Prejudice associates Frank O. Gehry with bulbous shapes and buildings that do not hide their iconic natures, but actually flaunt them. However, it must not be forgotten that Gehry’s career began with a series of Californian collage houses whose povera looks contradicted the high pompous tone of the mansions around. Now, many years later, the Canada-born architect redemonstrates his expertise in ‘minor’ keys with the recently opened Pierre Boulez Saal, a project he has carried out as a pesonal donation in support of one of the most symbolic philanthropic endeavors of these times: the Barenboim-Said Academy, with its famous West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, where Palestines and Israeli musicians work together in harmony.
Located in an old scenery warehouse of the Berlin State Opera House, the new concert hall takes inspiration from Scharoun’s Philharmonie, presenting an arena of modest dimensions (the farthest stalls are just fourteen meters away from the stage) that rises vertically to form two upper levels whose oval perimeter is perhaps the building’s only calligraphic gesture. Predominating the project is a healthy and unexpected restraint (conventional frames for facade openings, light-toned firwood claddings, subtle colors for the stands) that can perhaps be attributed to the requirement that the original facade be kept intact, or perhaps to the fact that Frank Gehry, as he himself states, has gone from listening to avant-garde Edgard Varèse to also enjoying the Goldberg Variations of Bach.