THE GLORY OF FRANK GEHRY’S DISNEY HALL

Frank Gehry’s Disney Concert Hall is, for me, not just the architctectural center of 21st century Los Angeles, but also it’s spiritual heart and soul. It is one of those rare architectural achievements, like the great cathedrals of Europe, that fills one with awe, and elevates the spirit to a place that inspires what I can only call, a state of prayer.


The curved wooden forms through out the hall strongly evoke a nautical space. One sees everywhere and  from every angle the flowing thwarts and gunnels of a great hull. It is as if we have entered an arc that will take on a great voyage to a new place, a place suffused with a profoundly quiet calm; with reverence.

Like Henry Moore, Gehry was influenced early on
by the abstract, biomorphic forms of surrealism. We can see some of this through some earlier painting and architecture that influenced him.

Below are the paintings of Dali, Gorky, and Miro. Below them is Le Corbusier’s Chapel at Ronchamp, which was a great influence on both Gehry, and all modernist architects to follow.

Gehry was also very influenced by Japanese architecture, both traditonal and modern.
He loved the Japanese tradition of interior woodwork. This is clearly echoed in his materials use and aesthetic at the Disney. Below is the Todaiji Temple at Nara.


Above is Kenzo Tange’s St Mary’s Cathedral in Tokyo. Below is Michelucci’s Church of the Autostrada, a major influence.


Gaudi’s curving, flowing forms, below, as well as Saarinen’s soaring, expressionistic abstractions were also influences.

In Disney Hall, Gehry has truly achieved a kind of transcendence that is as rare in architecture, as it is in any other art form. Sitting inside, the music seems to billow out and fill the sails of your ship, taking you on an unforgettable journey, both within and without, to the furthest reaches of the soul’s stirring.

I’d be curious to hear what architecture has particular meaning for people in their own lives.

13 Comments on "THE GLORY OF FRANK GEHRY’S DISNEY HALL"

  1. metscan says:

    I have nothing against the Disney Hall ( except the name ). Buildings as modern as this one, need a special place. I´m sure the matter is attended here. It stands on it´s own.
    I also like buildings which are very modern, but fitted perfectly side by side in an area of old houses. The challenge is even greater on the latter.

    • David Leeds says:

      Mette, the concert hall was funded by Walt Disney’s family and foundation. It started with an initial gift of $ 50 million and subsequent funding of almost $50million more. It was conceived as gift to the people of Los Angeles. The city provided the land and they provided most of the money. Downtown L.A. Is not a place, unlike most european central cities that draws people. It is mostly run down with some big new corporate buildings and old manufacturing facilities. People don’t go there to shop and congregate. This project was the keystone in an attempt to revitalize the area and develop attractive mixed use commercial and cultural space.

    • kathy says:

      Mette,
      I wanted to add that I too dislike the name “Disney Hall” – unfortunately it seems in Los Angeles (with a few exceptions) that this is the way “arts” buildings get funded. Philanthropists names plastered over so many play houses, museum buildings, etc. It is somewhat true probably everywhere in the world, but I think Los Angeles must be at the top of the list. I’m grateful that these people fund the things we would otherwise not have, but do wish the names weren’t so conspicuous. I was worked on an interior design project with Frank Gehry. He had added a “wing” onto a small Cape Cod style home, and the wing was extremely modern and in his style – no attempt to blend. It actually look fabulous, and much more interesting than some attempt to recreate an old home.

  2. when i see things like this i always remember the beauty and love and dignity of the human spirit….

  3. Ida says:

    Magnificent piece of art the way the wood is worked….I would love to visit especially for a performance of The Tempest where the music and sails would billow!

    It reminds me of the Sydney Opera house designed by Jorn Utzon.

    I put a late comment on your Genius of Henry Moore…..my grandfather would chuckle! Ida

  4. Kai says:

    Nice article on a truly exceptional building. I wonder why people feel a need to sneer at the Disney name; as you point out, Disney money financed the building and I for one think it’s a wonderful way for a very rich family to give back to the community. I wish you’d run a spell check over your article though… it’s “Le Corbusier”, and “Saarinen” for instance. Go ahead and call me a Spelling Nazi :-)

    • David Leeds says:

      Kai, thanks for you comment. I’m mortified and very appreciative you pointed out those errors. It’s inexcusable, and I will do a full spell check from now on. I checked earlier versions and they were both spelled correctly at one point.

    • kathy says:

      Kai,
      Yes, without these wealthy people funding these buildings, we wouldn’t have them. I think what sometimes bothers me is that it points out the lack of government interest in the arts, and how it’s always on the bottom of the budget.
      But, I’m going to instead concentrate on being grateful for the generosity of these families that give back so much to the community. Thanks for the gentle reminder.

  5. It amazes me the Frank Gehry creates such beautiful architecture, even though he must work for corporate powerhouses like Disney. Maybe Walt Disney really was an artist at heart and the concept of “main street” and Disneyland was actually quite creative. I’ve loved to criticize Disney all these years for being mass marketers of bland culture and environmental degradation (think of all the plastic that must get thrown away every day in amusement parks), but perhaps Walt Disney really was different and a visionary of types. I guess his spirit lives on in the possibility of creations like the LA Concert Hall.

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Sculptor, painter, poet. Currently living in Los Angeles and Martha's Vineyard