Frank Gehry Reveals Design for New L.A.-Area Youth Orchestra
"It's not about making money," the architect says of his pro bono design for the Judith and Thomas L. Beckmen YOLA Center, an extension of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
While Frank Gehry is associated with designing some of the globe’s most strikingly visible cultural institutions, his next major commission announced Wednesday in Inglewood, California, will be relatively modest in its scale, yet major in its social impact.
“It’s not precious,” Gehry said about his design for the new home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s youth-focused educational arm, YOLA, just south of the city.
In this context, that’s a very good thing. Gehry Partners is donating its services to adapt a nondescript midcentury bank building located in the Inglewood Civic Center into an accessible rehearsal and performance facility—officially called the Judith and Thomas L. Beckman Youth Orchestra Los Angeles Center—with offices, community gathering spaces, and practice rooms.
This undertaking marks the first time YOLA, which offers free instruments, music lessons, and academic services to over 1,200 students in underserved communities around L.A., will have a permanent base from which to deepen the performing arts organization’s public programming and reach.
The original 25,000-square-foot structure built on a 11,500-square-foot footprint will reopen in approximately two years, with construction slated to start in spring 2019 on the $14.5-million project. With the guidance of Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the City of Inglewood, and a coalition of grassroots arts partners, the L.A. Phil obtained the site from the City of Inglewood in a community ripe for a new infusion of cultural resources. (Major stadium construction and other significant business and public infrastructure developments are currently underway nearby.)
The YOLA Center will join two internationally known performance venues, the Hollywood Bowl and Walt Disney Concert Hall, that are affiliated with both the L.A. Phil and Gehry’s architectural legacy. This “third building is a building about the future,” said Simon Woods, C.E.O. of the L.A. Phil, during Wednesday’s announcement event. “We’re conscious that today’s journey starts a process of listening, hearing, learning, and gradually understanding how we can translate that learning into meaning for the people who live here in Inglewood.”
Gustavo Dudamel, YOLA’s Music and Artistic Director, added that the future building will not be “just a venue for YOLA. It is a metaphor that says, ‘Beauty matters.'”
In order to incorporate rehearsal rooms, storage, community gathering spaces, and a concert hall large enough to host orchestral performances, the extant building comes with its challenges. “To play a concert as a full orchestra, there was no space,” Gehry said. “So one move was to lower the floor, and raise the ceiling, and get the 45 feet [needed for optimal acoustics].” Gehry tapped noted sound engineer and past collaborator, master acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota of Nagata Acoustics, to design an acoustic envelope.
The brick, plaster, glass, and steel building will be further opened up on its La Brea Avenue facade, with a pop-up roof element featuring glass walls for optimal interior light. At night, the facility will emit a welcoming exterior glow.
Flexibility was also a design priority and the Gehry team incorporated components such as movable floor-to-ceiling acoustic walls to better accommodate more intimate performances and rehearsal needs. To further support YOLA’s diverse musical demands—from choirs to ensembles to soloists—the rooms serve multiple purposes, with optimal technology integrated throughout the facility.
Retractable risers and balcony seating means “we could actually do a concert in the space that would only have about 300 seats,” Gehry explained. He hopes the energy and functionality of the new facility will mean L.A. Phil musicians regularly join YOLA students, too.
“It’s not about making money,” the architect said. “It’s about giving them that experience.”