Oct 30, 201311:00 AMPoint of View
The Indicator: The Disney Concert Hall
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This article, by Guy Horton, originally appeared on ArchDaily as “The Indicator: Ten Years Later, Has the Disney Concert Hall Made a Difference?”
On October 23rd, the Walt Disney concert hall, the project that almost never was, celebrated its ten-year anniversary. Throughout these ten years it has had all manner of transformative power attributed to it. But has it really transformed LA? What would the city have been like if it had never been built? Would it be fundamentally different?
The answer? No. The city wouldn’t even be that different in the immediate vicinity of Grand Avenue.
LA does, in fact, have a downtown and in the past ten years it has seen somewhat of a building renaissance and an uptick in gleeful boosterism. But this can’t be attributed to Frank Gehry’s building, no matter how glaringly brilliant it is. After all, the real catalyst for change there was Arata Isozaki’s Museum of Contemporary Art. That’s what got people coming. Even so, for being in the middle of downtown, it’s a relatively sleepy area – like a suburban bedroom community, but with taller buildings.
This is not to say, however, that the concert hall hasn’t done anything for downtown. Like the Museum of Contemporary Art, it has played an important role in drawing the imagination (and cars) of the populace “down” to where they normally wouldn’t think of going. Before the museum it was the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion that was the draw.
The future site of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, c.1967.
If you are from Los Angeles you might even wonder why the concert hall is located where it is. Gehry himself has said that if it had been his decision, he would have sited the Disney on busy Wilshire Boulevard, along Museum Row. He would have put the Museum of Contemporary Art there, too. His logic is based on the notion that Los Angeles, being a linear city that rushes down its boulevards, avenues, and freeways, doesn’t need a downtown. He would have put it where most of the people are and where it’s easy to drive to and park.
Grand Avenue has never functioned like a major thoroughfare. For much of its reach it is one way, running away from the center. If you drive in LA you don’t turn down Grand because it dumps you into this one-way chasm through the congested streets of offices, fast food, and bars. The 110 Freeway dominates just west, flowing around. Grand is often so quiet that is appears forgotten, or perhaps less forgotten than feared (congestion, one-way, expensive parking).
Ostensibly, the Disney is there because it fits into a larger urban scenario whereby Grand is the supposed anchor for the revival of downtown. But this is a relatively old vision for how to revitalize downtown. In reality, the revival is happening elsewhere, on other streets, in other districts, where no landmarks are present. In Los Angeles the landmarks seem to follow rather than catalyze. And though it has many, Los Angeles has never cared for landmarks. It has always loved houses more.