Friday, June 24, 2005

Frank Gehry’s Disney Hall: Theme-Park Architecture

Frank Gehry’s Disney Concert Hall looks like a glittering piece of tinsel. It is symbolically perfect in the center of tinseltown.

It makes sense that Los Angeles produced Gehry, since his work has all the qualities that Los Angeles developed as the center of the twentieth-century entertainment industry. It is flashy, new and different, striking in a superficial way that is meant to call attention to itself – just like a new Hollywood movie that is short on substance but full of special effects.

Now that we have Disney Hall, modernist architecture critics have to think twice before they talk about “theme park architecture.” Modernists often say that traditional architecture looks like it belongs in a theme park. They thought it was very funny when Disney corporation built the new town of Celebration, Florida: the world’s most famous theme park developer was building in traditional style.

But when Disneyland opened in the 1950s, it included Tomorrowland as well as Main Street USA. Now we have two developments with the Disney name, one that looks like Main Street USA and one that looks like Tomorrowland carried to an extreme. It is time to think again about what “theme park architecture” means.

Theme parks are designed to attract gaping tourists. Celebration, Florida, was designed to look like Main Street, because that is how people want to live. When Frank Gehry built the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, it attracted so many gaping tourists that it revitalized the city economically, and cities all over the world wanted a Gehry building to attract those gaping tourists. There is no doubt that the most successful theme-park architect in history is Frank Gehry.


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