New York City has turned to Toronto-based firm Diamond Schmitt Architects (DSA) to design the multi-million-dollar makeover of the David Geffen Hall, a concert hall at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts complex on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
Gary McCluskie, head of the DSA team on the project, likens the design to “a hybrid shoebox and vineyard configuration” which eliminates traditional divisions between the stage performers and the audience. “It will be a completely new room.”
The $350 million renovation will shave seating capacity from 2,700 down to 2,200.
“We’re peeling back to the outer walls, removing the proscenium and moving the stage (25-feet) further into the hall with wood-lined balconies that wrap around the stage, bringing everyone in the room — patron and performer — much closer together,” he says, adding the original 1962 steep seating rake in the orchestra will be restored.
“You don’t only hear with your ears at a performance,” he says. “What you’re able to see directly influences your ability to process sound.”
Acoustical improvements are notable. “Curvilinear wood reflectors on balcony fronts and those suspended from the ceiling and walls will direct sound throughout the room, markedly improving the acoustic properties,” McCluskie points out. He says the acoustics team includes experts in the field, but also musicians. “Our goal is to harness our collective talents and create a beautiful room…for music.”
The hall has gone through several incarnations over the years and previous proposals had high costs, complexity and extensive downtime working against them.
McCluskie says prefabrication is a key to reducing the construction schedule over its two phases to a matter of months, rather than years at a time.
Balconies, walls and ceilings will be built off-site and installed “much more efficiently” than if they were built on site, he says.
“The construction trade industry will be involved in the development of the prefab processes in a design assist role. This work is beginning now, and the orchestra doesn’t leave the hall for two years.”
He says tackling such a large project on the busy Upper West Side presents logistical and scheduling challenges for the constructors. “While the shutdown periods (when the building is closed) will be kept to a minimum, renovation work will continue off-hours during the interim season when the orchestra returns to David Geffen Hall.”
The hall will be closed for two periods of months, first in 2022, and then in 2023 before it finally opens in the spring of 2024.
Along with being the design architects for the hall and the ancillary spaces, Diamond Schmitt is executive architect on the entire project. The firm is in collaboration with TWBTA of New York, responsible for public space design.
In collaboration with Heatherwick Studio, DSA initially won the international design competition for the hall in 2015 and was selected again after new executive management at the Philharmonic and Lincoln Center put out a second call for proposals.
“The level of competition was of the highest order with many notable names vying for the project, so you can imagine we were thrilled to be selected,” says McCluskie.