Monday, 4 June 2012

L.A. Without a Map

I visited Los Angeles when I was a kid, but my only memories are vague recollections of Mann's Chinese Theater and the long lineups at Disneyland. I had no plans when I visited L.A. and no real list of anything I wanted to see, other than Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Griffith Observatory.

I stayed at the Stay on Main hostel, downtown; you shouldn't. It's actually part of the Cecil Hotel building, occupying a few floors of the same building, but with separate entrances. The hostel looks very new and modern in pictures, but in reality they've just splashed new white and orange paint over the old Cecil rooms, and then thrown in new and weird furniture that looks like it came out of a '60s mod movie like A Clockwork Orange. They have bunk beds directly under ceiling fans (sit up at night and you might get whacked), and exposed electrical wiring in some rooms. More problematically, they have real security issues, as it appears that they have groups of people who will have only one person check in and pay, and then invite their friends to stay in their room free of charge: I had to get my room switched because of this, and no one at the front desk seemed surprised. 

Union Station by night
Union Station by night.

The walk from Union Station to the hostel passes by L.A.'s gorgeous, art deco City Hall.

This being car-centric L.A., there is a parking garage directly opposite the Concert Hall. They were filming a car-intensive scene for a movie on the garage that night (I believe it was for Fast & Furious 6, but I have no idea), and they had light balloons deployed (they give much softer and naturalistic light, with less noticeable shadows, than point sources would provide).

Turn the camera around 180° (and wait 12 hours), and this is the view you get.

The main entrance of Union Station by day.

The historic Union Station lobby.

Folk dancing across from Union Station.

_DSC9394 - _DSC9395
The art deco Pellissier Building.

Sunset over the Hollywood Hills.

L.A. from the Griffith Observatory.

The front of the Observatory.

Downtown L.A. from the Griffith.

Downtown L.A. is gentrifying in a hipster way, with celebration of shabby chic. This sign, with its authentic decay, fits right in.

Frank Gehry & the Walt Disney Concert Hall

Frank Gehry shot to mainstream fame with his design for the Guggenheim Bilbao, which helped launch the 'starchitect' phenomenon as well as architectural tourism and the "Bilbao effect." In 2001, I was one of the architectural tourists who visited Bilbao solely because of the Museum—by which I mean the building, as the actual collection it houses is relatively unimpressive—and I wasn't really dissapointed. At the time of its opening in 1997, the building was famous for the use of computerized design and manufacturing to create thousands of uniquely-shaped titanium panels that form the skin of the building, allowing for the undulating and irregular three-dimensional curves that characterize the museum. The result is an immensely photographic building whose appearance changes dramatically as you walk around it.

Guggenheim - upriver
Gehry's Guggenheim Bilbao from across the river. The limestone tower in the foreground incorporates the bridge into the museum, but is completely decorational.

Guggenheim and Puppy
Guggenheim Bilbao's main entrance & Jeff Koons' Puppy. This picture illustrates a couple of the failures of (how I used) film: there was too much of a tendency to try to crop in-camera, while the economic penalty of taking multiple pictures meant you often ended up with sub-optimal pictures.

Guggenheim - summit
The titanium skin of the Guggenheim Bilbao.

Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall is visually similar to the Guggenheim Bilbao in its mixture of flowing metal panels, stone, and glass, but in most way it is an improvement. Recognizing the fascination people have with buildings like this, Gehry added walkways that allow people to essentially climb the building exterior, giving additional vantage points and perspective from which to explore his building. And instead of the brushed titanium of the Guggenheim, Gehry used polished steel panels on some surfaces to contrast with the brushed steel panels that comprise the majority of the building. Add in a landscaped cafe behind the concert hall, and you have a building that is much more inviting, and which creates a greater dialogue with visitors in comparison to the Guggenheim.

Also, unlike the Guggenheim Bilbao, the L.A. Philharmonic Orchestra is an amazing institution. For a 20-year stretch they were associated with conductor Esa-Peka Salonen, with whom they recorded extensively. Some of my favourite recordings are by the LAPO and Salonen, most notably a CD of Prokofiev and Stravinsky violin concertos with Cho-Liang Lin, and a sadly out-of-print recording of Lars-Erik Larsson's God in Disguise.

I spent a few hours at the Concert Hall, taking way too many pictures, some of which you can see in the gallery below.

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