Futuristic New World Symphony Hall Opens, But Frank Gehry Still Pissed About "Politics" Behind It

After several years of construction and more than a few public spats over the project, the New World Center is now officially open for business in Miami Beach. The futuristic building will house the New World Symphony, headed by conductor Michael Tilson Thomas.

Thomas' former babysitter, famed architect Frank Gehry, was also on hand for the opening. But Gehry, who designed the center, was still a little ticked off about his involvement in the project.

"Politics here is rough," he told Riptide. "I didn't want to get in the middle of that. It wasn't my thing so I ran for the hills."

Gehry complained publicly in 2009 about Miami Beach commissioners' insistence that he also draw up plans for a parking garage and 2.5 acre park on either side of the concert hall.

"Doing a parking garage in Miami is not something I should be spending time on," Gehry told the Herald at the time. "I did it out of respect" for Tilson Thomas.

Later, Gehry dropped out of designing the park, rather than take a pay cut, telling the Herald: "I'm good and I deserve it."

At today's opening, Gehry told Riptide that the project -- parking garage included -- had turned out just "OK."

"It's not the way I would have done it, but that's the way they wanted it. So that's the way it is," he said.

The architect -- most famous for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA -- said the New World Center is at home in Miami.

"From the outside you drive down the street and it's strictly a Miami building," he said, pointing out that its plaster facade and boxy shape fits in with Miami Beach architecture. "It doesn't look like a foreigner sitting on the street."

He also said that the decidedly demure and un-Gehry-like exterior was designed to keep the center -- which is primarily a school for young musicians -- "semi-private."

"There was no reason to make a teaching thing a more public sculptural thing. We could have... done something more sculptural but I saved that for Bilbao and Disney Hall, which are more public venues that have an identity that belongs to the community. This is different. It's more forgiving: you can knock out a wall or do stuff (to it). It's not precious."

Thomas -- known as MTT -- also played-up the Miami-ness of the center but stressed the openness of the building to the public. The park -- full of palm trees and strange, twisting metal structures -- and 7,000-square-foot outdoor projection wall will allow passersby to see and hear concerts going on inside, he said.

"(We are) opening the building up so that the experience on the inside is on the outside," Thomas said.

What's that? More interested in doing the Dougie than sampling some Schubert on a Saturday night? Don't worry. This symphony hall has something for you, Tilson Thomas said.

By changing the configuration of seats, he said the hall can transform into "a more club like environment."

Now that sounds like Miami.

There will be an inaugural ceremony tonight, including a performance by the symphony and a "video mural." An opening concert is scheduled for Wednesday night and will feature a performance of Richard Wagner's Overture and the world premiere of Thomas Ades's Polaris: Voyage for Orchestra.

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Michael E. Miller was a staff writer at Miami New Times for five years. His work for New Times won many national awards, including back-to-back-to-back Sigma Delta Chi medallions. He now covers local enterprise for the Washington Post.