Frank Gehry tapped to design Colburn School extension and concert hall in downtown L.A.

The new Colburn campus expansion, including a 1,100-seat concert hall, will rise near other landmarks along the Grand Avenue arts corridor. (The Colburn School)

Frank Gehry has been selected to design a campus extension for the Colburn School, including a 1,100-seat concert hall that will further expand the Grand Avenue arts corridor in downtown Los Angeles.

The project, to be announced Wednesday by Colburn President and CEO Sel Kardan, also includes a 700-seat studio theater for dance and vocal performance, a 100-seat theater for smaller-scale and experimental work, as well as classrooms, dance studios, an outdoor performance area and housing for students and guest artists.

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The project will be built between Olive and Hill streets near 2nd Street and will result in three consecutive blocks of Gehry designs downtown. The architect's Walt Disney Concert Hall is slated to be joined by a residential, retail and restaurant development across the street called the Grand, rising where the much-maligned "Tinker Toy" parking structure stands; the new Colburn venues are planned one block farther down Bunker Hill, on a site used as a parking lot.

"I think the synergism is going to happen," Gehry said in an interview, alluding to the connection between the three projects. "And we've been dying to have Colburn expand, so it's a miracle that I got to do it."

A view of the existing Colburn School campus, which is adjacent to Walt Disney Concert Hall. (Bruce F. Cramer)

The new Colburn facilities will benefit the community as well as the private school's 2,000-plus music and dance students, Kardan said. With many of L.A.'s top-tier performance venues seating more than 1,500 people or fewer than 600, the new Colburn concert hall will help to fill a gap in the middle, he said.

The goal will be to equal the performance quality of Walt Disney Concert Hall but with half the seating capacity, which will make the venue economically viable and eliminate the cost of unsold seats, Kardan said. He added that all the new venues will be available for local and touring arts companies to present shows to the public.

"They're noncompetitive with other venues on Bunker Hill, and it really creates the greatest concentration of arts venues anywhere," Kardan said of the expansion, which sits within three blocks of the 2-year-old Broad museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the REDCAT theater and the Music Center's Disney Hall, Ahmanson Theatre, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and Mark Taper Forum. A revitalization project for the plaza between the Dorothy Chandler and the Taper is adding yet another outdoor performance space there.

Gehry has long sought to build a thriving artistic core for the city, with sketches and studies for a Grand Avenue corridor dating to the late 1980s and early '90s, when he was in the early stages of development for Disney Hall.

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"Frank Gehry is not only an extraordinary architect, he's also an extraordinary urban planner," Kardan said.

The Colburn expansion site, which the school bought in 2016, has been unbuilt for more than half a century, Kardan said. The goal will be to create connective tissue between Colburn, the Grand and Disney Hall, Gehry said, with busy pedestrian corridors helping to activate the city blocks.

"It's a great thing to see these spaces fill in with world-class architecture and arts programs that will bring vitality to the community," Kardan said.

For Gehry, music has been one of life's grand passions ever since his mother took him to a Toronto concert hall as a boy. Classical music became his soundtrack in high school, and when he moved to Los Angeles in the late 1940s and later attended USC, his best friend was a classical pianist.

"We listened to classical music day and night while we were working on our projects, and we went to a lot of concerts in L.A.," Gehry said.

Los Angeles Philharmonic Executive Director Ernest Fleischmann hired Gehry to work on the Hollywood Bowl in 1970. Subsequent concert hall projects included Disney (2003), New World Center in Miami (2011) and Pierre Boulez Hall in Berlin (2017).

"I was always interested in what was wrong with concert halls," Gehry said, adding that his approach is to connect the audience to the musicians on a deeper level via architecture.

Yasuhisa Toyota, the acoustician who worked with Gehry on Disney Hall's acclaimed sound, will collaborate on the Colburn building, as will Michael Ferguson, principal of TheatreDNA, who consulted with Gehry on New World Center.

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Colburn did not reveal an estimate of how much the expansion could cost or when it might open, and it was too soon for Gehry or Kardan to give any clues as to what the project might look like. The concept-design phase is expected to last about six to eight months, at which point the Colburn School will unveil more details and launch a fundraising campaign to build it.

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For the Record

An earlier version of this article referenced the Museum of Modern Art instead of the Museum of Contemporary Art.

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