Carter B. Horsley
Earlier this year, the Lincoln
Center for the
Performing Arts unveiled a plan (see The
City Review article) by Diller Scofidio + Renfro to
alter Pietro Belluschi's fine Brutalist building at Alice Tully
Hall, the second best building at the center after Eero Saarinen's
Vivian Beaumont Theater.
Now, the center has unveiled a
by the same architects that would dramatically alter the main
frontage of the center by tacking on large canopies to the east
facades of Avery Fisher Hall the New York State Theater and burying
the roadway drive in a tunnel surrounded by "tall grass."
Not only are these plans inane,
they are also
as outrageously expensive as the controversial memorial at the
former site of the World Trade Center. Incredibly, the various
component institutions of the center have approved these plans.
What type of buffoons are running such important institutions?
Have they no shame? No couth? No architectural sensitivity?
From its start, the center's
campus has not
garnered critical acclaim, but these two schemes not only do not
improve it, they make it worse by destroying the integrity of
the original designs for not purpose rather than spending huge
amounts of money that certainly could well be used for better
purposes, like creating a museum of the performing arts at the
The following is an excerpt of
a press release
in June 2006 from the Lincoln Center For The Performing Arts,
"Lincoln Center, Inc. has
million, or 75%, of the $459 million that is its share of the
estimated $650 million for the West 65th Street Project, the first
redevelopment initiative at Lincoln Center. The $459 million includes
a $50 million endowment goal for Lincoln Center, Inc. The other
organizations participating in the West 65th Street Project have
made comparable progress in reaching their collective goal. The
constituents who will enjoy a dramatic new street presence on
West 65th Street are: The Juilliard School, The Chamber Music
Society of Lincoln Center, The Film Society of Lincoln Center,
Lincoln Center Theater, and School of American Ballet. These
were made today by Frank A. Bennack, Jr., Chairman, Lincoln Center,
Inc., at a celebration of redevelopment milestones.
"Additionally at this event,
designs by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, in collaboration with FX
Fowle for The Promenade Project, Lincoln Center's second redevelopment
initiative, were previewed. The Promenade Project focuses on Lincoln
Center's iconic Josie Robertson Plaza and the campus' primary
Columbus Avenue entrance. Separately, Morphosis and Tod Williams
Billie Tsien Architects were named as the finalists selected to
design Lincoln Center's recently announced Harmony Atrium initiative.
In making these announcements, Mr. Bennack was joined by Mayor
Michael R. Bloomberg; acclaimed performing artist and Juilliard
graduate Audra McDonald; Commissioner of Cultural Affairs Kate
D. Levin; Commissioner of Parks and Recreation Adrian Benepe;
Congressmen Jerrold Nadler and Anthony Weiner; Katherine Farley,
Chairman, Lincoln Center Development Project; and Lincoln Center
President, Reynold Levy.
"The $339 million represents a
of public and private funding sources for the revitalized West
65th 'Street of the Arts' including, for the first time since
construction on Lincoln Center began in the 1950s, major capital
funds secured from all three levels of government: more than $22
million in funding has been authorized through federal agencies;
$30 million from New York State pending final budget adoption;
and up to $90 million from the City of New York have been secured.
Other firsts include the first-ever capital campaign which benefits
the entire campus, the first endowment campaign for Lincoln Center,
Inc., and the first capital campaign for Lincoln Center's public
"In addition, Lincoln Center
20 gifts of $5 million or more, nine of which are at $10 million
and above. Along with government support, donors are broadly
among individuals, corporations, and foundations.
"The vibrant inaugural West
Project, by the innovative architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro
in collaboration with FX Fowle, is designed to make Lincoln Center
more accessible and open, creating a dynamic 'Street of the Arts'
spanning West 65th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue.
The West 65th Street Project began construction earlier this spring
and is expected to be completed in time for Lincoln Center's 50th
anniversary in 2009.
"Noted Mr. Bennack, 'Because of
national/local partnership forged between elected, civic and artistic
leaders, in combination with the visionary generosity of trustees
under the decisive leadership of David Rubenstein, we are entering
the public fundraising stage of the campaign with over three quarters
of our West 65th Street goal raised. It is particularly gratifying
to note that every Lincoln Center trustee is committed to supporting
the campaign and the overwhelming majority has determined the
size of their gifts. We believe trustee giving will top $100 million.'
"Added Reynold Levy, 'The
support of Mayor
Bloomberg and New York City, especially New York City Council
Speaker Christine C. Quinn, First Deputy Mayor Patricia Harris,
and Commissioners Kate D. Levin, Amanda Burden, Iris Weinshall,
Robert Tierney, and Adrian Benepe, has been essential to making
possible the ongoing progress of this important civic gift. In
addition, the support of Senators Charles Schumer and Hillary
Rodham Clinton, Congressmen Jerrold Nadler, Anthony Weiner and
John Sweeney, as well as from Governor George E. Pataki, New York
State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, and New York State
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, speak to the promise and success
of this vital endeavor. Revitalizing Lincoln Center will make
it a destination for future generations of performing arts patrons,
neighbors, students, and visitors who will enjoy our 16.3 acres
of performance and public spaces.'
"Now that the lead gift
campaign for West
65th Street is close to completion, Lincoln Center will be broadening
its approach to individuals, corporations, and foundations throughout
"Diller Scofidio + Renfro, in
with FX Fowle, have created a complementary plan to rebuild Lincoln
Center's primary entryway along Columbus Avenue and to upgrade
and reenergize the adjacent Josie Robertson Plaza. Drawing upon
the same design vocabulary and palette of materials being used
in Lincoln Center's inaugural West 65th Street Project - glass,
travertine, new landscape features, and integrated information
technologies for enhancing the visitor experience -The Promenade
Project, unanimously approved by all 12 resident organizations
in March, is designed to further unite Lincoln Center with the
surrounding cityscape. The plans create a more dramatic and functional
threshold to what is Lincoln Center's iconic front door, and open
up the campus to encourage the interaction of artists, students,
and the public. Construction for the project will be integrated
into West 65th Street construction activity.
"Katherine Farley, Chairman of
Center Development Project, noted, 'This elegant design reflects
both an appreciation of the key elements of the iconic Lincoln
Center as well as an understanding of how to make this important
entrance more welcoming - a front door to the thousands of performances
and other activities that take place here each year.'
"Diller Scofidio + Renfro's
pedestrian and vehicular traffic for visitors who arrive using
the Columbus Avenue service roadway and stairs. Their conceptual
design sinks the existing service road below street level, creating
a new and generously proportioned concourse-level roadway to serve
audience members arriving by car, while at the same time separating
pedestrians, making their arrival pleasant, safer, and free from
"The design expands the
into a new, 171-foot wide travertine marble grand stair that will
enable visitors arriving by taxi or private car to disembark curbside
from Columbus Avenue and walk directly up the new grand stair
onto Josie Robertson Plaza. Twin flanking travertine ramps will
give additional access, with sleek glass canopies that project
dramatically from Avery Fisher Hall and New York State Theater's
arcades providing arriving visitors with protection during inclement
"Cars arriving from the north
cars from 65th Street will be directed under a new canopy, where
a three-lane roadway and waiting area will provide access to stairs,
escalators, or elevators that will bring patrons up to Josie Robertson
Plaza or into newly renovated, clearly defined underground passageways.
Dramatic new landscaping will add to the creation of a more inviting
entrance to Lincoln Center, incorporated along Columbus Avenue
between 62nd and 65th Street. The extension of 21st-century interactive
information sites for visitor services and the use of a consistent
graphics system throughout the campus are essential parts of the
plan to identify and unify the different parts of the campus and
mark the four corners of Lincoln Center.
"At the heart of Lincoln Center
iconic Josie Robertson Plaza, a rare open public space long considered
by many as the main lobby for the entire campus, with the central
Revson Fountain set into a distinctive patterned pavement designed
by Philip Johnson originally inspired by the Campodiglio in Rome.
The plans call for a full restoration of the patterned Plaza.
In the spirit of making Lincoln Center a more welcoming, inviting
destination, the new plans incorporate unobtrusive, state-of-the
art security measures.
"The revitalized Revson
give the appearance of a floating granite ring, opening views
across the Plaza in all directions, and slightly lowered to provide
comfortable seating to accommodate visitors. The pool of water
also will be lowered and converted to a shallow water surface
at Plaza level.
"Lincoln Center Inc.'s Bravo
leadership is headed by David Rubenstein; the working groups are
led by Bruce Kovner (West 65th Street Project) and Dan Brodsky
(The Promenade Project). Katherine Farley is Chairman of the Lincoln
Center Development Project.
"Separately, it will be
the firms of the California-based Morphosis and the New York City-based
Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects were selected as finalists
to design the Harmony Atrium. Announced last week, the forward-looking
agreement in principle with the Harmony Condo will transform the
underutilized 6,900 square foot Harmony Atrium, a privately owned
public space (POPS) located between Broadway and Columbus Avenues
between West 62nd and West 63rd Streets, into a vibrant, 21st-century
arts-oriented public gateway to Lincoln Center. The final selection
will be made this summer, and work is expected to be completed
by fall 2008.
"Reynold Levy noted, 'Both
bringing a distinctive, fresh approach to revitalizing this underused
space into a vital, active and welcoming area for the community,
students, performing arts patrons and visitors, have proposed
early design concepts that would complement the superb, transformative
work of Diller Scofidio + Renfro already underway at Lincoln Center.'
"Morphosis[:] Located in Santa
California, the firm is noted for the stylistic diversity of its
projects, which range in scale from academic and civic buildings
to large-scale urban design master plans. Noted designs completed
and in process include the Caltrans headquarters building in Los
Angeles and a new academic building for Cooper Union in New York.
The firm's principal, Thom Mayne, was awarded the 2005 Pritzker
"Tod Williams Billie Tsien
A New York City-based practice with a strong emphasis on innovative
uses of materials, structural ingenuity and energy management.
Recent projects include the American Folk Art Museum in New York
City and the Master Plan for a 25-acre campus in Mumbai, India.
"Additional information may be
the Transforming Lincoln Center area of www.lincolncenter.org."
The people mentioned in the
press release above
with the exception of Morphosis and Tod Williams Billie Tsien
Architects and FXFowle have a lot of chutzpah and virtually no
sense of architectural grace. These are the type of people who
have made New York City a backwater of architecture for the past
few decades, a trend that some observers thought was beginning
to decline, but which, unfortunately, given the prominence of
Lincoln Center, apparently is not.
These are atrocious design
decisions that might
pass muster in suburban New Jersey but are indefensible and offensive
in New York.
The notion that New Yorkers are
unable to negotiate
crossing two lanes of traffic at the front of the raised platform
on which the center sits is quaint since those poor culture-goers
will already have managed to cross far more lanes of traffic on
Columbus Avenue and Broadway and 65th Streets to get there. Why
not, therefore, bridge over those car paths with something really
elaborate and while doing it give the commission to some architects
with flair. There is, of course, no need for such a mini-megastructure.
In a June 12, 2006 article in The
Times, Robin Pogrebin wrote that "Currently people heading
to a Lincoln Center performance from the east side of Broadway
must cross 11 lanes of traffic just to reach the sidewalk, then
ascend a short staircase and traverse two lanes of cars dropping
people off. Taxis must stop for crossing pedestrians, creating
a line of cars and congestion at curtain time." She quoted
Elizabeth Diller as maintaining that "To us this was really
the evil protagonist of the project," adding that "Not
only is there no gracious way to enter, but you're assaulted by
traffic lanes and then bump into the Jersey barriers," or
concrete security rails. The article stated that "About 40
percent of the traffic headed to performances comes from the existing
roadway in front of the plaza, with 20 percent more at the Columbus
Avenue curb and the rest at Lincoln Center's other access points.
The new design aims to make drop-off and pickup traffic more evenly
No gracious way to enter?
Poppycock! The plaza
is quite large and excellent for people watching and each of the
main facilities fronting on it - the New York State Theater, Avery
Fisher Hall and the Metropolitan Opera House - have ample, broad
entrances and lobbies, and most importantly, second-story balconies
overlooking the plaza.
The one interesting feature of
Project" is that each step of the redesigned front staircase
will have, according to the article in The Times,
L.E.D. lights behind translucent glass will announce events at
Lincoln Center." While such announcements may not have the
panache or cachet of pithy Jenny Holzerish "quotations,"
or the wit of Barbara Kruger's great headlines, the notion at
first seems not too bad, but then one begins to wonder about the
legibility of such announcements in the short height of each stair,
abut how well they will stand up to the pitter patter of New York
feet, and how such signage will dignify and make more gracious
the arrival of ticketholders.
The Times article
quoted Ms. Diller as describing the L.E.D. staircase as "a
kind of electronic welcome mat, that gives you the general marquee
information about what's playing."
That will be so very very
important to people
arriving with their tickets for specific performances in hand,
An "electronic welcome mat"
must have bedazzled the mighty patrons and directors of the center's
illustrious components, but wouldn't it be cheaper and more fun
just to have the Goodyear Blimp hover over the plaza with L.E.D.'s
on its bulbous sides? Probably there are security reasons behind
all this chicanery, but London liked to put up barrage blimps
and since the Mayor doesn't seem to want to redirect airplanes
from flying over Manhattan why not put up more blimps and stop
messing with travertine steps.
Ms. Diller was quoted elsewhere
that "We believe Lincoln Center deserves a dignified entrance
like other major civic and cultural buildings of New York,"
adding that "It should have an extended threshold that transitions
from the quotidian to the extraordinary."
We would be happy to settle for
but it's nowhere to found in these new schemes.
The New York State Theater is
the best of the
three main buildings fronting on the plaza and the Metropolitan
Opera House is the worst.
"One of the urbanistic problems
Center is the campus is really divorced from the city, kind of
a Acropolian structure - white - that sets itself off from the
street," Ms. Diller was quoted, adding that "We wanted
to make it transparent, make it float, open up as many surfaces
Well, Ms. Diller travertine
float and that is not a tragedy. She was also quoted to the effect
that the plaza has some clutter - bars, garbage cans and security
barriers. "It's kind of ad hoc blight," she was quoted
as stating, adding that 'What we'd like to do is consolidate all
Ms. Diller is obviously a very
perhaps even neat.
The May 24,
2010 issue of New York magazine provided the following update:
Center greets summer by opening its spiffed-up new public spaces,
including the swoopy new rooftop lawn above the still-unfinished
restaurant and razzle-dazzle LEDs on the stairs, some gremlins appear
to have turned the fountain in the center of the plaza into the
high-culture version of an open fire hydrant. Four-story jets of water
have lately been shooting up into oncoming gusts of wind, spraying the
plaza and soaking unsuspecting visitors in the seconds before they can
scatter. WET Design, which choreographed the dancing fountain, had
promised a more sober, tasteful act than its magnum opus, the explosive
aquatic chorus line at the Bellaggio in Las Vegas. Wind sensors are
supposed to keep the burbling low on breezy days. But a Lincoln Center
spokesperson said that the cultural complex has been testing new
configurations, ramping up the fountain's acrobatics for benefits and
other special events. It's nice to know, when an errant cannonball of
water comes plummeting down on your shoulders, that at least the gala
audiences watching from the balcony of Avery Fisher Hall are being
The article noted that grass roof opened on May
21 with crowds of people piling on, and asked "Is this evidence of the
success of the lawn, or an “epic fail,” as our tipster called it?"
The article had several "comments."
wrote: "It is a great disappointment for those of us who consider
Lincoln Center’s plazas to be public space to realize that the new and
nameless restaurant in the North Plaza will effectively privatize a
great deal of what was once one of the City’s most special places. The
slow pace of the renovations has allowed us to grow gradually
accustomed to the cramped results but it is only now that we realize
these painful machinations are for the express purpose of creating a
restaurant few of us will ever have the opportunity to eat
in. Those who enjoy sprawling on a dying geometric lawn or
huddling under a 'bosque' may feel compensated. Other non-diners will
always miss the grace of the original reflecting pool and the quiet
sophistication of Dan Kiley’s landscape. We would like to be helpful
with the naming of the new Italian restaurant though: 'Tristezza'
(sadness) would be perfect." (6/10/10)
"'Richard Meier, Norman Foster
...' Charles Renfro paused, trying to remember the name of the third
architect his firm, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, had beaten in a 2002
competition to rethink the 65th Street corridor of Lincoln Center. 'And
someone else,' he finally said.
soon we forget,' said Sylvia Smith, who supervised the project with
Renfro. (It was Santiago Calatrava.)
"Well, the losers of an architectural competition
are fairly unimportant, since to the victors go the spoils, in this
case a lucrative project that - unusually for a big,
contentious job - ended up growing in scope to encompass the
rethinking of all of Lincoln Center's public spaces.
"During a tour for some fellow architects
sponsored by the Center for Architecture, Renfro and Smith spoke of the
project's engineering difficulties—the unprecedented cementitious
ceiling, the corner of the building where stone, glass, and cement all
meet - and its massive scope.
"Even with that scope, the project is essentially
respectful, even conservative, matching Lincoln Center's desire to keep
the shells of all the buildings intact. It was an expensive desire; the
most drastic intervention - on the building housing Alice
Tully Hall and the Juilliard School - reportedly cost $360
million, and Renfro said the sum was "probably double" what it would
have taken simply to raze the original structure and build a new one.
"But despite the expense - the result,
Renfro said, of the difficulty of negotiating existing structural
elements during the renovation - their proposal was likely
selected, eight years ago, for its good-natured modesty. Smith said
that Beverly Sills (then Lincoln Center's president) was almost shocked
that Diller Scofidio + Renfro's plan accepted - liked, even!
- the space it would be retooling, rather than criticizing it.
"'Our team,' Smith said, 'was the only one that
said there's really beautiful things about Lincoln Center.'
"Even the new Alice Tully Hall/Juilliard shows
love for Pietro Belluschi's 1969 building, showing an evolution from,
not just a reaction to, its brutalist style. The renovation sliced off,
at a sharp angle, much of the original building, replacing it with
walls of glass and adding a vastly expanded lobby and studios for
Juilliard overlooking Broadway.
"For Lincoln Center, which had long been an
island of culture closed off to its surroundings, the renovation to
Alice Tully Hull exposed the building to the street so that, as Renfro
said, 'going to the theater becomes theater.'
"The vocabulary that both architects kept using
replaced Belluschi's muscularity with a more feminine warmth and
transparency—'an architectural striptease,' as Renfro put it.
"After looking at the building from a few outdoor
angles, the group moved into the hall itself, which was also completely
renovated. There was a newly installed organ. The old theater, another
architect said, "focused mediocrely on every function that it had." The
goal was to add more intimacy to the space, so the architects
eliminated subway and air-conditioning noise, reduced clutter, and
warmed the room by backlighting paper-thin wood veneer wall panels with
"A staircase, past an odd and unflattering
portrait of a heavily braceleted Alice Tully with her dog at her feet,
led up to the new patron lounge. In the old hall, the lounge was a
cramped room in the back of the building. Now, it is a huge space with
expansive views towards Lincoln Center's main campus. There is even a
balcony overlooking the lobby, so that the nobility can watch the
"Looking out the windows, the 'Illumination
Lawn,' atop a building that will house theaters and a restaurant, swept
up from the center's North Plaza, which was completely renovated.
Sylvia Smith, pointing across, did summon some critical words about the
pre-renovation condition of that plaza, below which are many of the
center's offices. 'It leaked,' she said with a rueful smile, 'from the
day Philip Johnson put it together.'
"The leaking, she added proudly, had
Unfortunately, the memory of the "striptease"
lingers on much too visibly and viscerally. (7/30/10)
In a September 2, 2010 article in The New York Times by Robin Pogrebin entitled "At
New Lincoln Center, Information Is Part of the Architecture," Elizabeth
Diller maintained that her firm's efforts were "to turn Lincoln Center
inside out, so that it would no longer be....'just something carved out
of stone.'" "The monumentality of the scale of the buildings
really needed to be softened up by a different, pedestrian scale," she
said, adding that the Columbus Avenue stairs are "an electronic welcome
mat" and that the thirteen, 24-hour, L.E.D. "blades" on the south
side of 65th Street are meant to be "much more atmospheric and gestural
and impressionistic" than mere posters. The article said that the
various elements are part of "a wholesale reimaging of the complex as
moreporous, inviting and immediate."
rhetoric, but overall outrageous. If only Diller had limited
their improvements to the "blades"! It's a shame she doesn't like
"just something carved out of stone"! Tough luck Michelangelo!