Plots & Plans logo

Bad Cosmetic Surgery at Alice Tully Hall

 

Diller Scofidio + Renfro's plan for Pietro Belluschi's Brutalist Building is an affront to the texture of Lincoln Center and another major new preservation challenge

________________________________

Belluschi's Building is Second Best at the Center after Eero Saarinen's Vivian Beaumont Theater

_________________________________

It is as deserving of landmarks protection as was 2 Columbus Circle

_______________________

Diller Scofidio + Renfro's Design for North Plaza at the Center Also Violates Dan Kiley's Design

Juilliard School and Alice Tully Hall

Before: The Juilliard School and Alice Tully Hall at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts

New Broadway facade

After: The Juilliard School and Alice Tully Hall reconfigured and refaced along Broadway

By Carter B. Horsley

Pietro Belluschi's travertine-clad Juilliard Building and Alice Tully Hall at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts is one of the city's rare examples of "Brutalist" architecture, the most famous of which is Marcel Breuer's Whitney Museum of American Art on Madison Avenue at 75th Street.

Finished rebuilding from the southeast

View of finished rebuilding from the southeast

It was completed in 1969 and received laudatory comments from many leading architecture critics. The associate architects are Helge Westermann and Eduardo Catalano.

In their superb book, "New York 1960, Architecture and Urbanism Between The Second World War And The Bicentennial," (The Monacelli Press, 1995), Robert A. M. Stern, Thomas Mellins and David Fishman devote a large chapter to Lincoln Center and its various components. In it, they quote Mildred Schmertz, writing in Architectural Record that the architects of the Juilliard Building and Alice Tully Hall "have managed to tuck and fit the assorted instructional and performance facilities of a good-sized campus into one integrated structure" and that "an almost infinite variey of spaces [have been] fitted together with a sorcerer's skill in an arrangement as intricate as a Chinese puzzle," adding that "The art with which the arts are housed affects them profoundly for the better. It is fortunate, therefore, that the incredible effort on the part of Belluschi and his team has produced such a fine building. Since Juilliard is a school for the musicians, actors and dancers of the future, it is appropriate that the best building at LincolnCenter should be theirs."

Sunken plaza and bleachers Expanded lobby

Sunken plaza and bleachers, left and interior of expanded lobby right

Ada Louise Huxtable, then the architecture critic of The New York Times, was also quoted:

"The Juilliard is a good building, free of the uncertain pretensions and pomposities of the Metropolitan Opera House, the New York State Theater....[Its] style, guided by Mr. Belluschi, an architect of notable sensibility, who has worked most beautifully, in wood, for almost 40 years, is a kind of restrained establishment modern. It is not avant-garde, but its refinements and simplicities are timeless. With the Beaumont Theater, Juilliard offers architectural and aesthetic reality to the cultural confusions of Lincoln Center, ending 14 years on an upbeat."

Paul Goldberger was quoted as maintained that the Juilliard Building was "probably the best building at Lincoln Center," adding that "this would be a ho-hum Brutalist building if it were done in concerete and located somewhere else; here, the travertine brings a warmer texture, and the determination of Pietro Belluschi not to play the same two-bit classicizing game as the architects of the buldings on the main plaza did is appealing."

Such judgments today generally hold up well. It is a very good, strong building that despite its low-rise nature gives significant stature to the center's northern end. One could well argue that the finest building, at least in terms of its exterior, is the Vivian Beaumont Theater, which was designed by Eero Saarinen. It is simple and extremely elegant, especially since it fronts on a large plaza with a large pool in which a fine and large sculpture by Henry Moore is situated. More about this plaza later....

One is aghast, therefore, to read an article in The New York Times November 13, 2005 by Robin Pogrebin that maintains "the massive building is viewed as imposing and uninviting." The article describes how a design by Diller Scofidio + Renfro will have it "take on an entirely different personality." "It will be transparent, with a three-story all-glass lobby framed by the canopy of the Juilliard School's new cantilevered extension....It will be more welcoming, with an outdoor grandstand where people can meet or hang out and an information kiosk below. And it will be grander, with auditorium walls sculpted out of transluscent custom-molded resin panels sheated in wood veneer....The hall is the first major piece of the center's $500 million transformation of West 65th Street, the performing arts center's main artery. The architects' larger plan for Lincoln Center includes a restaurant with a grass roof, a new entrance for Juilliard and a redesign of Damrosch Park."

View from the southeast

View of Juilliard School and Alice Tully Hall from the southeast

Where are the preservationists? Have they so quickly forgotten the controversy over 2 Columbus Circle? One might argue that Edward Durell Stone's white marble small building was a bit more eccentric and esoteric than Belluschi's building, but both were among the best buildings erected in the city in the 1960's because of their elegant, albeit rather petite, grandeur.

It might be argued, in both cases, that the new design is so much more architecturally interesting and exciting that the loss of a good building is outweighed by the merits of the replacement. That, however, is not the case, in either case. The new buildings are a bit ungainly and not inspired. One is particularly disturbed in the case of Lincoln Center. One senses a total lack of aesthetic sensitivity on the part of the leaders of the center who have approved Diller Scofidio + Renfro's completely inappropriate designs.

The firm gained much praise for its recent planning for the redevelopment of the High Line, the abandoned elevated railway that runs through much of the West End of Chelsea and was the subject of an impressive exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. The firm has an alluring way with renderings, albeit not with the artistry of Zaha Hadid. Pretty drawings, however, do not guarantee pretty buildings. The subhead on the article in The New York Times read "a design firm known for hip, urban architecture takes aim at Lincoln Center's low-profile workhorse." Being hip, however, is not necessarily the same as being good.

When the project was announced it was said to embrace "the spirit of the original 1960s architecture, while incorporating elements of transparency and fluidity to create a new language celebrating the vitality of the cultural complex today. Diller Scofidio + Renfro was to lead a "distinguished" design team that includes Fox and Fowle Architects, L'Observatoire International, Inc., Cooper Robertson & Partners, and 2 X 4.

Illustration of planned new facade

Illustration of new facade planned for Broadway frontage of the Juilliard School and Alice Tully Hall by Diller Scofidio + Renfro

Liz Diller, of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, was quoted at the time as stating "Rather than replace the image of this cultural icon with one alien to it, we propose to amplify its most successful features and fulfill its unrealized potential. The challenge is to interpret the genetic code of this 'Monumental Modernism' into a language for younger, more diverse audiences following several generations of cultural and political change. We would like to turn the campus inside-out by extending the intensity within the performance halls into the mute public spaces between those halls and the surrounding streets. The range of the project's scope requires an effort that dissolves boundaries between urban planning, architecture, streetscape and landscape design."

Part of the plan calls for the redesign of 65th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam to create a dynamic "front door" and "Street of the Arts" for the thousands of visitors and more than 5,000 artists, teachers and students who work and practice every day on the block's 13 stages, 80 rehearsal rooms, 81 practice rooms and 13 dance studios.

Juillard School from the south showing Milstein Plaza bridge

The Juilliard School, the low-rise building in the center, is now connected by a broad bridge across 65th Street, that the new plan will eliminate

Slanting lawn

65th Street bridge removed and slanted lawn nearing completion

One of the few voices of protest appeared recently at Tropolism (http://www.tropolism.com/2005/11/julliard_gets_the_knife.php). The website stated that "the idea of cutting into our second favorite NYC building, Pietro Belluschi's gorgeously brutalist travertine wonder, The Julliard School, has presented the question of the limits of preservation."

In an article by Andrew Yang, "According to Rebecca Robertson, the executive director of the Lincoln Center Redevelopment Corporation, there was a moment in 2002 when she was really doubtful that she could get Diller + Scofidio on the final list of competitors to redesign Lincoln Center’s public spaces. The others were all major players with several large public projects under their belt—Norman Foster, Cooper Robertson, Richard Meier and Santiago Calatrava. At that point, Diller + Scofidio had a handful of installations and a much-loved restaurant interior, the Brasserie. That summer, their conceptual architecture-cum-art piece, Blur, a mist-filled cloud-making apparatus over Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland opened to the public. While Diller + Scofidio clearly had the intellectual acuity to go toe-to-toe with these architects, their lack of built projects meant the firm would be a tough sell for Lincoln Center’s board.

"Robertson had worked with the duo in the early 1990s, when she was the director of the 42nd Street Redevelopment Corporation. As part of a plan to animate the closed theaters and other dead spaces in the district, the corporation worked with the public-art organization Creative Time to commission projects from the likes of Jenny Holzer, Tibor Kalman, and Diller + Scofidio. She knew of the designers’ knack for multidisciplinary design, and the strong element of performance and surveillance in their work—such as the monitors at the bar of the Brasserie—and knew they would be a good fit. “For us, Lincoln Center was about more communication between the arts,” said Robertson. By focusing on that element of Diller + Scofidio’s work, she was able to get the firm on the list, and the rest is history."

Mr. Belluschi died February 14, 1994 at the age of 94. In addition to the Juilliard Building, he worked on the Pan Am (now MetLife) Building (see The City Review article) and the Bank of America tower in San Franciso. For 14 years, he served as dean of the School of Architecture and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Illustration of "grandstand" by Diller Scofidio + Renfro

Illustration of new kiosks and "grandstand" by entrance to Alice Tully Hall by Diller Scofido + Renfro

In the Diller Scofidio + Renfro plan, Juilliard will gain about 40,000 square feet of space and the upper floors of the eastern facade will extend out toward Broadway in a triangular overhang.

Finished staircase to second floor heaven

Finished exterior staircase to second floor heaven...

The plan also calls for a "gently sloping, parabolic-shaped lawn pitched toward an elongated reflecting pool with water cascading over its sides and the "lawn" will have a glass railing and will sit over a glass pavilion restaurant with 220 seats.

At one point, Joseph W. Polisi, the president of Juilliard, said that the plan is "going to link us to Lincoln Center in a much more clear and open way," adding that "The 65th Street renaissance, with the removal of the bridge, will give us a greater sense of openness. We'll be drawn to the North Plaza - the bosk of trees, the meadow roof, which I think will be very popular, and to the attractions on the street level, including the restaurant."

In an April 28, 2005 letter written to Renold Levy, the president of Lincoln Center, Arlene Simon, president, and Kate Wood, Executive Director, of Landmark West, a civic group active on the Upper West Side, noted that they had "difficulty with the Juilliard School plan: "we question how much square footage would actually be gained by altering the Broadway façade – the character of which would be utterly transformed. We do not, at present, have an alternative suggestion, but we hope that other solutions can be explored – for example, a sensitive roof-top addition, if designed in such a way as to be structurally feasible."

The letter also observed that Ada Louise Huxtable had "poetically described Plaza North as 'the sole moment....that lifts the spirit of those to whom the 20th Century is a very exciting time to be alive." "

"Although sadly altered today, Dan Kiley’s carefully orchestrated,minimalist geometry was integral to the original success of this space," the letter continued, "and still suggests the landscape design that gave 'a sense of order and continuity to the complex as a whole,' according to landscape architect Ken Smith. Along with Damrosch Park and Josie Robertson Plaza, Plaza North still stands as a remarkable example of Modern landscape architecture. Even so, our group believes that new elements can be introduced to great benefit....For instance, creating a dual-purpose restaurant/campus green along the north edge of the plaza seems to be a practical and potentially artful way both to link the north and south campuses and preserve the tranquility of the plaza. As proposed, however, the structure’s footprint intrudes on the reflecting pool, forcing it to shift to the south and become narrower. This would appear to impact the symmetrical relationship between the pool and the Lincoln Center Theater, a balanced arrangement of space which Kiley worked closely with the theater’s architect, Eero Saarinen, to create. We wonder whether the restaurant could be shifted north and partially cantilevered over 65th Street, or otherwise configured to minimize the impact on original geometry of the plaza....We also have reservations about removing the travertine planters from Plaza North. Kiley purposefully used these well-proportioned, architectural elements to create a balanced relationship between the open plazas and tree-shaded areas. By using travertine, Kiley also established a visual link between the landscape design and that of the surrounding buildings. The planters play an even more important role in defining the space in Damrosch Park, which still retains a high degree of integrity as the “urban orchard” envisioned by Kiley. It would be unfortunate if the decision to remove the planters in Plaza North set a precedent for eliminating them elsewhere on the campus."

Herbert Muschamp, then the architectural critic of The New York Times, wrote an appraisal of the proposed plans April 13, 2004:

"The 65th Street corridor at Lincoln Center will be opened up using glass as the dominant note. The street will be narrowed, and the sidewalk widened. After a few false starts and some loud internal grumbling, the Lincoln Center Redevelopment Project has found itself a fine, mellow groove. What we've got here is the inverse of the Wow Factor: a new plan for the center's public spaces so understated as to seem almost uncanny. It looks just like Lincoln Center, only smarter, more self-aware and amazingly confident in its sense of direction. The plan is evolutionary. It tweaks, here and there, the existing architecture of Lincoln Center, but the overall effect is to enhance the original rather than to negate or override it. It's respectful. This seems to me an invaluable civic lesson at this intemperate moment in our national life. The plan focuses on the center's north side flanking West 65th Street, between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue. The street itself and open areas to either side of it are to be extensively remodeled, but with a refreshing sensitivity to Lincoln Center's original design. The street, now a dim vehicular corridor dominated by a 210-foot-wide overhead bridge, will be revamped to become the center's main circulation axis. It will be narrowed from four lanes to three, and sidewalks will be widened accordingly. The clunky bridge (technically known as Milstein Plaza, as if it were a public space, you understand) will be replaced by a slender footbridge of translucent glass. Glass will be the dominant note along the new axis. Etched-glass 'light mats' will be set into the sidewalk paving. Transparent facades will replace opaque walls at the ground-floor level of Juilliard. Animated signs on plasma and L.E.D. screens will enliven the street spectacle, and a stand of bleachers will offer a great vantage from which to observe it. Rising from the northwest corner of Broadway and 65th Street, a triangular bank of seats will face the remodeled facade of Alice Tully Hall and the Juilliard building that houses it. The design punches through the dualistic thinking that often plagues urban planners. Preservation or demolition? Neither. Rather, a sensitive remodeling of Juilliard, Pietro Belluschi's 1968 Brutalist composition formally dressed in travertine. I like the building, and the remodeling will improve it. Its corner will be stretched with a triangular protrusion of the upper stories, cantilevered out over the existing pavement. A glazed box will pop down from the underside, offering views of the rehearsal studio within....The north plaza, stretching between Avery Fisher and the Vivian Beaumont Theater, has long been problematic. It's a hideous illustration of George Balanchine's contention that Lincoln Center's companies have nothing in common but the central heating. Nobody wants to do his share of tidying up. The reflecting pool is garbage central. Eero Saarinen's design for the Beaumont is elegant, perhaps the best building of Lincoln Center's mediocre lot. (But entering it is like falling into an empty swimming pool.) If only every barren windswept plaza could get the Diller Scofidio + Renfro treatment! The Municipal Art Society could stop moaning that things aren't what they used to be. Simple program, restrained design: that's the winning combination here. The plaza will now be the setting for a jewel of a restaurant. It will occupy the glass pedestal of an arresting sculptural form: a grassy hollow, seemingly levitated to form the restaurant's roof. Here we can see that these architects are great form makers as well as conceptual designers. A plane anchored diagonally at two corners, lined with wood underneath, the roof evokes Saarinen designs for Yale and M.I.T. (Saarinen, though, was seldom sensitive to context.) Here the contoured horizontal shape plays off the strict straight lines and planes of the surrounding surfaces. With the exposed wood paneling, the roof nearly resembles a musical instrument, tempered to New York sound....The reflecting pool has been rethought, too. The pool's edges will be shaped to make it look as if the water were doing weird antigravitational things. They are a pleasingly off-balance ensemble, the roof, the pool, the grove: three characters in search of waltzing in the rain....It's important to recognize that the philosophy embodied by this project could transform prevailing ideas about public space. Many of us have been waiting for a plan that can move New York's thinking about planning beyond the strenuously pointless debate over traditional street grid vs. modern superblock. Diller Scofidio + Renfro have given us that plan....Welcome to the urbanism of lilt and swoon."

Balderdash!

The Diller Scofidio + Renfro plan tries, inexcusably, to razzle-dazzle a fine building and Arlene Simon's and Kate Wood's proposals make a lot more sense if expansion is really necessary. "Do the hustle" is no longer a popular dance. The plan is not only a squandering of large funds, but an attack on the notion of a cohesive center. Do we really need a parabolic snow-boarder's dream in the midst of "high culture."

In outlining the plans in April, 2004, Elizabeth Diller described the plan of replacing blank walls with glass as an "architectural striptease" and said it would fulfill the center's "unrealized potential."

In his review of the plans in the May 4, 2004 edition of New York magazine, Joseph Giovannini wrote that "Cinderella transformations can rejuvenate and even redefine buildings grown rigid and opaque with age and which, in the case of cultural institutions, have come between the dancer and the dance. Architecture is destiny, and it can be sublime—witness the various permutations of the Guggenheim [see The City Review article]. Even absent wholesale reconstruction, some institutions are discovering what a modicum of intervention can do: A little nip and tuck can have the impact of a total personality transplant. Both the Brooklyn Museum of Art and Lincoln Center have recently answered the self-corrective call, and each is now emerging with a much blither spirit."

Mr. Giovannini said that the plans of both institutions is "open and people-friendly," adding that "What the designs have in common is an imaginative leap beyond the predictable that will help capture a generation of patrons who have largely ignored these institutions, having found them elitist and, worse, forbidding. The new projects are indirect responses to massive demographic shifts—first to downtown, and then to Brooklyn—that have altered the cultural map of the city."

"The Lincoln Center team," Mr. Giovannini continued, "distributes additions like barnacles throughout the north campus in an abstract language of diagonal lines and oblique and warped planes. The effect is as if Lincoln Center had eloped with Brasília in a mad moment. The dynamic cuts in the opaque walls are like incisions opening the interior anatomy for public viewing. At Alice Tully Hall, the architects extend and deform the existing Euclidean box and destabilize the building visually, investing the regular structure with a strange and even uncanny beauty. In an illusionistic tour de force, the architects slant the north plaza around the reflecting pool so that water appears to slope downhill. Poets of a postmodern sensibility, Diller Scofidio + Renfro weave virtuality into the design, creating a luminous electronic space at 65th and Broadway, its curved organic walls, like an orange peel, inset with monitors scrolling programs. Digital ticker tapes mixed within new staircases splice the virtual world into the physical. The sum total of the digital gadgetry promises to expand the cityscape with views of the happenings inside, bringing shows to the street, affirming the architectural gestures that already open the various theaters. Making many working parts of the complex visible, the architects act as conductors, orchestrating the whole complex into an outdoor urban performance."

Mr. Giovannini, one of the ablest critics, well summarizes the sensibility of Diller Scofidio + Renfro and there is no doubt that its talents deserve good exposure in New York. Indeed, potato-chip structures are surely needed...somewhere. Even if its plan were refined, its basic premises of substantially tinkering with the Juilliard builidng are wrong and bad.

In a January 22, 2005 article in The New York Times, Robin Pogrebin reported that some preservationists criticized the center's plans for the North Plaza, noting that Ken Smith, the landscape architect who designed the new roof garden at the Museum of Modern Art and the landscape restoration at Lever House, wrote to Community Board 7 and declared that "There seems to be no compelling justification for altering this historic and significant landscape design."

"Docomomo International, an organization that works to protect buildings and sites associated with 20th-century Modernism, voiced similar concerns," the article continued, "about violating Kiley's "urban forest" concept. 'The planters form an outdoor room that elegantly sets off the open plaza and its reflecting pool from the surrounding buildings and their programs, creating a well-conceived Modern public space,' said John Arbuckle, co-chairman of Docomomo U.S.'s New York-Tristate chapter. 'Their introduction of a Bryant Park-like environment, with its gravel beds and bistro chairs, may work well for other sites, but it is foreign to midcentury Modern architecture and Kiley's original design.' The Historic Districts Council, a citywide advocate for protecting historic areas, said in a statement that the plan for the north plaza 'seems to be rough-handed in its treatment of the surviving Kiley landscape design elements.' ....Docomomo also protested plans to alter the facades of the Juilliard School and Alice Tully Hall, originally designed by Pietro Belluschi and Eduardo F. Catalano. "When this plan is executed, the Juilliard School-Alice Tully Hall building will cease to exist both as an all-too-rare example of well-designed Brutalist-style architecture in the United States and as the work of Belluschi and Catalano," Mr. Arbuckle said."

In an article in the July 2, 2009 edition of The New York Times, Allan Kozinn said "I hate the new Tully Hall. To me it is everything Lincoln Center and its enthusiasts insist it is not. I find it corporate, sterile, claustrophobic and as acoustically arid a hall as I've ever heard. Similarly, everything now being said about the old Tully rings false to me. I always found it the best and most comfortable of Lincoln Center's halls - faint praise, given the problems of its neighbors, but even so, I enjoyed hearing concerts there. It had slightly dry acoustics, but it was better than serviceable. And it was roomy and inviting....Performances by the Bang on a Can All-Stars, Klangforum Wien, the Juilliard Orchestra (playing Messiaen) and the S.E.M. Ensemble suggested that this close-up transparency offers something to new music as well. But it also takes something away. Aftre a while you stop marveling at how crisp the textures are and start wondering whether listening to music really should feel like examining insect parts under a microscrope. Probably not. A lot of music doesn't lend itself to this kind of close-up peering. It demands at least the hint of mystery and allure that a hall's natural resonance ought to provide....The areas just outside the auditorium are horrible: the corridors leading down each side of the hall once had wood-and-glass doorways that made the steps seem open to the foyer. The big new metal doors are like ships' bulkheads, and once you're in the corridor, you feel as if you're in a submarine. The foyer itself is smaller, some of its space having been surrendered to the lobby, which was far too small in the old days....One point on which everyone seems to agree is that Tully's new lobby, a space surrounded by windows, is an enormous improvement over the old box-office area. It's beautiful, and concertgoers have much more space to mingle while they are waiting to go in. But the lobby is less open than it seems: well over half of it has been given over to a restaurant, and if your're not ordering dinner, don't even think of sitting (or standing) there. Nor is the box-office area, to the north of the restaurant, a comfortable place to wait for a friend, or for the hall to open. That may seem a mior complaint, but it touches on Lincoln Center's further renovation plans, and the propaganda line the center is using (with considerable success it seems to me) to sell it. Lincoln Center has made much of how it s reconstruction will create a new social openness, and the official line that the center - not jut Tully Hall - has been a 'closed citadel' of the arts, set apart from the life of New York City's streets. The new Lincoln Center we are told, will be vital and open. Maybe it's just me, but I seem to have missed the closed citadel thing. When I stand on the east side of Broadway at West 63rd or 64th Street and look west, I see a large open plaza, with people walking through it virtually any time of the day. They sit aournd the fountain eating, chatting, reading or daydreaming, and before Lincoln Center tore up the reflecting pool to the north of the Metropoklitan Opera House, people happily while away the hours there too. Sumer nights, these many years, you've seen them dancing in the plaza during Midsummer Night's Swing, taking in the mixed bag of Lincoln Center Out of Doors programs. Weekend crafts fairs have filled the plaza as well....In its renovation plan Lincoln Center envisions tearing down this supposed citadel by using some of its plaza space for anothre retaurant. At Tully handing over a large parcel of newly cleared space to a restaurant still left concertgoers with more room than they were used to. But for those who use the plaza this transfer will be a loss, and offering an atrium across Columbus Avenue will not be adquenate compensation. (Why not put the restaurant there?)..."

Mr. Kozinn is a very astute and accurate observer and critic! (7/2/09)

One of two "green" walls in former Harkness apartment tower across from Lincoln Center that has now lost its non-original "climbing wall" but gained a cafe

In early March 2010 much of the work was nearing completion. The sunken plaza and bleachers at Alice Tully Hall were not elegant and not even made of travertine! The slanted lawn across from it in the middle of 65th Street ruins the great pool vistas of the Beaumont Theater and is not a very interesting "folly." The new lobby at Alice Tully is bigger and higher and has a cafe but it almost seems bigger than the small theater and is unnessary. This is not only misguided but also an indecent expenditure of a very great deal of money! (3/27/10)

 

Home Page of The City Review