Lincoln Center has always had expensive taste. It spent more than $1 billion on a series of renovations by Diller Scofido + Renfro, while leaving two of its largest buildings (the opera house and concert hall) untouched. Now it plans to spend $500 million to renovate the interior of David Geffen Hall (known as Avery Fisher Hall until September, when David Geffen made a $100 million gift). By comparison, the budget for the Performing Arts Center at the World Trade Center, a ground-up building, is estimated at $200 million.
Some of Lincoln Center’s $500 million will go Diamond Schmitt Architects, a Toronto firm that has designed some 40 theaters, and Heatherwick Studio, run by the London polymath Thomas Heatherwick. And some will go to a local architect, yet to be named.
Diamond Schmitt and Heatherwick were chosen over finalists Foster + Partners, Diller Scofidio and Renfro, and Canadian architect Bing Thom.
Max Abramovitz designed Avery Fisher Hall, which, from the outside, is considered one of the more successful Lincoln Center buildings. But its boxy auditorium has been criticized on aesthetic and acoustical grounds. Diamond Schmitt and Heatherwick are expected to make radical changes to the 2,400-seat room, working with specialists at Akustiks and the theater design firm Fisher Dachs. (In a sign of the times, the consultants were brought in before the designers were chosen.) According to Lincoln Center, construction will begin in 2019.
Hugh Hardy, FAIA, who has designed some of New York’s most successful theaters, said that the designers are likely to turn a hall designed for a single type of event into a more flexible space—a kind of “high-tech multi-purpose room.” Of the $500 million pricetag, he said, “It’s a hell of a lot of money, but they’re going to want the room to do a hell of a lot of things.”
Diamond Schmitt has extensive theater experience; it's projects include the New Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg. In the U.S., it designed a Jewish Community Center on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Heatherwick, meanwhile, is on deck to become a major force in remaking New York City: He is the designer of Pier 55, a planned park and outdoor performance space funded largely by Barry Diller, and the centerpiece of the multi-billion-dollar Hudson Yards Development, a giant sculpture that has yet to be unveiled. Known as an expert problem solver, Heatherwick is working with BIG on Google’s new headquarters in California (a partnership comparable to the one with Diamond Schmitt). A show of his work at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum runs through January 3.
Back in London, Heatherwick is the designer of the Garden Bridge, a proposed Thames crossing that has been criticized as expensive and unnecessary. Meanwhile, Diamond Schmitt is working on renovating Ottawa’s National Arts Centre, a 1967 building, in time for its 50th anniversary. “We are taming its Brutalist facade a bit,” said a spokesman, Paul French (who, like everyone involved in the Geffen Hall renovation, was asked by Lincoln Center not to talk about it).
Lincoln Center’s announcement marks the second recent setback in New York for Foster + Partners. In 2005, it was chosen to redesign what was then Avery Fisher Hall (beating out Raphael Moneo and the team of Richard Meier and Arata Isozaki). Later, the Philharmonic and Lincoln Center abandoned the Foster plan. And in June, Foster was replaced as the architect of 2 World Trade Center by BIG.