A Japanese man in glasses gestures while standing behind a display case for an architectural model

Yasuhisa Toyota in the gallery of Berlin/Los Angeles: Space for Music. Photo: Chris Edwards

Collaborating with Frank Gehry to engineer Walt Disney Concert Hall’s famed acoustics brought in commissions from around the world for acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota. It didn’t take long after for him to become a preeminent figure in his field. His connection to Disney Hall goes all the way back to its predecessor and foil, Hans Scharoun’s Berlin Philharmonie, where he actually met Frank Gehry for the first time in the 1980s.

Toyota reminisced about seeing the Philharmonie in person for the first time and reflected on a personal legacy of Disney Hall with me one foggy morning after touring the Getty Research Institute exhibition Berlin/Los Angeles: Space for Music with curator and architectural historian Maristella Casciato.

Marissa Clifford: Were you inspired by Hans Scharoun’s Berlin Philharmonie when you were working on Disney Hall?

Yasuhisa Toyota: Definitely, and even before the first meeting with Mr. Gehry, when I came to Berlin the first time for a tour of the Berliner [Philharmonie] for the design of Suntory Hall in Tokyo. That means 1981 or ‘2. It was a big shock for me, because I had already seen many pictures and papers about the Philharmonie, so I thought I already knew it. But when I stepped in the first time—wow! This was completely different. The three-dimensional image, the impression, was so different from my experiences from books, papers, pictures. That was something I clearly remember.

MC: What did you learn from working on Walt Disney Hall?

YT: To analyze. To analyze what’s most important [in a] concert hall. In conventional concert halls we have the musicians on stage and the audience facing them. But in this hall, the stage is in the center instead of at the edge, and the audience can see each other. And this is very, very important because of intimacy—acoustical intimacy and visual intimacy. This is what I learned from the collaboration that I did with Mr. Gehry.

A man and a woman stand talking inside a gallery of architectural models and sketches

Yasuhisa Toyota and Getty Research Institute curator Maristella Casciato examining the models for the Berlin and Los Angeles concert halls in the Berlin/Los Angeles exhibition. Photo: Chris Edwards

MC: Is Disney Hall still an inspiration for you as you work on other projects?

YT: Definitely. It’s a treasure for me.

MC: What are you working on currently?

YT: We opened the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg and also the Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin in the beginning of this year. Next year we’ll be opening the new hall in Russia, in Moscow, just next to the Kremlin. So it’s very important, also politically. A local architect is doing it, and each architect has his own different direction and different taste and different design idea. We are now working on the 1/10 scale model, a big scale model, of the Moscow. It’s taking time, and the social system is very different, so the schedule they gave us is very, very short. I’m not actually sure if it’s actually happening or not.