On June 30, the Los
Angeles Philharmonic first took to the stage of the new, $274-million
Walt Disney Concert Hall and played Mozart, Beethoven and
Stravinsky to a very select group. The "house" was
filled with anticipation, though only 20 of the 2,273 seats
were occupied. The audience, composed mostly of those charged
with creating the "worlds greatest concert hall,"
was on tenterhooks. After years of trials and tribulations
associated with rendering architect Frank Gehrys extravagantly
sculptural and description-defying forms, the hour of judgment
"This place can be as beautiful
as it is [but] if it doesnt sound right, its a
failure," says Jim Yowan, project director for the local
office of M.A. Mortenson Co., the general contractor-construction
With its percussive, edgy and asymmetrical
exterior wrapping a curvaceous and symmetrical wood-lined
theater, the 293,000-sq-ft concert hall had about as many
learning curves as geometric ones. It was "a long birth,"
says Terry Bell, partner-in-charge of contract administration
for the local Gehry Partners.
CENTER STAGE Dazzling Disney Concert Hall grabs
spotlight in downtown Los Angeles.
The jobs supreme challenge
was the theater itself, a 238 x 152-ft-wide warped "box,"
with flared walls up to 130 ft tall, and a flattened-V roofline.
It was quite a feat to "get everything in the right place
while still making [the theater] look perfect and be acoustically
pure," says Yowan.
It didnt take long for the
jury to render a sound verdict at the first orchestra session.
After a few minutes of the Jupiter Symphony, "I could
tell this was a great hall," says cellist Barry Gold,
one of three orchestra representatives on the WDCH committee.
Simulation shows sound waves reflecting once (red), twice
(yellow), three times (green). (Graphic courtesy of Nagata
Impressed with how softly the orchestra
could play without sacrificing quality, Gold talks about the
sounds "immediacy and clarity." He isnt
alone in his enthusiasm. Players have called the hall "fantastic,"
"already a miracle," "magnificent" and
"wonderful." Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen is pleased,
Gehry is "thrilled," and the acoustician is "happy."
The acoustics will not be altered as a result of the orchestras
tuning sessions, says Yasuhisa Toyota, director and U.S. representative
in the Santa Monica, Calif., office of Nagata Acoustics Inc.
The praise is music to the ears
of the beleaguered building team, no strangers to unsettling
words related to the difficult job (ENR 4/8/02 p. 24). Though
no claims or lawsuits have been filed, unconfirmed reports
indicate outstanding changes equal 10 to 12% of the roughly
$200-million construction cost.
Edward J. Burnell, president of
WDCH Inc., the jobs development manager, declines to
comment on the amount still unresolved, saying only that the
projects "substantial" contingency fund is
The long haul officially began
in December 1999 and ended on time April 27, the substantial
completion date, says Yowan. It was quite a feat to "get
everything in the right place while still making the hall
look perfect and be acoustically pure," he says.
Success hinged on learning to "play"
the projects digital master "score"the
three-dimensional model created by "composer" Gehry.
That daunting task was made worse by plentiful leanings, curves,
twists and turns.
TRIO Acoustician Toyota (l.), orchestra conductor Salonen,
architect Gehry, in hall. (Photo courtesy of Marhew Photographic
All but one of the major players,
including Mortenson, started out as neophytes on CATIA, the
high-end CAD system Gehry uses. The job required "a leap
of faith," says Joe Patterson, vice president of Columbia
Showcase & Cabinet Co., Sun Valley, Calif. The millwork
contractor had a $9.5-million contract to supply the theaters
Douglas fir paneling.
Patterson, now confident in the
CAD tool, and others agree the job would have been impossible
without CATIA. Joseph P. Riley, project manager-estimator
for wall and ceiling contractor Martin Bros./Marcowall Inc.,
Gardena, Calif., is another CATIA convert. Martin Bros. had
a $17-million contract that ballooned to $25 million and included
404,736 sq ft of metal stud framing.
The modified theater-in-the-round
or "vineyard" seating for the Los Angeles County
building, ordered by the main tenantthe orchestraintroduced
an acoustical design adventure. "Good natural acoustics
are more difficult to achieve" in a vineyard hall than
in a tried-and-true, "shoebox" hall, says Toyota.
But the team "wanted to look toward the future by breaking
with the shoebox," he adds.
On the plus side, vineyard seating
is more intimate and engaging because it brings the audience
closer to the players. On the minus side, it eliminates three
proximal stage walls that reflect music toward the audience.
LOCATION Curved ceiling panels positioned using
lasers. (Photo courtesy of Warren Photography Inc.)
The vineyard also needs space for
seating rows to the sides and rear of the stage. That means
a wider hall, with side walls farther apart than is optimal.
Nagata had to contend with still
another design elementwood panelinggood for "psycho"
but not aural acoustics. Plaster, which has greater mass,
is the preferred surface material.
Even with a vineyard hall under
his belt, Toyota had his work cut out for him. The acoustician
first analyzed the hall as a shoebox and then applied the
results to the vineyard. This meant a hung ceiling, freestanding
walls lining the hall and numerous wood-panel partitions,
roughly the height of seat backs, throughout the audience
to "replace" proximal full-height walls.
The acoustician used computer simulation
and the architects 1:10 scale model of the interior
to develop the acoustical design. After tests on the physical
model, the only revision to the room was the addition of partial
walls with a slatted surface in risers behind the orchestra.
courtesy of Mortenson)
Other theaters have movable walls,
ceilings and doors to adjust acoustics, depending on the concert.
WDCHs passive design is simpler but "you have to
get it right the first time," says Toyota.
In May, the acoustician ran a sound
test involving brass and percussion instruments. After that,
he spent four days taking readings, using a sound source and
microphones. Based on some unexpected echoes, the hall is
being tuned with the addition of slatted panels on the side
balcony walls. Corner ceilings also are being treated to soften
echoes, which were anticipated.
The theaters acoustical envelope
(AE) is designed to create sounds of silence equivalent to
a recording studios ambient noise level (NC-15). By
comparison, a conference room is NC-35.
Double-wall construction, separated
by a 4-ft cavity, and thick concrete slabs above and below,
in addition to isolators and sound locks, keep out helicopter,
plane and street traffic noise and structure-borne vibrations.
The basic sound-isolating partition is complicated by the
significant dynamic load created by the walls tilts,
says Tom Schindler, vice president of Charles M. Salter Associates,
San Francisco, the sound isolation consultant.
At the stage end, the outboard
AE wall, with no buffer from city noise, is made from precast
concrete panels rigidly attached to the steel frame behind
the stainless steel skin. Elsewhere, the outboard AE wall
is made from either multiple layers of drywall or shotcrete
on light-gauge metal framing. The inboard wall is shotcrete,
with neoprene isolators along the bottom.
Background noise in the theater
has been measured at NC-10 or less, says Schindler. Helicopters
passing by the north window are inaudible, he reports.
No millwork could be installed
without conditioned air for humidity control. But the conditioned
air milestone wasnt reached until Jan. 15, 2002, because
the steel frame took six to eight months longer than expected,
To make up time, work was resequenced.
A big change was to build the wood ceiling and the wood-panel
freestanding walls concurrently. This was accomplished thanks
to a "dance-floor" platform that allowed work to
proceed safely above and below it.
The most intimidating part of the
auditorium was its drop ceiling, a basket weave of 8,000 dissimilar,
curved shapes. To save time and money, the team switched to
a prefabricated, panelized ceiling. "We gave a credit
of about $2 million to the owner," says Yowan.
The ceiling, hung from steel posts
that hang from attic roof trusses, is composed of 82, on average
30 x 12-ft panels. Each 1-in.-thick panel is built up from
1Ú2-in. moisture-proof, medium-density fiberboard. To that,
a 1Ú2-in. veneer is applied, consisting of 1Ú64-in. Douglas
fir pressed onto fire-rated plywood. Columbia and Martin Bros.
produced panels with framing at Columbias factory after
two mock-ups were made. Columbia cut the shapes using a computer
numerically controlled machine that received patterns from
the CATIA model.
Each framed panel was shipped finished
side up on a flatbed truck to the site. There, the truck backed
through an opening temporarily left in the buildings
exterior wall to a spot under a 50 x 20-ft hole in the dance
floor. Once the unwrapped panel was flipped over and hoisted
onto the dance floorthe pick points having been set
in CATIAit was set on a monorail-and-cart system running
the length of the hall and moved under its final resting place.
The track, fastened to the dance floor to evenly displace
the weight of the 3 to 5-ton panels, had to be repositioned
more than 80 times. It was moved a couple times a day.
Using chain pulls, workers then
lifted the panel and loosely connected it to attic posts,
attached to roof trusses. To establish horizontal panel locations,
the team used a laser system instead of using a conventional
surveying system that would have required measuring each panel
corner from a grid system. Two lasers would be positioned
for each panel, one on the stage wall and one on a side wall,
in a predetermined location based on the CATIA model. During
fabrication, a small depression was made in the wood surface
at a predetermined location, also based on CATIA. The intersection
of the lasers and the depression would determine the panels
horizontal location. The elevation coordinate was shot conventionally.
The laser system drastically cut down the amount of surveying
Workers then completed the permanent
connection, which required welding and bracing. Special fans
and "smoke eaters" were required to allow welding
to proceed safely in the overcrowded attic. The entire installation
went like clockwork, taking 10 days less than the 115 anticipated,
Finally, shotcrete for acoustical
density was applied to the panels upper surface in six
TEMPO INSIDE AND OUT Disney Concert Hall, 15 years
in development, is a jazzy composition of light, texture,
form andbeginning Oct. 23sound.
The wood-paneled theater walls
were almostbut not quiteeasy by comparison. "Each
stud is different, and nothing is straight or normal or at
the same elevation," says Riley.
Much time was saved on wall and
ceiling work when a switch was made to a shotcrete backing
with the wood panels serving as forms, instead of plaster
walls with wood panels adhered after the fact. Shotcrete take
less time to cure than plaster. That meant less interference
with work on the moisture-sensitive finishes. The shotcrete
also minimized unwanted voids between the backup material
and the wood panel, much to the pleasure of the acoustician.
"Using shotcrete took a couple of months off the schedule,"
Everyone on the team agrees that
it took an enormous amount of energy and team effort to construct
the concert hall from the bottom up. "It was a challenge
for contractors to make money on this project," says
They may not all have made bundles,
but they did get introduced to computer-aided construction,
CATIA-style. "Were providing an education to the
industry," says Bell.
Gehrys team, which peaked
at 12 at the jobsite, also benefited. "It was very exciting
to be out here and the opportunity of a lifetime for young
people, for it provided good technical training," says
Adds Bell, looking back to the
first rehearsal: "It was a very emotional experience.
The only thing that will top it is to see the hall filled"
at the first concert, Oct. 23.
(All other photos by Michael Goodman