Gehry greatness and the stainless curves of the Walt Disney Concert Hall

Stunning inside and out, the WDCH is a modern architectural masterpiece. Here’s a full tour.

Geoffrey Morrison
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Walt Disney Concert Hall

The world-class Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles. Read on for the full tour.

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Home of Phil

The WDCH hosts musicians and orchestras from around the world, but is primarily home to the 100-year-old LA Philharmonic. 

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Designed by the great Frank Gehry, it actually predates his design for the more famous Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

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The Disney corporation doesn't own the concert hall. It's named after Walt, but it was his widow Lillian that championed and supplied much of the funding.

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Ostensibly, this is the main entrance. But this is LA. Everyone drives. Therefore...

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Real entrance

This is the entrance most attendees see, coming up from the parking garage. Still pretty grand, though. 

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Bathed in natural light, the main entrance is also where you can start the audio tour, if you're interested. However, the tour won't get you access to the main auditorium. For that, you'll need to go to a concert, or continue with this gallery.

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The organic bends in the wooden structure on the right house air conditioning vents.

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Lobby from above

A better look at the vents and the lobby. Officially this is Ralph M. Parsons Foundation Atrium Hall. 

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What you wouldn't guess looking at the outside is how bright the interior is. Sunlight is able to find its way to every level.  

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Snacks and seats on the ground floor at the Concert Hall Cafe for intermission or pre-tour eats.

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White walls and an open design help the sunlight filter from the largely glass ceiling to the other levels. At night the opposite happens, with the interior light beaming out the top into the LA sky.

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Find your seat

I don't think I saw any straight walls anywhere in the building. 

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Such a lovely sight I posted it on my Instagram. This is from the front of the Balcony. The section directly below is called the Terrace.

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Seating for many

At full capacity the WDCH can seat 2,265. 

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Heading downstairs, here's the view from the Front Orchestra section. 

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A look back

Turning around, you can see up into the balcony, along with the sound booth. 

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Due to union rules, only union members and the musicians can do anything on stage. There wasn't supposed to be anything on the stage during my visit, but oh well. 

A decade ago, I stood up there and got a selfie after a friend organized a special event. Being from a Blackberry, the photo is unworthy of inclusion here. Let's say I looked awesome. 

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Every seat has a great view of the stage. 

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From above

The stage is flanked on either side by two levels of seating.

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Looking like an organic spaceship, the ceiling is actually my favorite part of the entire building. 

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Big pipes

The huge pipe organ took years to design. 

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Gehry would design something, and organ designer Manuel Rosales would say it wouldn't work. They went back and forth until they were both happy with this design. 

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Deep note

The lowest frequency the organ can produce is 16 Hz. You'd feel that in your chest for sure. 

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Pipes askew

One of Gehry's designs had all the pipes, and the console, hung from the ceiling. While interesting, Rosales was sure it wouldn't work as an instrument. 

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I'm standing next to one of the seats, so the organist is quite close to the audience, presuming they're seated in this area during that specific concert. 

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The layout is a hybrid design between a classic "shoebox" design, and a more modern auditorium. It's also known as a "vineyard" style, with seating all around the stage. 

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Ceiling wonders

Flat surfaces can be bad for acoustics. Not many flat surfaces in here. 

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The house lights were on during my shoot, but they weren't terribly bright, hence some noise in the images. I also recorded a short 5.7K 360 video from this spot and down in front of the stage.  

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Out we go

With our time in the auditorium ending, we headed out to continue the tour of the rest of this incredible building. 

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Walls of light

A look down through one of the many open areas that allow light into the lower levels. 

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Behind the scenes

We weren't allowed back stage since there were auditions going on. I did sneak this one shot when the elevator door opened on the wrong side. Don't tell anyone. 

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Wall of donors

The curved wall to the right has the names of the many donors.

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BP Hall

This open area is called BP Hall. Sometimes small concerts or other events are held here.

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Here's a good view up, one of the few areas where you can see the glass ceiling directly from the floor. 

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Endless curves

Those stairs are called the Henry Mancini Family staircase. At the top is a bar and the curved donor wall you saw a few slides ago. 

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Reception hall

If you were to enter from the "main" entrance, this is where you'd end up. Officially, it's the Edythe and Eli Broad Reception Hall. Next door to the WDCH is The Broad, a fantastic modern art museum. 

In what I assume is not a coincidence, The Broad has a Jeff Koontz dog sculpture next to the wall closest to the Gehry-designed WDCH. The Gehry-designed Guggenheim Bilbao has a Jeff Koontz dog sculpture out front. Symmetry? 

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Steel and sun

Though expensive, the WDCH was largely paid for by private donors, including over $100 million by the Disney family and company. 

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Along the side and back of the WDCH is a small park. Events are often held here. It's also a quiet place to hang out. The doors are usually open. 

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In said park is the Keck Foundation's Children's Amphitheater. 

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Despite its central LA location, the park feels quite secluded and fairly quiet. It helps that it's a full story above street level. 

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In an almost out-of-place flourish, there's a flower-shaped white and blue porcelain tile fountain. It was designed by Gehry, and is called A Rose for Lilly in thanks to Lillian Disney, who started and was a huge patron of the concert hall project. 

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Part of the public tour brings you around and up one of the fake exterior walls, giving access to the outdoor terraces. 

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Behind the scenes

As you probably assumed, the stainless steel panels have lots of support, some of which isn't attached to the building itself. 

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Enter the light

These are the glass panels above the BP Hall, the other side of what you saw earlier. 

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A view

One of the curved walls, with another iconic LA building, the art deco City Hall, on the left. 

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I've visited the WDCH several times, and it's always fun to just wander around. There are many areas like this that just seem otherworldly. 

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Pavilions past

The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the former home of the LA Phil (and not entirely a beloved one), has also been the location for many famous events. The Oscars were held here several times, though now their permanent home is the Dolby Theater, which we've also toured

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Upper terrace

Hidden from the street are multiple terraces where you can get a great view south, or of the curves of the building. While I was there, two other groups were doing photo shoots. I'm guessing unauthorized.

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The view southwest down Grand. You can see the weird diagonally oval windows of The Broad peaking out in the middle of the picture. 

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More views down

Stepping back inside, there's a glimpse down many stories. 

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Bouncing light down the inside of an exterior wall.

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Mirror mirror

This is on the west side of the building, a mirror image to the atrium on the other side. 

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Grand and 1st

The sun starts to sink behind the WDCH. 

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To close out this tour here's a Tiny Planet photo of the Walt Disney Concert Hall from my Instagram

For more about the WDCH and this tour, check out Best seat in the house: Exploring the incredible Walt Disney Concert Hall.

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