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How Many Architects Did it Take to Get Great Acoustics at The Hollywood Bowl?

Written by Cindy Marie Jenkins on Friday, August 11th, 2017 at 1:43pm.

I don’t know how I lived in Los Angeles so long without ever going to The Hollywood Bowl. Maybe I just spent too much time in Bowl traffic to be interested. Then my friend invited me to watch The Looney Tunes played with a live orchestra.

Wait, that's a thing? “The Rabbit of Seville,” one of the hands down best animated shorts ever created, could be watched on a large screen, while hearing the opera music live? That's when I actually looked at the programming for “The Bowl,” as the locals call it. A Sound of Music sing-a-long? Raiders of the Lost Ark with the LA Philharmonic playing that unforgettable score by John Williams? How did I miss all this?

Everything at The Bowl centers around music, and only the best. Popular stars like Yo Yo Ma grace the stage as well as concert versions of your favorite musicals (Sondheim on Sondheim and Mamma Mia were featured this year). Of course, there’s also the LA Philharmonic’s special Classical Tuesdays and the resident Hollywood Bowl Orchestra’s weekly Jazz at the Bowl.

A major highlight of the summer is also KCRW’s World Festival, with amazing line-ups like Seu George, Blondie, Belle and Sebastian, all complemented by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. These are your favorite artists free to experiment with orchestration outside the regular concert scene. This is what summer was meant to be.

If you have an image of The Bowl in your head, then you see that iconic shell, the VIP box seats and very grandstands built into hills. You know the fountain at the entrance. You know that parking and picnicking is just as much of an adventure as the event. But do you know the history behind this Hollywood landmark’s look?

  • Lloyd Wright (son of Frank Lloyd Wright) designed an acoustic friendly pyramid shape as a temporary shell for the Bowl’s 1927 season. The pyramid stirred it’s own controversy, however, and his second commission was directed to be a circular shape. Wright certainly took the lead from the Modern movement to design a sleek and simple set of nine concentric arches which could be pulled apart for storage between seasons. Wright’s design was only used for the one 1928 season however, because it was left standing through the winter and deemed unsafe.

  • The Bowl’s growing pains continued and in 1929 its structure took some inspiration from Wright’s last shape but turned it into a semicircle by the engineering firm Elliot, Bowen & Wolz. This 55 ton structure could be moved on rails into the hills in case a musical or opera required an elaborate set.

  • In 1954 they installed a 100,000 gallon reflecting pool directly between the audience and the stage. Then a beautiful fountain and water show was installed in 1959. They removed both water features and replaced them with special VIP seats in 1972 after struggling with how the water changed the sound quality.

  • Frank Gehry got in on the acoustical challenge in 1970 with his infamous large pillars created from cardboard, later replaced by fiberglass.

  • In 2004 architects Hodgett & Fung took conceptual drawings from Arup and combined them with almost 75 years of experience with the acoustics to create the band shell in use today.

  • Some other fun facts include that the Heiress Aline Barnsdall helped The Bowl’s “Mother” (Artie Mason Carter) fund the first season and pay off the mortgage, the deed of which was then, of course, burned onstage in a dramatic gesture.

  • It took 47,000 LEGO pieces to create a replica (with audience) that stands in LEGOland California. Word is that LEGO acoustics, however, leave something to be desired.

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