Cleaners make Walt Disney Concert Hall’s curves sparkle
Walt Disney Concert Hall — quite possibly Los Angeles’ most photographed building — didn’t come with a complete list of care instructions prior to opening.
Architect Frank Gehry, the mind behind the $284-million structure, didn’t know how the building’s swooping stainless-steel arches would stay spotless.
“Not only Frank Gehry but the window-cleaning consultant … were unsure how to clean certain areas,” said Zane Britt, president of the Burbank-based Sunrise Window Cleaners. “I was out here at 3, 4 o’clock in the morning trying to figure out how to clean” some of the building’s complex curves.
Britt and his crew, who also wash the Music Center’s windows and hang the Ahmanson Theatre’s holiday lights, have worked to make the 179,150-square-foot Disney Hall shine for a decade. “There’s not one single piece of equipment that will clean this entire building so you have to be creative,” Britt said.
Reaching the high points, which top out at more than 140 feet, involves a lot of lifting and lowering of workers on a 16-foot, two-person swing-stage and one-person basket. From the ground, the panels on the lower two stories are scrubbed with a pole that extends 48 feet and pushes deionized water through a nylon brush.
“We learned the hard way to start at the higher angles or all the dirt would roll back down to the bottom,” Britt said.
The crews also use a harness strapped to a board that lowers a worker, as a rock climber might billet down a mountain, to move along the curves of the wave-like Founders Room and the oval-shaped area with the Walt Disney Concert Hall signage.
“It’s the most fascinating part of cleaning this building,” Britt said. “People will stand out there and take pictures.”
On an average week, a team of two people scrubs the building every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Once a year around August the building undergoes a six-week deep cleaning to remove any stains.
And then there are the handprints. People, especially kids, “have a fascination about touching the panels and the oil in their hands will not come off with a routine cleaning,” Britt said.
After experimenting with different potions and processes, he came up with a simple solution — dishwashing liquid and deionized water — to strip the prints off the panels.
Britt, who has cleaned hundreds of high-rises across L.A., said he’s learned to like “every single inch” of Disney Hall.
His wife is also a big fan of the building, albeit for different reasons — “she is very into classical music.”
But the couple have yet to become frequent patrons.
“To be honest, by the time I go home I don’t want to see any of the buildings I’m cleaning,” he said, adding that “the windows in my home have been cleaned maybe three times in 19 years.”