Sunday, February 06, 2005

Gehry....uh, DISNEY Hall

I spent 24 hours, more or less, in Los Angeles, in connection with an ongoing writing project. I had tried to find out in advance if there were any performances at Disney on the afternoon of February 5, but the Web site of the Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles, encompassing several performing arts organizations and various physical venues, is a hellish maze of buttons, links, and distractions. There doesn't seem to be a central calendar where you can click a date and get a handy listing of what's on.

Oh, yes, there's a calendar sitting there, but it's just a tease. Click any date in February and you get the same page in response. You must then click through to any particular organization to find out what it might be performing in that particular month.

A Web site that makes it hard to find out what's going on and when: How helpful!

For contrast, see the Web site for London's Barbican Centre. The Barbican itself is a hellish maze of brutalist concrete, nearly impossible to navigate even with a map, but the Web site is a pleasure to use.

Anyway. I sauntered over to Disney Hall to take a look and check in at the Box Office. Alas, it transpired that the rumored L. A. Phil/Salonen performance of Schoenberg's "Gurrelieder" was taking place, but was only open to members of the American Choral Directors Association, which held its national convention in L. A. this weekend.

Like The Standing Room, I found the exterior of the building stunningly beautiful, from the sinuous, organic forms to their massing to the shining, burnished skin.

But up close, I have my worries. It really looks like it was fabricated and built by Americans.

Yes, I mean that the way it sounds. I've seen articles about how architects have to adjust fabrication and construction methods because American manufacturers aren't able to match the precision of, say, German and Japanese manufacturers and because construction here is sloppier.

When you've got a building like Disney Hall, where thousands of complex parts have to fit together perfectly, sloppiness is one hell of a big problem. Who wants to be looking at a work of art and see construction flaws?

Not me. But they're there. I saw uneven seams, places where sections of wall are joined so badly that there will certainly be water penetration issues in the future, and places where the panels just don't fit precisely. I'd be curious if Gehry's other buildings in this style exhibit similar problems - how's the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao doing? or Experience Music, in rainy Seattle?

I'm reminded of my reaction to the Centre Pompidou in Paris, which I saw for the first time in 1979, when it was very new. I took one look and said to myself that if it wasn't maintained absolutely perfectly, it would look like hell in a few years. It wasn't and it did. I sure hope Disney Hall doesn't go the same way.

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