S K Y L I N E | Introducing the “City’s New Living Room”…
…Just wait until you see the cost
Issue 74. Once NYRA sells a mere 5,207,680 more subscriptions, we too will be able to renovate a hall at Lincoln Center and rename it in our honor. Help us get there by starting a subscription today.
This week, I toured David Geffen Hall (formerly Avery Fisher Hall) at Lincoln Center, currently under renovation. Budgeted at over half a billion dollars, the project “re-envisions” the lackluster auditorium, which was previously re-envisioned in the mid-1970s (and further renovated in the early 1990s). The project stakeholders are eyeing an October 2022 opening, and by the looks of it, building crews have their work cut out for them. In the dispatches, we settle in for the latest installment of SCI-Arc’s film series and ponder the elastic meaning of precarity with the help of the ideas platform, The World Around. Don’t miss out on this week’s listings. Our conversation next week, “Cancel the Corridor,” is actually sold out, but you can still register to attend by zoom.
NYRA on the Town
At the New York Philharmonic’s Lincoln Center home, a new narrative is forming. The hall is undergoing a comprehensive $550 million renovation (partly funded by billionaire David Geffen) and promises to emerge on the other side a more welcoming, accessible place. On Tuesday, the architectural team behind the project led a small group of journalists through the building site, where workers were busy laying down stone tiling and installing seating in the performance hall. NYRA sponsors TOD WILLIAMS and BILLIE TSIEN convened everyone in the ground-floor lobby, which is more spacious than its predecessor. (I hesitate to add “appreciably,” as the cluttered state of the place made it a little hard to tell. A look at reports, however, confirms the floor-area increase.) Williams and Tsien’s namesake firm is responsible for Geffen Hall’s reconfigured public spaces, including a bar, cafe, and lounge, plus practice spaces framed by full-height windows. Throughout the tour, the pair appeared to be workshopping a few pithy phrases with which to get across their design intentions. For instance, they have branded the lobby—with its enhanced visibility and many loitering stations—“the city’s new living room.” As hardly needs pointing out, the space will achieve that easy domesticity at immense cost.
Our little retinue progressed to the upper-level concourse, where color suddenly entered the picture. A dark blue has been applied to the ceiling plane and to the soffits of the mezzanine levels that wrap around the auditorium. The hue, which came as a minor shock while also feeling somewhat flat, is a far cry from the burgundy red that prevails in the Metropolitan Opera House next door. Williams declined to comment on the color, though he seemed to accept that visitors may ascribe a political motivation to the selection. (He then offered the single descriptor “contemporary.”) Tsien teased a mood-setting lighting system, plus a large-format wall fixture that will feature abstractions of rose petals.
The group caught a glimpse of that imagery inside the auditorium, where it’s been incorporated in the seating upholstery. Nearly every surface is solid wood, and brass is in ample supply. Diamond Schmitt Architects, a large office better known in its native Canada, gutted the existing hall, itself a rebuild of the 1962 original. Both iterations were acoustically troubled, with the problem having partly to do with a disproportionate number of seats. As recounted by Diamond Schmitt principal GARY McCLUSKIE, the firm reduced that number (from 2,738 to 2,200) and moved up the stage by 25 feet, backfilling the vacated area with reapportioned seating. At the rear, undulating panels both screen a new organ and help disperse sound, while the addition of collapsible platforms allows for variability in programming. The result is a hybrid of the classic shoebox (favored for its warm, controlled sound) and the vineyard hall (popular for the experiential opportunities it offers). Describing all this, McCluskie and his colleagues repeatedly made use of the same metaphor. “It was like repacking a suitcase,” he said. “Everything had to be taken out in order to find the most efficient solution.”
These seemingly casual, off-the-cuff explications make a broader point: Geffen Hall isn’t the standoffish, edifying culture palace Avery Fisher Hall (née Philharmonic Hall) was. Moreover, Lincoln Center, whose architecture and planning were designed to invite comparisons to the Acropolis and the Campidoglio, is undergoing an attitudinal shift. Recent seasonal “activations” that graced its central court are evidence of this. But Lincoln Center has been here before, some twenty years ago, when Diller Scofidio + Renfro was tasked with sprucing up and aging down the campus. That project resulted in the permanent addition of a lilting restaurant pavilion, complete with treadable turf roof. On the same blistering afternoon as the tour, a nervy few scaled the sloped surface to sunbathe.
From the outside, Geffen Hall gleams a bit brighter today than before, but remains the same recognizable landmark. Inside tells a different story; as Philharmonic president Deborah Borda explained to the Times, “It’s an entirely new hall and an entirely new feeling.” Perhaps this Ship of Theseus scenario isn’t entirely a bad thing. The current wisdom is firmly for reuse and firmly against wholesale demolition, and one can easily imagine a city of such recombinant ships. Yet, to attempt to justify the hall’s routine, even ritualistic, disembowelment using the terms of efficiency is risible. That is not to venerate efficiency, which, for reasons touched on below, can no longer be taken as practice’s guiding principle.
— Samuel Medina
6/9: Sufficient, Not Efficient
LOWER MANHATTAN – “Maintaining the status quo is itself a massive project,” said DANIEL BARBER in his conversation with ELISA ITURBE and ELISE HUNCHUCK last Thursday evening, in front of about fifty attendees who piled into the offices of Snohetta to learn about the implications the recent Assessment Report 6, prepared by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Hunchuck saw in the report the opportunity for architects “to move away from disciplinary exceptionalism [and] think about how we can be complementary to others,” such as scientists and economists. And where are we all to move? Per the report, from efficiency toward sufficiency. “Improvements in efficiency in the global north have been overwhelmed by an expansion in the spatial capacity of the built environment,” Barber said, adding that “many of our buildings are much more efficient, but they are also much larger.” In short, we need to stop trying to do more with less and simply do a whole lot less. Iturbe suggested that in order to reach that point, we would need to revise “our ideas about space, about the city, about the relationships between things in the city.” Nor should the nuclear family go unchallenged, she said, citing Soviet experiments in communal living.
The event was intended to be open to remote viewers, but, once again, zoom foiled our plans. However, we have good news: find a recording of the entire conversation on our long neglected Youtube page. We will try our best to throw off the jinx at our next hybrid event, next week’s “Cancel the Corridor.” Register here.
— Nicolas Kemper
6/10: Take It Easy?
Cornell Architecture at 150, Art at 100
ITHACA (ZOOM) – “I’m for slow,” opined PETER EISENMAN at a Cornell celebration marking the anniversaries of its art and architecture departments. He went on to compare his favorite architecture students with fine wines that mature with age, a remark nearly as strange as the event set-up itself. Eisenman’s conversant was the filmmaker SHELLY SILVER, who delivered a fiery critique of pedagogy in an era of “pending climate catastrophe while society is driven by the growth that capitalism demands.” Her presentation started with a montage juxtaposing children in a classroom with roadkill; his was a humble tale of a kid from suburban New Jersey who couldn’t cut it in organic chemistry but discovered that he could “make models and draw [his] way through college.” The concluding question came from Log editor and critic (and Eisenman’s partner) CYNTHIA DAVIDSON in the audience: “The world is spinning faster now than it was for the Futurists a century ago. How do we participate given how slow architecture is?” Something of an answer may have been lurking, but it didn’t quite make it to center stage.
— Matthew Allen
6/10: Pass the Popcorn
LOS ANGELES (ZOOM) – Last Friday was movie night at SCI-Arc. The L.A. school screened a trio of short films, intercut with panel talks among faculty, invited guests, and the filmmakers. JOHN IRA PALMER’s entry memorialized now-disappeared sites of radical queer history, while ENRIQUE AGUDO’s envisaged a queer future where human and non-human anatomies have become blurred. With its ironic use of cowboys and music-video tropes, EVALINE WU HUANG’s short offered something else altogether. Despite the event’s billing, architecture’s role in shaping queer identity remained ill-defined. During the panel that followed Palmer’s screening, JAFFER KOLB, cofounder of the design studio New Affiliates (and sometimes NYRA contributor), denied that the discipline had anything to offer. “I don’t think architecture can create queer spaces,” he said, “people can and spaces can, but not architecture.”
— Charles Weak
6/11: All That’s Solid
The World Around presents In Focus: Precarity
ROTTERDAM (LIVESTREAM) – I am not an especially early riser. So I did not wake up at 5 a.m. to catch the start of The World Around’s “In Focus” summit. I missed the morning session, which was given over to collaborative design practices; perhaps more crucially, I missed the introductory remarks from BEATRICE GALILEE and ARIC CHEN, which may have helped to elucidate the day’s organizing rubric, “precarity.” I was able to log on in time to catch the second session at 8 a.m., about mitigating the effects of climate change. There, ROSARIO HEVIA, founder of Ecocitex, inventor of the world’s only 100-percent-recycled yarn, and MAARTEN GIELEN, of the cooperative design practice Rotor, laid bare the destructiveness of the fashion and building industries, respectively, before illustrating their investment in circular economies. In the third and final section, urban planner ALEXANDER SHEVCHENKO, founder of ReStart Ukraine, looked ahead to the challenges of reconstruction in the country, while architect MANUEL HERZ discussed a synagogue he designed at Babyn Yar in Kyiv, a mass burial site containing the remains of Ukrainian Jews, Roma, and others massacred by the Nazis. (Estimates put the number at 100,000.) Opened in 2021, the synagogue embraces lightness and color in a way that breaks with typical architectural approaches to Holocaust memorials, Herz said. “There is a stupid equation that if a crime is very heavy, the architecture to commemorate it must also be very heavy,” rendered in grim, gray concrete. Would it not be better, he suggested, to celebrate “the beauty of life”? Yet Herz acknowledged the challenge of maintaining this position—of staying alert to the nuances of blues and greens—amid the “black-and-white” situation of war. In addition to physical instability caused by climate change and global conflict, it’s clear that a building’s meaning, too, is precarious.
— Kevin Ritter
EYES ON SKYLINE
In Skyline 73, readers were interested in Regner Ramos’s queer archipelagoes for the Caribbean.
IN THE NEWS
We have 25 applicants for our cover illustrator so far. Which means were we to (improbably) choose our illustrator by lot, your chance would be one in 25. Well, 26. Deadline is June 20. More information and application at nyra.nyc/illo. Cool gif here:
Whether it’s contemplating designs for a moon colony or rethinking streets and corridors here on Earth, this week brings conversations about diverse scales and planetary logics.
I Would Prefer Not To: Live Broadcast with Mario Gooden, Paul Lewis, Ana Miljački
1:00 p.m. | The Architectural League of New York
Duel + Duet with Jennifer Chen, Damjan Jovanovic
9:00 p.m. | SCI-Arc
Outward Looking: Cornell Tech and the Moon Village with Colin Koop
7:30 p.m. | The National Arts Club
Streets for Care
6:00 p.m. | Urban Design Forum
League Prize Night 2: Dept. and TO with Jose Amozurrutia, Carlos Facio, Isaac Stein, Maggie Tsang, Luis Beltrán del Río García
6:30 p.m. | The Architectural League
Cancel the Corridor with Vivian Loftness, Florian Idenburg, Sam Alison-Mayne, Michael Eliason
7:00 p.m. | New York Review of Architecture
Duet + Duet with Casey Rehm, Soomeen Hahn
9:00 p.m. | SCI-Arc
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