Sunday, August 29, 2010

New World Symphony, Miami Beach, Florida, United States

The love-him or hate-him architect’s New World Symphony nears completion in Miami Beach

WAN readers have not been kind to Frank O. Gehry of late. The architect’s Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, which recently opened in Las Vegas was one of the biggest draws for readers’ comments and generally speaking most were not flattering. For whatever reasons, Gehry is a polarizing figure whose work is either loved or hated. But last week in New York at an intimate and packed setting at MoMA’s restaurant, The Modern, where the architect was on hand to brief the media on the New World Symphony project in Miami Beach it was all love for Gehry.

In a sunlit dining room overlooking the museum’s sculpture garden, the upbeat 81-year-old Gehry held court with members of the press. After noshing on lunch of salmon, the architect joined New World Symphony founder Michael Tilson Thomas at the front of the room where the two men sat side by side and spoke for roughly five minutes about their longstanding relationship and the new building, which is scheduled to open in January. Gehry was once Tilson Thomas’s babysitter and the two men have shared a lifelong interest in music. So when Tilson Thomas wanted to build a facility that would be ‘an experimental generator for new ideas in music education and performance’, he enlisted the help of his old friend Frank Gehry.
 Whilst many buildings portend to be ground breaking, this one truly packs an innovative wallop, thanks to the use of emerging technologies that will make it possible to engage audiences and present performances in ways never before possible. The $154-million symphony hall is architecturally restrained as far as Gehry buildings go, ‘inside it will be a beehive of activity’, Gehry said. Some of the building’s notable features are a flexible and technologically advanced performance hall that includes large acoustically reflective ‘sails’ that will surround the audience with sound and also serve as projection surfaces for visual presentations; a giant, 7,000-square-foot screen on the building’s façade that will project performances from inside the building to people sitting in the adjacent park, and practice and rehearsal spaces that are wired with 17 miles of fiber optic cable to allow musicians on site to connect to musicians around the world via the internet. With all this technology, Tilson Thomas said, “the new building will make it possible for a musician to break out from the orchestra allowing the audience to focus in on their favourite performer”.
 Dubbed a “multi-storey music village” by Tilson Thomas, the new building will sit adjacent to a 2.5-acre public park designed by the Dutch landscape architecture firm West 8. Gehry withdrew from the park project last year after a dispute with Miami Beach over the city’s budget decision and objections to his fee.
Since turning 80, Gehry has weathered storms familiar to many other architects and firms – laying off employees at Frank Gehry Partners LLC in Los Angeles to dropping out of projects such as King Alfred in Hove, UK or Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn. Still with projects underway or nearing completion, such as New Symphony Hall and his recent win to design the new Eisenhower Memorial in Washington D.C., Gehry continues to reinvent himself well into his ninth decade.

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