By contrast, the Bowl’s arch — the old and the new — is pure, and when set against the backdrop of the rugged Hollywood Hills, its irreducible geometry makes an indelible imprint in our minds the same way that I.M. Pei’s pyramid has defined our idea of the Louvre. And, despite the current vogue in architecture for dismantling the ordered and the rational, we love the shell because we rely on symmetry and equilibrium to ease our jagged reality: The shell calms the evening as gently and simply and directly as the night air. This is also why it is an icon and why, Hodgetts and Fung realized, its shape had to stay.
Inserting the ellipse into the shell allows this to happen and a whole lot more. The suspended acoustical halo preserves the clarity of the arch yet has sufficient technological prowess of its own to allow the orchestra to hear itself and still be properly amplified to the benches on the farthest reaches of the amphitheater’s periphery, some 450 feet away. The rim of the halo itself, made up of six segments fashioned from aircraft aluminum and weighing 10 tons, embraces 20 movable louvers. These are the acoustic reflectors. A central computer controls the louvers, which can be moved in minute increments, like the ailerons on the tips of airplane wings, allowing the shell to be tuned specifically for each performance. When not needed (if, say, Tony Bennett is on hand), the sound reflectors fold up like butterfly wings and disappear into the canopy, and four of the rims lower to the ground to be trucked away.
Just as importantly, the halo provides an aesthetic and physical impact. The underside of the rim is skinned in fiberglass, and the louvers are made of a hard, translucent plastic. The opacity produces an interesting effect. At times, the halo is seen only as a surface, resembling the bottom of a flying saucer, burnished to a dull, metallic gray. Like one of those flat, lens-shaped cirrus clouds standing still in an otherwise clear blue sky, it is the solitary stroke that animates a static backdrop. At other times, when the louvers are positioned parallel to the stage, they reveal, in shadow and silhouette, a tracery of the metalwork that is holding everything together. Hodgetts calls this the “Brechtian quality” of the halo. It demystifies the acoustical works, like peering at an engine going full bore with its valve cover removed.
Meanwhile, the halo is geometrically locked into the pitch of the amphitheater: You can draw a straight line from its rear to the hedgerow that describes the topmost arc of the Bowl’s seating area. This projection connects the audience to the performers and vice versa. The radiating quality is the palpable expression of the sound waves emanating from the shell and the emotions of the audience wafting back to the stage. At the very least, this dialogue harks back to the earliest days of the Bowl when one of the finest natural amphitheaters in the world was not poisoned by buzzing helicopters and the constant, sibilant hiss of the Hollywood Freeway, and a more intimate communion was possible.
The new band shell and halo will have their critics. In all likelihood, Hodgetts and Fung will be pilloried by preservationists and architectural purists alike. The former will pine for the old shell despite its evident decrepitude, and the latter will search for a sweeping gesture that explodes the myth of tranquillity the team has so openly embraced. Lucky for us, neither dogma prevailed. Los Angeles saved one icon, the band shell, while gaining another, the halo.