Time has not stopped architect and artist Frank Gehry, who as a nonagenarian remains a formidable force for forward-looking architecture in his home base of Los Angeles and beyond. “93, OK?” he said to the audience as he slowly made his way to the stage of Zipper Hall at the Colburn School in downtown Los Angeles yesterday. The Colburn is one of the world's leading schools for music and dance. He was there to talk about his design for a new building a block away, the Colburn Center, with Sel Kardan, the school’s president and chief executive.
The project is a major expansion for the Colburn, adding 100,000 sq. ft of space, including a 1,000-seat theatre and dance studio spaces, one of which can be converted into a small theatre for presenting more intimate, experimental work. The larger theatre, dubbed the Terri and Jerry Kohl Hall, has been designed in consultation with noted acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota, with whom Gehry has worked before—on nearby Walt Disney Concert Hall and, more recently, on Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin. It will feature tiers of seats and floating balconies arranged around the stage, with suspended acoustic panelling that whimsically resembles drifting clouds. In daytime natural light will filter through two large skylights. This being California, two gardens and a promenade are part of the exterior design.
“We wanted an architect who designed the greatest concert halls of our generation, understood the urban context of downtown Los Angeles, and is a true artist with a passion for music and the performing arts,” Kardan said. “Truly, there was only one choice—Frank Gehry.” He was selected for the project in 2018, groundbreaking is expected within a year and completion is scheduled for 2025.
The project’s cost is $350m, of which $270m has already been raised. This time around Gehry has created a design of interlocking cubes that is very different from the swirling stainless steel panels of Walt Disney Concert Hall only a block away. “The reason this is not that is that it’s a school,” Gehry said. “It doesn’t have to attract anything. [There will be] something going on all day, probably into the evening. It’s not like Disney Hall which is just for concerts.”
The school building needs to be functional and affordable at a time when a number of major cultural institutions in Los Angeles have had to slash their budgets and in some cases their staff numbers due to Covid-19 shutdowns. The current design is already pared down from a design revealed to the Los Angeles Times in 2020. Disney Hall was unexpectedly expensive: completed in 2003, it cost $274m, going about $174m over budget, due to construction delays and the complexity of the design.
Kardan said that when the Colburn Center is completed, these blocks will have the greatest concentration of Gehry buildings anywhere—soon to open across from Disney Hall on Grand Avenue is the Gehry-designed skyscraper The Grand LA, a mixed-use building in glass and beige cladding that will feature a Conrad hotel and restaurants by José Andrés, as well as a residential tower.
Gehry admitted he never planned to “take over” the area, it was simply a matter of one thing leading to the next. “My next dream is to fix the Chandler,” he said, referring to the 1960s-era Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the largest theatre in the Music Center, of which Disney Hall is also part.