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February 29, 2004

A visit to Gehry's Disney Concert Hall

After several cloudy weekends out here in LA, we finally got a weekend with decent weather. I took the opportunity to visit the new Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles.

Architecture has been described as "frozen music." The Disney hall is more like a old-fashioned phonograph record; you are the needle, and ask you walk around it, you play back the recording that architect Frank Gehry laid down.

But like music, I suspect it would take a while - and multiple visits - to appreciate Gehry's building. Most buildings are pretty straightforward - walk around them once, and you have a pretty good idea of them. Look at the outside, and you can figure out what's inside. That's not really true of the Disney Hall.

I've found that I can't really internalize a place until I've been to it. I couldn't understand New York - Manhattan - until I went to it a few times. Then I finally understood how the parts fit together - where the World Trade Center and Central Park were with relationship to each other. I had that same experience with the Disney Concert Hall. I've seen pictures of the Disney Hall, but the picture don't really give you any feeling for how the building fits into the environment, and what it's like to walk around the building. From pictures, you might imagine that the Disney Hall is a big sculpture, with no real place for people. In fact, the Disney Hall invites you to walk around, to explore its nooks and crannies. (And unlike most rectangular buildings, it really does have nooks.)

I took some pictures of Disney Hall. What's unusual about taking pictures of this building is that it just isn't a rectilinear structure - there are an infinity of angles and points of view bound up in this one building.

I took the self-guided audio tour, which costs $10. It's worth the money, but the one disappointment is that you don't get to see the point of the whole place - the tour doesn't go into the concert hall itself.

Photographs - and tv for that matter - can distort the scale of a place. When I saw Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum, I was surprised at how small it was. The Disney Hall is not small; it is in fact larger and more interesting than the pictures suggest. But not overwhelming. It doesn't scream "I'm a great building" like some places do. But like a great piece of music, it's clearly a place that you'll want to revisit.