Is it better to be wise or clever? Cleverness has been much in evidence lately at New York's Lincoln Center, that mid-century performing arts complex recently revived by a willfully witty matrix of interventions by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, whose delightful LED-stair-risers, paraboloid park, and subtle groundworks (along with a wholesale redesign of neighboring Alice Tully Hall and the Julliard School of Music), have returned the place to its original aspirational urbanity. And yet some of their interventions, such as meticulously extending the facade at Julliard in order to have appeared to have sliced it away with a glass wall along Broadway, border on the kind of architecture school juvenilia that a firm poised on the edge of greatness might do best to avoid.
Maybe they should have asked Hugh Hardy to take a look. The veteran principal of the firm now called H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture started his venerable career with scenic designer Jo Mielziner and Eero Saarinen, architect of Lincoln Center's Library for the Performing Arts and Vivian Beaumont Theater—the travertine-box-above-glass-box building at the northwest corner of the complex, adjacent to the reflecting pool. Hardy worked with them on the design of the original theater there. Now, with H3 partner Ariel Fausto, he has added, on the roof, the new 100-seat Claire Tow Theater for the LCT3 Company, along with rehearsal space and offices.
The addition has a self-evident inevitability that is the consequence of long experience and the confidence to make fewer moves. An elevator tower precisely filling three of the structural bays of Saarinen's lobby ceiling takes you up to the roof. There you find yourself outboard, as if outside, of the addition's main volume—a glass box screened and given monolithic sculptural presence by a horizontally banded aluminum bris-soleil about 2 feet east of its glass facade. Moving from elevator lobby to main lobby briefly places you spectacularly between those layers of aluminum and glass: this kind of delayed entry sequence, in which the building strikes a pose before inviting you in, is a great bit of business, an old modernist thrill.
The rest is strong and simple. The rehearsal space footprint is exactly the same as the combined stage/backstage area of the theater, allowing easy translation between the two. The width and height of that part of the stage that extends into the theater's house exactly matches, and aligns with, the double-height volume of the main lobby and bar area—reminding you that as much drama takes place out there during intermission as before and after. The lobby is literally and conceptually extended by a generous roof deck, with all those alignments bringing that drama out into the city and reminding you that all the world's a stage.
The building's structure is similarly straightforward: essentially a 160-foot steel bridge made of three Vierendeel trusses that align with Saarinen's concrete trusses below, supporting the Performing Arts Library's stacks; to the rear, it attaches to the existing flytower of the Vivian Beaumont Theater. Some visible value-engineering around the 23,000-square-foot, $42 million project, in which ducts are exposed and structural steel left raw in its fuzzy anti-fire coating, relieves all the marble and bronze of Lincoln Center, which, like so much graced by the hand of Philip Johnson, veers from pomp to pomposity. Saarinen, too, liked a little grandeur, but tempered by structural and spatial innovation. “Eero believed in progress,” Hardy recalled during a recent tour of the new theater. “He believed the world was moving up.”
And, up on the roof at Lincoln Center, that piece of wisdom is demonstrably true.