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Best seat in the house: Exploring the incredible Walt Disney Concert Hall – CNET

Los Angeles has its share of iconic architecture. There's the stacked pie plates of the Capitol Records Building, the UFO legs of the Theme Building and the Art Deco masterpieces of Griffith Observatory and the Eastern Columbia Building. But the most striking modern masterpiece is the swooping stainless steel of the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall.

It's challenging in a way great architecture should be. Sharp angles contrast with gentle curves, towers seem to lean left and right -- it all seems too fanciful for a building of any serious purpose. But it's serious all right, LA Philharmonic serious. The visually stunning exterior conceals massive concert space with seating for over 2,000 listeners and world-class acoustics lauded by the musicians who play there.

Between a busy concert and rehearsal schedule, it took over a month to find a spare moment where I could get access for photos. It turns out that classical musicians take precedence over a guy who regularly gets lost on trains

I hope you enjoy this special, rare look inside the Walt Disney Concert Hall. 

Curves of steel, curves of wood

Though visually similar to Gehry's most famous design, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, the Disney Concert Hall was actually designed first. It just took longer to build. First opened in 2003, the hall and idea actually date back to the late 1980's. Visually, it seems impossible that the inside could be anything other than a dark and moody mess. After all, as you may have noticed, there doesn't seem to be any windows.

The reality couldn't be more different. The roof is mostly glass, letting in natural light throughout the day. Clever open spaces and reflective inner walls bounce LA's famous endless sunlight all the way down to the ground floors. It creates a space that's both modern and inviting.

That sunlight also famously caused one of the building's biggest initial issues: reflections. The concave stainless steel surfaces reflected and focused the light, heating up nearby apartments and distracting passing drivers. The fix ended up being fairly simple: lightly sanding some of the panels to reduce their reflectivity.

The hall's acoustics are legendary. Minoru Nagata and Yasuhisa Toyota spent months working to make sure the sound was perfect and it's now considered one of the best concert halls in the world. And while able to seat more than than famous halls like Vienna Opera House, WDCH manages to feel intimate. The seat layout and warm, inviting colors help. 

Behind the stage is a massive and unique pipe organ, looking a bit like the branches of a tree. It blends well with the natural woods and modern design of the rest off the hall. It's also capable of some serious bass. The lowest pedal can create a 16 Hz rumble you can feel in your chest. During my visit they were setting up for a rehearsal with an organist. I was taking the photos of the organ when he hit a few low notes. It sounded amazing.

Though home to the 100-year-old LA Philharmonic, the WDCH also hosts concerts from musicians and orchestras from around the world.

Fitting its location, just a few miles from Hollywood, the WDCH is a bit of a movie and TV star of its own. From Iron Man and Furious 7 to NUMB3RS and even The Simpsons, its convenient location and unique visual design make it a magnet for filmmaker's cameras.

Outside tours, inside tickets

If you're in LA, you can tour the Walt Disney Concert Hall for free... sort of. There's a walking tour narrated by actor John Lithgow that tells all about the designs and features of the building. While extensive, it doesn't actually go inside the main auditorium itself. The only way in there is practice, practice, practice -- or getting a concert ticket yourself. The next best thing is the gallery above, which might be the only time you'll be able to see how the WDCH looks totally empty. 

And despite an urban legend, there are no hidden Mickeys. I looked. 


As well as covering TV and other display tech, Geoff does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world including nuclear submarinesmassive aircraft carriersmedieval castlesairplane graveyards and more. 

You can follow his exploits on InstagramTwitter, and on his travel blog BaldNomad. He also wrote a bestselling sci-fi novel

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