It took 16 years from Lillian B. Disney’s initial gift in 1987 to the time Walt Disney Concert Hall was ready for the public. When it finally opened in October 2003, it was recognized as an architectural masterpiece and acoustical marvel, forever changing the musical landscape of Los Angeles.
Finding an architect for Walt Disney Concert Hall began in 1987 with a committee headed by attorney and real estate developer Fred Nicholas. An initial list of 80 architects from around the world was whittled down to 25, then six, and then to the final four.
Among the four was architect Frank Gehry, who may very well be the one architect alive whose imagination has so much in common with Walt Disney’s. His work offers a sense of wonder and delight with serious undertones, similar to Disney’s movies. Gehry has an intuitive ability to understand what people want, with an immediacy that connects to all types of people.
Architect Frank Gehry won the commission decisively, with a thoroughly considered design and the potential for a highly original architectural statement. With its openness and space for lush gardens, Gehry’s scheme evidenced a full understanding of what a building in Los Angeles should be.
Gehry’s competition-winning project proposal for Walt Disney Concert Hall marked just the beginning of the design process. Now, with the architect named, the client group could begin to address the complex set of issues involved in the Concert Hall’s planning and implementation. Among the key concerns were the acoustics of the Hall, use of the overall site, urban planning beyond the immediate site, and the contractual agreements among the entities involved.
The design of the hall and acoustics evolved together, as Gehry designed the Hall from the inside out. Dr. Minoru Nagata was selected as the acoustician because of the bright and clear, yet warm, sound of Tokyo’s acclaimed Suntory Hall. He and his assistant, Yasuhisa Toyota (who became chief Concert Hall acoustician upon Nagata’s retirement in 1994), worked with Gehry by fax machine and traveled to Los Angeles monthly.
The building of Walt Disney Concert Hall became ever more complicated, and the decision-making turned cumbersome and lengthy. A complex mesh of political, planning, management, and bidding problems led to a shutdown of the project in 1994. But in 1996, through press articles, key events, professional support, and a fund-raising campaign, Walt Disney Concert Hall began to show signs of life. When it finally opened in October 2003, this architectural masterpiece and acoustical marvel forever changed the musical landscape of Los Angeles.
In the end, what matters most, of course, extends beyond the people and the particulars of its creation to the future life of the building itself. Walt Disney Concert Hall has engaged audiences with the greatest ideas in music and architecture. The space of the Concert Hall has challenged conductors and musicians to rise to a new level of performance. It has transformed the Los Angeles Philharmonic, inspiring it to be more daring, and the city of Los Angeles, becoming what President and CEO of the LA Phil, Deborah Borda, terms a “convener” of intellectual thought and discussion.