Anyone who knows New York will know that the Lincoln Centre is many things to many people. In fact it is actually comprised of 12 resident companies, using 22 separate performing venues. These companies are totally autonomous, each having their own agendas, making life “interesting” for both the management of the centre and for the architect…
Liz, whose firm is working in conjunction with FXFowle said, “The project has grown significantly since we started, both in scope and complexity. It is now a really major undertaking. We also have to keep the centre open and you can imagine the challenges that creates with major construction work going on in the same building as performances.”
The project, (timed to coincide with the venue’s 50th anniversary) aims to address a sea of change in social and environmental conditions that have occurred since the centre was opened by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1959. The new Lincoln Centre was the first step in regenerating what was then, a run-down part of Manhattan and hence much of the architecture was designed to provide a safe-haven for theatre goers and present a fortress against the “hostile” street life outside.
Now of course all this has changed. The streets are safe and performing venues around the world are moving to break down these hard barriers to create transitional ‘public realm’ zones between the actual performance areas and the street. In the Lincoln’s case this includes removing much of the ground level concrete façade and replacing it with cafes, restaurants and public plazas, utilizing much more glass to allow glimpses of the inside from the street further increasing perceived (and real) accessibility. In its early days, visitors to the Lincoln were almost always delivered by car or taxi whereas now, people will often walk many blocks home after an evening performance. This change in visitor mode created an opportunity for the architects to add focus to the pedestrian access ways and add some drama. This is illustrated most clearly by the Grand Stairway at West 65th Street with its imposing 55 foot width and shallower, more regal gradient.
Liz stressed that it was not just the public accessibility issue that had to be addressed in the re-design but explained that, while that was the most visible element, “Virtually every aspect of the Lincoln is being improved and upgraded. For instance, acoustic technology has moved on a long way in the last 50 years as have the expectations of its visitors and the upgrade of the acoustic performance across all of the venues is an integral part of the new building.”
The building will be opened in phases until the final handover in 2010.