Terri and Jerry Kohl Hall
Rendering of Terri and Jerry Kohl Hall at the Colburn Center | Credit: Gehry Partners

The Colburn School’s new building in downtown Los Angeles won’t just serve the conservatory’s music and dance students. The campus expansion — first announced in 2018 and taking a big step forward last Wednesday, March 16, in a press conference fleshing out the details of the project — has the city’s entire artistic community in mind.

The highlight of the new center will be a 1,000-seat concert hall that all of L.A. will get to know. Yes, the Colburn Orchestra will call the venue home, but outside artists and ensembles will regularly take the stage, too. Terri and Jerry Kohl Hall, named for two of the building campaign’s contributors, will be the top-notch, midsize performance space the city has lacked until now.

“Here in downtown Los Angeles, we are part of one of the world’s greatest cultural corridors,” Colburn Chairman Andrew Millstein said at the press event. Another arts venue near Grand Avenue will strengthen the claim and be entirely in keeping with the surroundings.

“Truly, there was only one choice: Frank Gehry,” Colburn President Sel Kardan said of the architect who, after Walt Disney Concert Hall and The Grand, is taking on his third project within a couple of blocks.

For the new hall, Gehry’s design seats the audience in the round, with the front row eye-level with the performers and no lip on the stage. The setup is flexible and has an orchestra-pit option, which means opera and theater can also fit here. Yasuhisa Toyota, who worked on Disney Hall with Nagata Acoustics, will help bring the space to musical life.

The Colburn Center
Rendering of the Olive Street entrance to the Colburn Center | Credit: Gehry Partners

Gehry’s adaptable, egalitarian vision extends to the rest of the building. The 100,000 square-foot Colburn Center, diagonally across from the conservatory’s current location, will also include a 100-seat theater, four studios for the school’s Trudl Zipper Dance Institute, and outdoor spaces that connect the center to the city.

The new complex, which is set to break ground in 2023 and welcome its first audiences in fall 2025, scales back on some initial plans. In 2020, Gehry and Colburn had envisioned an additional performance space and a more lavish exterior. Those elements are gone, though the project’s fundraising is back on track, with $270 million of an estimated $350 million raised.

The school celebrated the milestone Wednesday with performances looking ahead to the future. Students in Colburn’s pre-college programs danced excerpts from Jerome Robbins’s The Goldberg Variations, which they’re presenting in full March 26. And soprano Alaysha Fox, accompanied by pianist Sam Glicklich, sang “Dich, teure Halle” (You, dear hall) from Tannhäuser, finding the right expression for the moment in Wagner’s opera.

Opera was still in the air when Gehry took the stage to discuss his designs, not just for Colburn but for the city. “My next dream is to fix the Chandler,” he said, having already sized up LA Opera’s venue as another project nearby.