The Talk of the Town: A Gehry for Los Angeles

By Goldberger, Paul | The New Yorker, March 11, 2002 | Go to article overview

The Talk of the Town: A Gehry for Los Angeles


Goldberger, Paul, The New Yorker


Even if you are the most acclaimed architect in the world, it isn't always easy to turn your ideas into real buildings. In 1988, Frank Gehry was hired to design a new hall for the Los Angeles Philharmonic; it was to be funded by Lillian Disney, Walt Disney's widow, who put up fifty million dollars so that the hall could be named for her husband. More than a decade later, construction still had not started. A lot of people in Los Angeles weren't sure that the city was ready for Gehry's design, which on the outside looks like a series of billowing stainless-steel sails. The auditorium Gehry designed was to have windows, skylights, and a curved ceiling of Douglas fir. Gehry placed the orchestra pretty much in the middle, the way it is at the Berlin Philharmonic, a 1963 concert hall that is about as Gehryesque as a building can be without being designed by Gehry himself. (It was designed by Hans Scharoun.)

Gehry has lived and worked in Los Angeles since 1947, but, like many other architects, he has been a prophet without honor in his own land. For years, the Disney hall was held up by disputes over whether Gehry's office had the expertise to build it, or whether he needed to be forced into a shotgun marriage with a commercial architect who could oversee some of the more daunting technical details. It wasn't until Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao opened, in 1997, that the cultural establishment of Los Angeles realized that if Gehry could get that building done on his own, halfway across the world, he ought to be able to get this one built in his own back yard, and it would be a major embarrassment to the city if it didn't let its most famous architect go ahead with what could well become Los Angeles's most important contemporary building.

Construction of the Walt Disney Concert Hall finally started in 1999, andit will open in the fall of 2003. The other day, Gehry, Esa-Pekka Salonen, the orchestra's conductor, and Deborah Borda, the managing director, came to New York to show off the plans for the hall at a lunch at Cello, on the Upper East Side. It felt less like the presentation of a building project than like a meeting of a support group for people who had gone through a particular kind of agony together.

"When the project ran into trouble-- well, I just have to thank all of you," Gehry said. "Esa-Pekka said, 'If you don't build it, I will leave.' And then Diane Disney Miller said she would leave, too. …

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