More Walt Disney Concert Hall…Discovering geometry and steel softened with a rose garden surprise!

My previous post was about our New Year’s Eve plans to attend a concert at the Walt Disney Concert Hall.  Each season thousands of people visit the hall to enjoy the many musical offerings, but it is also a popular tourist attraction for its architectural interest and garden.

For the longest time I heard comments about the rose garden. How was it possible to have a rose garden and I had never noticed? Recently we decided to conduct our own walking tour so I could settle that question.

Let me first tell you a little bit about the building.

I won’t mislead! When I first saw the shell of the Frank Gehry -designed Disney Concert Hall I didn’t easily warm up to it. I might have been a little resentful. We’d held Los Angeles Philharmonic season tickets at the right-next-door  Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for a few years. The Chandler Pavilion is one of the halls in the Los Angeles Music Center,  with 3,197 seats spread out over four tiers. When the Disney Concert Hall was added to the Music Center complex, the Philharmonic moved to the state-of-the art, acoustically superior new facility, and seating capacity was downsized by about 1,000 seats. Season ticket sales also escalated, and we were priced out.

Walt Disney Concert Hall

This stainless steel origami-like design didn’t seem to fit in to the neighborhood. It was completely alien to my aesthetic appreciation. Alien, yes! Was it a space craft?

Collage of Concert Hall Exterior

There were some reflection problems that needed correction, too. Most of the exterior’s stainless steel was given a matte finish; however, some of the panels’ reflective qualities were designed to hold a high polish with mirror qualities.

Mirror glare

The contrast was quite beautiful, but posed very large problems for neighboring condominium owners experiencing extreme glare and reflected heat.  Drivers also reported the hazard of a blinding reflective glare. The solution? The Gehry Partners executed a computer analysis of the building’s surface and in 2005 the offending panels were treated with a light sanding.

It took some time, but after my first visit as a patron to the Concert Hall I began to appreciate the new kid on the block. Now I’m mesmerized by it. I don’t think you can really capture the essence of an architect’s design intention when speeding by in a car. But to walk around, touch it, take the time to marvel at  the curvilinear greatness and suddenly my perspective shifted to seeing the building with new eyes. It was a bonding experience.

But where is that garden? We walked around and poked our heads in every street level pocket we could find. Nothing.

Where do THOSE stairs lead?

Disney Rooftop Collage

Curiosity and investigation paid off! The rooftop of the Walt Disney Concert Hall is well worth the visit! In the heart of the city, traffic and bustle below, is a quiet, almost hidden oasis. It’s not an easy area to photograph because the pathways and small seating areas continue to follow the curves of the building’s design.  But the view is well worth the effort to get there.

But where is the rose garden?

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Not a literal rose garden after all! Were we surprised! Prominently places as centerpiece to the sitting garden, we found a lovely gift to the Concert Hall’s original benefactor, Lilian Disney, designed for her by the Concert Hall’s architect and artist, Frank Gehry.

How many people walk by this building in a day? Thousands! See what you discover if you continue to look up?

And just down the street is another one of our favorite places to enjoy the evening. L.A. Live is a wonderful theater and sports complex, with beautiful hotels, fine dining, and for the holiday season, an outdoor ice rink, lots of lights and festive atmosphere.

L.A. Live Evening

If you’re curious to learn what L.A. Live has to do with Batman, you’ll just have to come back. I think it’s time for me to close out and get on with starting my day. I have a busy day planned. But you know that wherever I go I’ll be keeping an eye out for something new I haven’t previously seen or experienced. That’s my favorite way to enjoy a weekend exhale.

Despite the temptation to fall into the hectic and completely overextended season’s frenzy, I encourage you to slow down and “smell the roses.” Even a concrete work of art can offer a breath of fresh air. Don’t you agree?

A first visit to Grand Park, Los Angeles

I’m glad we took the time last weekend to explore a section of downtown Los Angeles. This weekend I’m involved with pre-Thanksgiving activity.  I guess I can’t get out and play EVERY weekend.

We live about 12 miles from the downtown Los Angeles Civic Center. One of our favorite destinations is the Music Center/Walt Disney Concert Hall, and for many years we’ve been hearing about the Grand Avenue Project, intended to revitalize that particular area. Until recently we were under the impression the economic downturn had all but gutted the original plans.

In addition to the Los Angeles Music Center, one of the three largest performing arts centers in the United States,the Civic Center is also  the administrative core of the city, with a complex of government offices, buildings and courthouses.  In fact, the Civic Center is home to more government employees in the United States other than Washington, DC.

A recently completed survey also reveals that downtown Los Angeles has experienced tremendous growth over the last decade, with 45,000 residents, a weekly 500,000 + employment population and over 10 million annual non-local visitors. That’s a lot of people competing for breathing room!

Yes, the poor economy has affected many of the city’s plans to renovate and improve the quality of the downtown environment.

But not everything has been stalled. One of the key components, a 16-acre park stretching between City Hall and the Music Center Complex, has greatly improved the landscape.

Now I’m willing to concede this isn’t Central Park, or Golden Gate Park, or Griffith Park or….

But I think it’s a wonderful effort!

The $56 million park, designed by local architects and landscape architects Rios Clementi Hale, was primarily funded by corporate interests as a trade-off for future Grand Avenue development projects.

Surface parking lots were demolished, concrete walkways reconfigured, and iconic areas like the Court of Flags redesigned to include more garden and planting areas. The relocation of the flags and monuments representing dozens of flags flown on American soil since before the Revolution,  also accommodated a grade change of approximately 15 vertical feet. The slight slope makes a very beautiful presentation.

The newly renovated green space, for both residents and office workers,  offers a beautiful view of City Hall and the Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain. It is; however, incomplete.

The original plans called for razing the Stanley Mosk Courthouse and the county Hall of Administration. Both buildings have suffered earthquake damage and new buildings would in the end be more efficient to operate, but new facilities would also be very costly to build. Eventually those plans will be executed, and the green space will expand even further.

It does still remain to be seen how well the park will be embraced by the public. Office workers undoubtedly enjoy the opportunity to take their lunch or breaks outdoors, and a newly renovated Starbucks remains on the premises, so coffee needs are still met!

The park is visually very appealing and the sound of splashing water, coming from the iconic Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain, sometimes recognized  as the “Pretty Woman” fountain because it appeared in a major scene with actors Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, is a lovely mask to city noise.

The fountain now has a flat-edged splash pool added for child’s play, and the addition of dancing lights will be enjoyed by evening  Music Center guests.

The bright pink furniture, a modern contrast to the more traditional older buildings, can be moved around the park, for garden enjoyment, and adds to the friendliness of the area.

Much of the design of the park was inspired by what one article referred to as the city’s “off-the-charts diversity.” The 24 gardens are inspired from the design of a flattened map of the globe. The welcome sign gives evidence of the cultural diversity of the area, and the many languages represented.

The second tier of the park includes a performance lawn with stage, and the promise that in the coming months programming at Grand Park will be coordinated by the Music Center.

It will be interesting to watch as the development expands and more of the original plans are executed, but for a first phase, I’m quite impressed. I’ll be visiting again, and it will be nice to photograph the gardens next spring. I was so awed by the use of space that I didn’t take many photographs of the gardens this time.

Next stop…Disney Concert Hall.

You’ll love it or hate it! No one seems to be neutral. But you’ll have to wait just a bit for me to prepare my architectural review. This is just a tease.

I hope you’ll take a moment to look at the photos in the slideshow. They will help you appreciate the surrounding area and how the park fits into the overall landscape of downtown Los Angeles.

Don’t you think someone from the Los Angeles Tourist Board should hire me? I’m very enthusiastic! Do come to visit sometime, won’t you?

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