This fall, I returned to school to continue in the Interior Design program at UCLA Extension, which is now a joint venture with Cal Poly Pomona leading to a Masters in Interior Architecture. The class I took this fall is my seventh so far, which means I’m about two quarters in (tick tock tick tock). I’m hoping to accelerate the coursework in 2011 so that I can get through the remaining 8 quarters in 2-3 years – it takes time since I have to keep working as I go (darn work). As mentioned in a previous post, my goal (once I finally get through the program!) is to delve into a variety of experience design projects – anywhere from restaurant design to exhibition design to theatrical design. The sky’s the limit, so we’ll see where things lead as time goes on.
For this class, Fundamentals of Interior Design taught by LA design aficionado and history professor Eleanor Schrader Schapa, which ended earlier this month, I was instructed to tour two spaces and compare and contrast the two designs. Below is my paper, which I thought I’d post since it pretty much fits the bill with this blog. ;) I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please feel free to post. Here you go!
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Segerstrom Concert Hall
COMPARISON OF SPACES:
Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles
Segerstrom Concert Hall, Costa Mesa
In the past few years since delving into the study of design, new depths of meaning have been unlocked for me when I enter spaces. No longer do I merely notice how pretty a space is, or how grand – I am now better able to sense the message the space is trying to convey, as well as the way the designer is trying to guide me through the space. It was my pleasure to tour two very similar spaces: The Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa, and in doing so I was able to see their architects’ visions through their designs.
As a lover of theater and live experience, I was particularly interested in viewing the Walt Disney Concert Hall (WDCH) for this project. I am sad to say that I had never been inside the Hall before – though I had taken a stroll through the grounds previously – so the recent tour was quite a treat for me. WDCH was designed by LA’s most famous architect, Frank Gehry, who is known for his bold, deconstructivist style. In partnership with benefactor Lillian Disney and the City of Los Angeles, Gehry was challenged to create a venue for the Los Angeles Philharmonic that would be an unrivaled landmark as well as a gift to the people of Los Angeles.
Though WDCH was completed in 2003, it had actually been designed in the early 90’s but was held up due to financing and other obstacles, so the concept actually reflects Gehry’s style from over a decade prior and mirrors his work at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao – completed in 1997 – which has the same metallic and glass forms. As a deconstructivist, his work is centered primarily on form, with function finding its way behind it. We can see that in the 90’s, Gehry was playing with these loose shapes in the way a sculptor plays with clay and found metal objects. Regardless of the location of the project – Los Angeles or Bilbao or elsewhere – his concern was evolving those shapes rather than trying to work in the context of the site or its people. That’s why when we look at WDCH and the Guggenheim Bilbao, we see very similar works on two entirely different continents.
Gehry is not totally self-serving in his design, though, as he brings in touches of WDCH’s benefactor throughout the venue and mixes her interests with his own thematically. Though we may not pin down the exact inspiration for the design, we can see elements of Lillian Disney’s love of roses and nature interwoven with Gehry’s fascination with the sea, especially once inside the venue. Looking up at the large stylized wooden columns, and surrounded by warm materials and nature-inspired textiles, you can imagine yourself inside an immense tree house or as an ant winding its way through a rose bush – especially when taking into account the site of the venue high above the street. Alternately, both the exterior form of the venue and the design the inner Hall give way to visions of sails on a ship. Both of these expressions intertwine to produce a multi-dimensional space with a variety of interpretations.
Alternately, at the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall (SCH) we see architect Cesar Pelli’s desire to serve the site and the context of the venue. Much like WDCH, Segerstrom Concert Hall is part of a collection of performance venues each serving a particular purpose under the banner of the Orange County Performing Arts Center (OCPAC). The Center has been supported entirely by private funds, most especially from chief benefactor Henry Segerstrom and his family, who originally donated their lima bean farmland for the Center’s use in the late 70’s. Each step of the way, the Segerstroms and other local donors have been instrumental in developing the land and adding venues to the Center’s cache. In the late 90’s, the Segerstroms made a large commitment to add a concert hall and other venues, and engaged Pelli to act as architect.
Though Pelli was trained and influenced by modernists like his former employer Eero Saarinen, he specifically chooses not to follow a particular style. Rather, he creates works that suit their environments and their particular audiences. Unlike Gehry, you can view Pelli’s projects and see a variety of styles in assorted contexts. And actually, at OCPAC you can look up at Segerstrom Concert Hall and just beyond it see a Pelli-designed office building in an entirely different, more classical style using distinctly dissimilar metallic materials. The one through line that seems to tie the projects together is Pelli’s interest in cladding and glass or metal facades, which is expressed in a variety of ways.
Completed in 2006, Segerstrom Concert Hall rests firmly on the ground and holds no particular site prominence over any of the other venues at OCPAC. Actually, it’s somewhat tucked back behind the neighboring, lesser South Coast Repertory (also designed by Pelli) and only comes into view as you continue to walk toward its general direction after first seeing the similarly named Segerstrom Hall opera house and veering to the right. Once in front of the Segerstrom Concert Hall, it is clear that it is intended to relate directly to the earlier stone-laden Segerstrom Hall (designed by Charles Lawrence), especially as you step inside SCH and turn to see the opera house’s grand arch with Richard Lippold’s hanging sculpture Fire Bird through SCH’s clear glass façade.
Thematically, SCH evokes waves – both water and sound – and relates to the Southern California lifestyle in which it is set. The exterior undulates peacefully, as do the interior balconies in the main Hall. Looking down at the floor in the rotunda, a contemporary Archimedes Spiral pattern – used in ancient times to pump water – is laid into the floor. Overhead, the ceiling and lighting design, Constellation by Francesca Bettridge, recalls the sky at night. Like WDCH, nature is a theme, but here it is expressed in dreamy, soft shapes and colors – as if you are listening to a soothing piece by Debussy – a stark contrast from Gehry’s exuberant space that seems as if it’s an instrument that’s trumpeting and crashing all at once.
Art is another area of departure, as pieces by other artists – like Bettridge’s light piece inside or Richard Serra’s monolithic Connector just outside the venue – are provided to SCH usually with strong input from the Segerstroms, while at WDCH Gehry has personally designed the venue’s main art piece, A Rose for Lily, in honor of Lillian Disney. This speaks to Pelli’s desire to serve the client and Gehry’s desire to serve the design.
When considering balance, Gehry’s design is totally asymmetrical inside and out, with the exception of the Hall itself, which allows for moments of discovery and surprise. You can walk all the way around the space inside and out, and though set high on a hill, it gives a feeling of accessibility and invitation to explore. Pelli’s design is asymmetrical on the exterior, but as you reach the rotunda and look further into the space it becomes much more symmetrical and straightforward. SCH is smaller than WDCH and doesn’t allow for much exploration or moments of the unexpected. If you exit the venue and walk to the side of the exterior, you can see that the façade flattens entirely as the building is only meant to be viewed and accessed from the front. The interior halls at both venues are symmetrical and even somewhat radial in that the performers are centered to some extent with the audience encircling them.
Both spaces use large scale elements for dramatic effect, but Gehry takes it to the extreme using these throughout the venue – from the exterior shapes of the venue to the interior columns, bold doorways and sweeping ceilings – whereas Pelli plays with large scale elements primarily in the undulating waves inside and out. Both treat the organ as a focal point in their Halls, with Gehry allowing the organ to create a dissonance reflective of the building’s exterior, and Pelli choosing to smooth out the organ in reaction to the wave shapes around the room. Other than the organ as centerpiece, emphasis is added over and over in each area of WDCH, while at SCH it is only provided sparingly as in the wave shape that creates the entrance overhang outside or the central staircase in the foyer.
Rhythm is expressed differently in both venues. Gehry uses his materials like the bold textile pattern, the wood slats in the ceilings, or the rectangular shapes of the metal plates on the façade to create textures and patterns that activate the space. Pelli, on the other hand, subdues the textures by using stone, paint and carpet in creamy colors and instead adds rhythm with his wave shapes. It’s only in the inner Hall that Pelli injects more rhythm through the wooden pattern in the walls and the adjustable wall sections that open and close to control sound. It’s through these sections that we get a glimpse at a brilliant blue glow that further denotes the sea. This blue combined with the red velour of the chairs is a marked difference from the neutral entrance spaces. In addition to the blue openings, repetition is provided in both venues through the use of horizontal bars, which seem to nod to musical bars and sheet music. Pelli uses these as part of the glass façade’s support structure, and Gehry uses these more subtly as part of his interior railings, which swoop through the necessary spaces.
It was a treat to tour both venues and to compare such similar spaces – both designed for the same purpose and both created within 15 years of each other from concept to opening night. I have always admired Pelli – the office building that shadows SCH has long been a favorite of mine. I often look for it when driving down the 405. Gehry, on the other hand, always struck me as rather self-indulgent. But in comparing these spaces I can see the power in Gehry’s work, and why it’s so thrilling. Both venues are beautiful – both are harmonious – but WDCH’s variety and mystery create a much more inspiring and satisfying experience.
Here’s a handy-dandy slide show of quick pics I took on the two tours (all photos were taken by me unless noted otherwise).
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