A Canadian firm has won the competition to design an overhauled David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, home to the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Opened in 1962, the acoustically challenged 2,738-seat venue has resisted two previous attempts at sonic upgrades.
“They’ve never really got it quite right,” says Gary McCluskie, lead designer for performing arts spaces at Toronto-based Diamond Schmitt Architects, the winning design firm. “The New York Philharmonic is a world-renowned orchestra, and they should be playing in a space that really lets people hear the quality and the character of the musicians.”
Though the exterior of David Geffen Hall will be preserved, the auditorium itself will undergo a significant revamping, as will the building’s public spaces. Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, a New York-based husband-and-wife architectural firm, will design all of the public spaces.
The commission for Diamond Schmitt is another feather in the cap of a firm that has built a reputation for its expertise with performing arts centres. In addition to David Geffen Hall, other high-profile projects for Diamond Schmitt include Montreal’s Maison symphonique, the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia, Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre and Buddy Holly Hall, set to open in 2020 in the Peggy Sue singer’s hometown of Lubbock, Texas.
Designed by American architect Max Abramovitz, the facility on Manhattan’s Upper West Side was originally named Philharmonic Hall before a donation in 1973 from philanthropist Avery Fisher earned him the venue’s renaming to Avery Fisher Hall. In 2015, a US$100-million gift from music mogul David Geffen necessitated a another update to the building’s signage.
According to McCluskie, Diamond Schmitt’s connection with the David Geffen Hall renovation goes back to 2015. Two years later, in 2017, the brakes were put on the project partly because of the time necessary to complete the extensive overhaul. “It would have taken as long as three years,” McCluskie says. The rejigged plans call for a phased renovation, with much of the heavy construction done over two summers, when the Philharmonic is traditionally on the road. During two closings, when not on the road, the Philharmonic will perform in other New York venues, including Carnegie Hall and New York City Center.
The US$550-million transformation, of which US$360-million has already been raised, is scheduled to be completed by March, 2024. In addition to fixing long-standing acoustic issues, the project will seek to make the listening experience at the venue a more intimate one. “In a rectangular hall, you can feel quite distant from the action," McCluskie says. “Our plans call for pulling the stage out in the round and wrapping the audience around it. The patrons will be much closer to the orchestra."
Seating capacity will be reduced by some 500 seats to 2,200, and a steeper rake (incline) will be added to the orchestra level to improve acoustics and sight lines.
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