The $550 million redesign of the Lincoln Center home of the New York Philharmonic has been a long time coming, but now the project is approaching the finish line. Today it was announced that the newly rechristened David Geffen Hall (named for the billionaire after a $100 million donation) will reopen this October, two years sooner than originally anticipated.
First announced in 2019 after 14 years of stalled plans that first saw Foster + Partners tapped for the renovation in 2005, then Thomas Heatherwick, and finally Toronto’s Diamond Schmitt Architects, the project will address acoustic issues that have plagued the Upper Manhattan building since it opened in 1962. Originally dubbed Philharmonic Hall and designed by Max Abramovitz of New York’s Harrison & Abramovitz, the building was rechristened Avery Fisher Hall in 1973 and underwent renovations in both 1976 and 1993 to (unsuccessfully) address the issue.
The latest renovation is slated to totally reconfigure the concert hall (Diamond Schmitt Architects), the public spaces (Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects), accessibility options, HVAC systems, introduce antimicrobial surfaces, and improve the complex’s energy efficiency.
“Lincoln Center is a central piece of New York’s cultural heart and the new David Geffen Hall, complete with expanded public and community spaces, will make that heart beat even stronger,” said New York State Governor Kathy Hochul at a press conference today. “New York’s comeback is just getting started and this project is a crucial part of that comeback, creating jobs and giving New Yorkers and visitors from across the globe the opportunity to experience world-class entertainment in a state-of-the-art venue. I look forward to seeing this magnificent facility introduce the next generation to the joy of the arts.”
“Opening two years ahead of schedule, the New York Philharmonic and Lincoln Center are bringing this important project in for a landing!” added Deborah Borda, Linda and Mitch Hart President and CEO of the New York Philharmonic. “Without the unprecedented partnership between our two organizations, it simply would not have been possible. Together we have created a home for an orchestra of the 21st century, which requires not only true versatility but the creation of new public spaces that invite in all New Yorkers.”
Digging into the specifics unveiled today, the stage will be pushed forward 25 feet towards the seating area, reducing capacity from 2,738 to 2,200 but improving visual intimacy. The seating area will now also wrap around the orchestra section, while the walls in the hall will be resurfaced to improve acoustic performance, boosting bass levels and increasing sound differentiation. The thoroughly modernized hall will be turned from what is currently a staid, boxy experience into a more intimate venue composed of flowing curvilinear timber forms that direct attention to the stage. While all of this was announced in 2019, today marks the release of the finalized design renderings, showing horizontally banded panels and seating that goes all the way around the performing area.
The ceiling above the stage will also be raised and replaced with a canopy that musicians can tweak to their specified sound profile. Meanwhile, the stage itself will be reconfigurable to fit operas, film screenings, dance performances, and everything from symphonies to solo shows. The rigging and back-of-house equipment will also be modernized.
Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects will double the size of the lobby by removing the box office, and a lounge, bar and concessions area, and more seating will be added. Also included in the new lobby will be the 50-foot-tall “digital stage,” which will show live simulcasts of events inside for free. A new Welcome Center on the Broadway side of the building will become the central entryway and include a snack cart and seating. Along the 65th Street facade, art created in partnership with the Public Art Fund and the Studio Museum will help enliven the concert hall’s street presence.
Thanks to the front-of-house reorganization and movement of the building’s offices, additional dressing and green rooms and rehearsal spaces will also be added.
A former conference room at the corner of Broadway and 65th Street that had previously been visible to the public will be converted into the Sidewalk Studio, a new space for community events, performances, and rehearsals. Back inside, the escalators will be relocated to the sides of the lobby, creating what Lincoln Center and the New York Philharmonic are calling the “Grand Promenade.” A floral motif of falling felt petals will adorn every level and continue into the furniture’s fabric patterns in the lobby.
When the project was first formally announced, work was slated to have begun in May of 2022 and wrap up in March of 2024, with the philharmonic’s season postponed accordingly. Now, that won’t be necessary.
Rounding out the larger project team is Akustiks, handling the acoustic design, Fisher Dachs Associates helming theater planning and design, Kohler Ronan and Thornton Tomasetti serving as engineers, and Turner Construction Company as construction manager.