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Alice Tully Hall and Juilliard School in New York

With its 22 performance venues large and small, the Lincoln Center in New York is a cultural Mecca. No fewer than 12 institutions, including the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic, share a location that was developed in the 1960s in what was then a rough and not very attractive part of the city. Travertine facades and a peripheral plinth convey a stylistic impression of classicism in modernism. Among the architects to design the individual buildings were Gordon Bunshaft (SOM), Philip Johnson and Eero Saarinen.

In 1969, the Juilliard School building – also clad in travertine and raised on a plinth – was created by Pietro Belluschi in Brutalist style, together with the Alice Tully Hall, which was conceived principally for chamber music. Laid out orthogonally, these developement kept somewhat aloof from the diagonal line of Broadway, which dissects the urban street grid at this point. The foyer was low in height and uninviting, and the entrance was not easy to find. The conversion project, therefore, involved not just an extension of the areas of the conservatory music, dance and drama and a large-scale modernization; the complex was also to be made more open and accessible to the public.

The upper floors of the Juilliard School now cantilever out to the street line of Broadway. Beneath this powerful projecting volume with its sloping underside, space has been created for a large new glazed foyer. The public realm has been reduced in size as a result of this, but it is now more inviting and exciting.

A sunken area, with peripheral steps that can also be used for sitting, continues almost without a break into the foyer; and at the corner of the block, a small tier of seating has been formed oriented towards the lobby.

Along the side face, the architects drew the travertine cladding in a slightly modified form to the line of Broadway. Here, however, in 65th Street, which used to be something of a backwater, they have created a generous glazed opening on the ground floor. At this point, the existing structure remains legible in a new interpretation. On the Broadway front, in contrast, the building is opened up through large areas of glazing that allow passers-by views into the interior of the conservatory.

The dominant features in the foyer are a curved wall clad with reddish-brown wood, and a bar. Concealed beneath the dynamic, stone-clad form of the bar is a steel supporting structure. Curving surfaces in maobi, an African wood, conjure a homogeneous, calm, warm atmosphere in the reddesigned auditorium, which forms the heart of the complex. Pivoting horizontal and vertical panels in the stage area as well as sound-absorbing curtains along the sides enable the space to be modified in various ways: for chamber music, electronically amplified music and film showings, for example. Two lowerable stage extensions allow changes to be made in the spatial arrangement – through the insertion of additional rows of seating or the creation of an orchestra pit. The most striking feature, however, is the integration of the lighting in the outer skin. The wood cladding can be illuminated from the rear, allowing the hall to be bathed in a reddish light before a performance. That was one reason for applying the moabi veneer to translucent synthetic-resin panels that are, in turn, indirectly illuminated by metal reflectors fixed to the rear. The panels were tested for their acoustic properties, which proved to be similar to those of wood and plasterboard.

Other notable newly designed elements can be found in the Juilliard School, such as a rehearsal hall and box-office facilities. Above all, two special staircases catch the eye: the line of the canopy roof outside the main entrance is taken up internally in the form of steps on which one can sit; and along the glazed facade to Broadway, two elongated flights of stairs create links to the upper floors. These steel, trough-shaped elements are painted grey externally and bright orange internally.

Work at the Lincoln Centre is by no means over for Diller Scofidio + Renfro. In 2010, for example, the Hypar Restaurant will open. With its double-curved, planted roof, it should encourage passers-by and concertgoers alike to spend more time in this environment.

This article is taken out of the following magazine:
DETAIL 4/2010

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