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The Walt Disney Concert Hall: Functionality Meets Aesthetics

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Submitted By najungkim
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Walt Disney Concert Hall, designed by architect Frank Gehry, was built from 1999 to 2003 at 111 South Grand Avenue in Downtown Los Angeles. The concert hall was constructed as a commendation to Walt Disney and its credit in the arts. Served as the home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra and the Los Angeles Master Chorale, the Disney concert hall seats twenty four thousand people and it consists of a children’s outdoor amphitheater, a garden, a restaurant, and a small café shop other than the main concert hall.
The exterior design of the concert hall can be seen as very unusual and exuberant in a sense. The building is comprised of “petals” that wrap each other creating space as they are curved and folded within their shape. These non-linear fragments create a certain ambience that expresses a flowing rhythm and movement. These organic, playful design features of the Walt Disney Concert Hall can be said to have an impact on the audience, the visitors of the concert hall. In fact, it is not only the music played in the hall that interacts with the audience; the aesthetics of the exteriority also affects the audience and enhances the experiences they receive; the design of the music hall welcomes the viewers, brings them together in unity, and liberates the audience’s creative imagination.
The building is indeed inviting and welcoming to the visitors. The natural, organic pieces of shape seem more initiating and approachable than rigid, linear rectangular boxes, as they undulate within the space, possibly allowing the viewers an easy and open access to the structure. Also, these platforms are elevated above ground, in different heights, which illustrates the building as light, ungrounded, and liberal. These effects are able to show more depth of the building, compared to a simple, one unit structure, letting the visitors assume and also enjoy as they think about swerving through these platforms to arrive at the main area of the building.
In addition, the location of the concert hall plays a huge role in reaching out to the public. Positioned at the intersection of First Street and Grand Avenue, the hall displays a fairly open relationship with the street to all those pedestrians walking by. Unlike most concert halls, the lobby is distributed along the street and the various entertainments such as a gift shop and a restaurant are enclosed in large glass panels that blurs the distinct dividing line between inside and outside. Also, sections of the façade seem to drift over the sidewalk, naturally inviting and creating a passageway for passersby into the building. Such surfaces and areas break open to provide and make a connection between views of the interior from those on the street.
Another influence the Disney Concert Hall presents to the observers is that it exhibits unity and intimacy within the audience. The individual flowing platforms are not identical in shape or form. However, they are positioned in a way as if they are in one group, conversing to one another. For example, some planes are facing each other, some planes are enveloped in other longer planes, and some are looking at the sky while others are not. This characteristic can be a representation of the audience itself. The members of the audience all come from different educational backgrounds, different tastes in classical music, or even different age or ethnic group. However, all individuals are there at the concert as one, as a whole. In fact, the design of the concert hall brings the viewers together. The seats wrap around the staging space so closely, and by this the audience is brought together to participate in a communal experience. The observers are attentively aware of both the orchestra and the other performers in the room. Music is what brings the two groups together in one, just as a socializing gathering.
The animate, curvaceous forms, which is the main theme of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, contrasts vastly with the symmetrical, linear traditional concepts of a building. However, such loose and bold approach to a design idea encourages the viewers and those who walk through such eccentric structures to perhaps neglect the conventional and accepted norms and be innovative. This is another way the concert hall is influencing its visitors. As the visitors come up to the Grand Avenue lobby on the escalator, natural light flows in through a large skylight, a window on the ceiling. This automatically draws the eyes upward, which can be interpreted as challenging them to not simply absorb what’s been created for them in their vicinity but to reach for something beyond that. In this example, the light seeping from above gives the visitors an opportunity to reconnect with life outside and appreciate the shared relationship between inside and outside.
The interior design also enhances creativity of the audience as they seat themselves in the hall. The curvature is echoed throughout the sail like shapes on the ceiling and the wooden seating blocks that delicately wrap around the orchestra platform. This perhaps questions a member of the audience about the purpose of such inessential details of art in the design; however, such effects give an impression of being within a ship, which requires the visitors to think outside the box and listen to the music playing with a mind of fantasy and creativity.
Indeed, the Disney concert hall represents the innovative design of modern concert halls, which incorporate the visual and auditory senses of the audience. However, a brief look into traditional concert halls, such as the Carnegie Hall, shows us that concert halls did not always have the intention of combining function and aesthetics. Opened in 1891 in midtown Manhattan, New York, Carnegie Hall was designed by William Tuthill and was the home of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra for many years. This concert hall is prominent for its astounding acoustics and has gained publicity and popularity since it was built. However, compared to the façade and the exterior shapes and forms of Walt Disney Concert Hall, this building is more representative of an office building.
Rendered in Roman bricks of terracotta and brownstone, the exterior of the building represents a harmonious, rigid structure with many linear components and restricted flexibility in those lines. When visitors look up from outside the concert hall, they will be overwhelmed by the sixty stories of the Carnegie Hall Tower, its seemingly endless number of windows, and the overly narrow gaps between each window. Not only are the viewers automatically encouraged to think of most concert halls as this traditional one, but also they are discouraged to use their imagination. This is because they are intimidated by such monumental structure, which limits the inspiration they could potentially get from the music performances.
This very limitation of inspiration is characteristic of many traditional concert halls; despite this fact, the concert halls still had excellent functionality in preserving the sounds of the performance. However, as history progressed, cultural changes influenced changes in the nature of art. Performances were no longer defined by the sounds that instruments produced. In addition to the music itself, presentation of the musicians and the environment that submerged the audience became equally important. The Walt Disney Concert Hall was one of the most inventive approaches to design a concert hall that would respond successfully to these changes. The aesthetically pleasing nature of the hall extends a warm welcome to the audience, uniting them as a singular entity that participates in the full imaginative experience of the performance. The Disney Concert Hall is the epitome of the perfect concert hall: one that is appealing to both the ears and the eyes.

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