eduardo Seo - www.carlosseo.com. Used with permission.

The concert hall was designed as a single volume, with orchestra and audience occupying the same space. Seats are located on each side of the stage, providing some audience members with distant views of the performers’ sheet music. The former director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic felt boxes and balconies implied social hierarchies within the audience, and spatial segregation was minimized in the design. Curvilinear planes of Douglas fir provide the only partitions, delineating portions of the 2,265 member audience without creating visual obstructions. The steel roof structure spans the entire space, eliminating the need for interior columns. The organ stands at the front of the hall, a bouquet of 6,134 curved pipes extending nearly to the ceiling. It is the unique result of a collaboration between Gehry and Manuel J. Rosales, a Los Angeles-based organ designer. 

© 2013 Los Angeles Philharmonic Association
© 2013 Los Angeles Philharmonic Association

Gehry worked with Yasuhisa Toyota, the acoustical consultant, to hone the hall’s sound through spatial and material means. To test the acoustics, they used a 1:10 scale model of the auditorium, complete with a model occupant in each seat. This required all elements to be scaled accordingly, including increasing the frequency of sound in the space to reduce the wavelength by a factor of ten. The concert hall's partitions and curved, billowing ceiling act as part of the acoustical system while subtly referencing the sculptural language of the exterior.

Garden level plan
Garden level plan

The exterior is a composition of undulating and angled forms, symbolizing musical movement and the motion of Los Angles. The design developed through paper models and sketches, characteristic of Gehry's process. The custom curvature demanded a highly specific steel structure, including box columns tilted forward at 17º on the building’s north side. Visitors can glimpse the steel frame through a skylight in the pre-concert room and view the supporting structure from a stairway leading to the garden.  

© 2013 Los Angeles Philharmonic Association
© 2013 Los Angeles Philharmonic Association

The reflective, stainless steel surface engages light as an architectural medium. The facade's individual panels and curves are articulated in daylight and colored by city lights after dark. The building was initially set to be clad in stone, but a more malleable material was chosen following the completion of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, the concert hall's titanium-clad cousin. Thin metal panels allowed for more adventurous curvature and could be structurally disassociated from the ground. The metallic forms appear to hover above an asymmetrical band of glazing at the building’s base. Glass fissures in the facade bring light into the lobby and pre-concert room, reading as a grand entryway through the otherwise opaque facade.

© Filippo Vancini
© Filippo Vancini

The hall’s planning committee conceived of the project as a civic amenity, hoping it would serve as a catalyst in the activation of LA's downtown. Some critics debate the effectiveness of this siting strategy, acknowledging an increase in surrounding property values but little shift in the city's cultural epicenter. Perhaps that will change as development continues on the site. The Diller Scofidio + Renfro designed Broad Museum is under construction across the street, and Gehry himself recently announced he will rejoin the effort to develop the adjacent stretch of Grand Avenue. There may be a cost to creating a cultural center beside the concert hall, however. A new subway is scheduled to run 125 feet beneath the lowest level of the concert hall, and may disrupt the acoustics of the internationally recognized performance space.  

© Dave Toussaint
© Dave Toussaint
  • Architects

  • Location

    111 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA ‎
  • Design Partner

    Frank Gehry
  • Project Partner

    ​James Glymph
  • Project Manager

    Terry Bell
  • Project Architects

    David Pakshong, William Childers, David Hardie, Kristin Woehl
  • Senior Detailer

    Vartan Chalikian
  • Project Designer

    Craig Webb
  • Structural Engineer

    John A. Martin & Associates, Inc.
  • Mechanical Engineers

    Cosentini Associates, Levine/Seegel Associates
  • Electrical Engineer

    Frederick Russell Brown & Associates
  • Civil Engineer

    Psomas & Associates
  • Acoustical Consultants

    Yasuhisa Toyota and Nagata Acoustics, Inc., Charles M. Salter Associates, Inc.
  • Exterior Wall Consultant

    Gordon H. Smith Corporation
  • Garden Designer

    Melinda Taylor Garden Design
  • Landscape Architect

    Lawrence Reed Moline Ltd.
  • Organ Builders

    Rosales Organ Builders, Inc., Glatter-Gotz
  • Lighting Consultant

    L’Observatoire
  • Graphics Consultant

    Bruce Mau Design, Inc., Adams Morioka
  • Accessibility Consultant

    Rolf Jensen & Associates
  • Theater Consultant

    Theatre Projects Consultants, Fisher Dachs Associates
  • Client

    Los Angeles Philharmonic
  • Area

    200000.0 ft2
  • Project Year

    2003
  • Photographs

Location to be used only as a reference. It could indicate city/country but not exact address. Cite: Rennie Jones. "AD Classics: Walt Disney Concert Hall / Frank Gehry" 23 Oct 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed . <http://www.archdaily.com/441358/ad-classics-walt-disney-concert-hall-frank-gehry/>