Frank Gehry’s now completed YOLA Center is the company’s most minimalist design yet
When the Frank Gehry-led renovation of the Philadelphia Museum of Art was unveiled last May, the project was widely considered a rare feat of precision in the architect’s massive, often curvilinear body. Although it was described as a “quiet intervention” before The New York Times And a simple appeal to “clarity, light and space” before Philadelphia InquirerStill, the architect managed to infuse his trademark enthusiasm throughout the $233 million overhaul (perhaps apparently through the inclusion of a gravity-defying staircase in the Williams Forum).
However, these remarks were made while another Gehry Partners project was nearing completion on the other side of the country that would reach much higher levels of accuracy. With a relatively meager construction cost of $14.5 million (including the architect’s charitable donation of his services), Gehry traded flash for precision in his design of the Judith and Thomas L. Pikmin Yula, the permanent home of the Los Angeles Phil Youth Orchestra in Los Angeles. Angeles at the Civic Center in Englewood. Equipped with a music library, family lounge, technology-enabled classroom, and the 4,450-square-foot Edgerton Foundation Performance Hall at its center, the YOLA Center is now complete and has primarily served as a central community space for one research organization for over 14 years.
In terms of construction time and budget constraints, the project adapted the structure of the Security Pacific Bank building designed in a vaguely modern style in 1965 by local firm Austin, Field & Fry. Although not much different from the original’s boxy silhouette, the new YOLA Center delivers plenty of cheerful moments, from its bright and airy interiors to its detailed application of plywood, a warm, budget-friendly cladding material from the architect’s previous career. Gehry Partners worked with Nagata Acoustics, the same local acoustic consulting firm that worked on the Walt Disney Concert Hall, to determine the optimal way to re-adapt the building’s central space into a concert hall. By excavating the ground floor and raising the roof with the addition of a skylight, the new total height reaches 45 feet.
The result is a performance space bathed in natural light from above and obscured only by overhead lighting, audio equipment and exposed structural elements. With the help of movable walls that extend from the new floor to the roof, the 272-seat space can be divided into two rooms for smaller programs, while the surrounding second-floor balcony can be used either as additional standing room for audiences or an observation deck for music teachers.
Lesser traces of the architect’s hand can be discerned from the building’s exterior, which, with the exception of the visible skylight piercing its former roof, is an entirely true restoration of the original structure. A mid-century brick pattern flanks either side of the modest street-facing facade, where passers-by can get a glimpse of the interior through large glass panels between the evenly spaced exterior columns of the original building. Overall, the completion of the YOLA Center revitalizes a long-dead pocket of the Inglewood Civic Center with a commitment to music education for the more than 500 students throughout Los Angeles County that it will serve annually.
Although the LA Phil canceled its inaugural community celebration on August 15 out of an abundance of caution amid the ongoing coronavirus scare, classes will begin at the YOLA Center in September as previously planned.