Pietro Belluschi would probably roll over in his grave if he could see Alice Tully Hall today. But not necessarily with good cause. In 1969, Belluschi (along with Eduardo Catalano and Helge Westermann) designed the Juilliard School building, which encompasses Alice Tully Hall, in a somewhat muscular, but still watered-down rendition of the poured-concrete Brutalism made popular by Le Corbusier’s late, rugged Modern architecture [record, January 1970, page 121]. Belluschi softened the Juilliard building with a travertine coating that matched the rest of Lincoln Center. At the time, it still appeared more macho than the tepidly Modern Classical buildings of the 16-acre complex. (See Martin Filler’s critique of Lincoln Center.)
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Since 2003, Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DSR) has been in charge of reconfiguring and generally spiffing up the public spaces of the Lincoln Center campus (working with Beyer Blinder Belle on one portion). Now, Juilliard is being renovated and expanded by DSR with FXFOWLE, and its first phase, Alice Tully Hall, which opened in February, demonstrates the teams’ stunning, but let’s say unusual, $157 million effort. The architects brought their own neo-Modernist vocabulary and gravity-defying vision to the job, enabled by sophisticated engineers (Arup), not to mention three-dimensional computer modeling and advanced materials fabrication.
The project, which increases the hall from 125,000 to 150,000 square feet, involved a radical amputation, extension, and renovation within Belluschi’s 500,000-square-foot structure. DSR and FXFOWLE removed his original monumental stair on Broadway and the second-level balcony and bridge over 65th Street (a lighter one is planned) linking to Lincoln Center’s main plaza, and stripped off the south- and east-end walls.
In adding the extra square feet, the team expanded horizontally, owing to an 85-foot-high cap for Lincoln Center buildings. But instead of staying with the orthogonally determined volume of the original, they made the extension a trapezoid in plan to align with Broadway on the east, where it slices on a diagonal through the New York City grid. In an operation that could be described as surgically Frankensteinian as well as structurally mind-boggling, the team placed the new school spaces in a cantilevered wedge that forms a prowlike canopy, zooming out to Broadway and West 65th Street above the new 38-foot-6-inch-high glazed lobby, and designed so that the prow’s underside tilts up at a 16-degree angle. (A small outdoor “grandstand” at the southeast corner echoes the tilt.) Structural glazed walls bring daylight into three stories of rehearsal space and classrooms in the wedge, as well as a dance studio suspended beneath its soffit. As Liz Diller, principal of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, puts it, “We were trying to work with the DNA of what was there, yet subvert the language to a new idiom.” While either genetic or linguistic metaphors seem apt to describe the process, the end result hardly seems an organic or syntactic extrapolation of the code governing the original design.
Putting in place the elements to graft the wedge onto the orthogonal structure did require unconventional moves: The team installed trusses running east–west between the third and sixth levels to carry the load for the four floors of the expansion, the longest of which has a 75-foot back span with a 50-foot cantilever. Some of the trusses’ diagonals needed to be offset to accommodate doors, passageways, and other obstructions. And to account for lateral loads, steel diagonal brace frames (of which only one is visible) extend from the ground to the roof.
The original lobby for Alice Tully Hall was depressed below grade, with the entrance underneath the monumental stair, while the school’s entrance occurred on West 65th Street at the bridge. Now the architects have brought light and space to the lobby by sheathing Tully’s east and south elevations with a mullionless glass, one-way-cable wall system. The Juilliard School’s new entrance, also at street level, opens onto a dramatically steep, stadiumlike stair leading to the second level. Sylvia Smith, FAIA, partner of FXFOWLE, notes the “incremental renovation,” which is still going on, has allowed musicians to practice while construction crews hammered.
In almost doubling Tully’s lobby from 5,157 to 9,468 square feet, including a 3,600-square-foot patron’s salon on the mezzanine, DSR and FXFOWLE included a visible public café in the lobby along Broadway, backed by blood-red walls of Amazonian muirapiranga wood. Portuguese ataija azul limestone floors extend through the auditorium lobby proper, where narrow passageways take visitors to the side entrances of the concert hall. Here the architects simply lined the walls in dark gray felt and covered the floor with gray industrial carpeting. This “sensory deprivation space,” as Diller describes it, is meant to heighten the drama of coming into the auditorium with its sinuous walls of a warm African moabi. This transition space turns out to be one of the few missteps: Its darkness makes it hard for visitors to navigate, and its black-hole effect cuts off the sense of procession established by the gleaming lobby.
The auditorium, now named the Starr Theater, on the other hand, is smashing. The team was required to keep the size of the original, while increasing the number of seats from 923 to 1,087. Although the earlier stage could be expanded and the first three rows of seats removed for performance flexibility, now the stage provides three configurations, with front rows sliding down and underneath it when desired.
The coup de théatre, however, is the sinuously curved moabi paneling covering the walls and parts of the ceiling of the auditorium. Some of the wood panels are opaque, with a moabi veneer over reconstituted wood. But the most noticeable panels at the back of the stage and on the side walls are translucent, bonded to resin with LED lighting embedded in them to emit a warm, rosy glow. The only problem is, now that opening festivities are over, visitors may find that this panel lighting is used in a limited way. Not all who control the switch seem to have fully bought into the concept.
The acoustics for the original hall, sheathed in wood batten with dampening behind it, had satisfied audiences, although not without complaints. Since the expansion brought the building even closer to a subway line, the acoustical consultants, JaffeHolden, called for isolating the floor and the seating slab with rubber, and worked with the architects to calculate the curves of the 1-to-11⁄2-inch-thick moabi panels for reflectivity. Adjustable acoustic banners over side walls, plus rotating wood stage panels and movable ceiling panels, provide absorptive surfaces for amplified music. The entire effort, urbanistically, aesthetically, and acoustically, has met with deserved success. The architects proved they could carry off this bold operation with bravery, skill, and panache.
Diller Scofidio + Renfro
Diller Scofidio + Renfro, New York
FXFOWLE Architects, New York
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Insulated-panel or plastic glazing: Insulated Glass units and Monolithic Glass
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Inner, Outer Lobbies-