Frank Gehry's Disney Hall.

What we build.
Oct. 20 2003 3:35 PM

Epic Architecture

How a once-stalled Frank Gehry project became one of his triumphs.

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All of these dualities are fitting for a concert hall. An attraction of going to the symphony is trading in your regular self for a better-dressed, more cultured one. Symphony orchestras these days are looking for ways to attract younger, hipper audiences as their core supporters grow older, while at the same time preserving the sense of refuge that will always be classical music's main drawing card. Gehry's design cleverly explores both sides of that divide: It is a building where the members of a democracy can go to feel refined, to be lifted from the everyday.

Gehry, along with a few of his more admiring critics, likes to define himself as a combination of artist and architect. That job description suggests that he envies the kind of pure creation that painters and sculptors can indulge in, distant from the demands of zoning boards, engineers, and French horn players. But in fact the Disney Concert Hall seems to make the opposite case about his talents. It's full of evidence that Gehry is an architect in the most public-minded and collaborative senses of the word—that he's a master at figuring out ways to allow inspiration to serve practicality, and vice versa.

Christopher Hawthorne is the architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times.

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