Dealing with Lincoln Center

Lincoln Center, the large cluster of travertine-covered performing arts buildings in New York City’s Upper West Side, never had very much architectural integrity. Most of the buildings rely on classical forms and geometries, while still trying to be acceptably modern. At the time the complex was being designed, the late 1960s, full-on Modernism was still not very popular with the public (it never really was), and so it was decided that all the buildings would be covered with travertine and lined up axially.

The Main Plaza at Lincoln Center.

More after the break.

On an individual level, the buildings vary in quality. The Jullliard School and Alice Tully Hall, by Pietro Belluschi, and the Vivian Beaumont Theater, by Eero Saarinen and Gordon Bunshaft, are the best of the bunch. The Metropolitan Opera House, by Wallace K. Harrison (the coordinator of the entire complex) lacks the integrity of those two buildings, but at least makes the best of its classical colonnade to create an impressive-looking focal point for the complex. The New York State Theater, by Philip Johnson, and the New York State Theater, by Max Abromovitz (Harrison’s partner) are by far the worst of the crop. They too have classical colonnades, but theirs lack the definition of scale that makes Harrison’s Opera House tolerable.

Harrison’s Opera House.

Diller Scofidio & Renfro was hired in 2006 to transform the complex, stitching the decidedly contemporary into the kitsch-ily modern. The result is more successful in some areas than others. A triangular addition to the Julliard School allows it to meet the street line, and creates an attractive and inviting restaurant and atrium. This relatively minor addition makes the entire complex feel more connected to its surroundings. In front of the Beaumont Theater, DS+R added a small, glass restaurant building, with a sharply angled green roof that slopes down to the plaza, beckoning unsuspecting pedestrians to take on a walk on it. Along with some of complex’s other details (like excessive LED lights) this seems a little over-the-top, and skirting of the real problem. But frankly, it’s hard to confront the problems of Lincoln Center effectively. At least DS+R was able to stitch the complex into its urban setting without resorting to the shameless classical tricks employed by many of its original architects.

DS+R’s new restaurant building.

On the whole, I like this renovation. It’s a hard job (relatively) well done.


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