For those of you who worry about the potential desecration of the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center, in the form of Hugh Hardy’s newly announced black box venue that is scheduled to take up residence on the landmark’s roof, I can offer this consolation: the work that has already been done on the Beaumont’s plaza and surroundings, according to designs by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, has wrought such a change upon the place that the new addition should make little difference.
We will not know until next fall, apparently, the success of that work, which includes, among other alterations, the creation of a huge grassy mound for sunbathing and a new restaurant along the sides of the reflecting pool that continues to hold Henry Moore’s titanic “Reclining Figure.”
What we can say is that the feel of the place will be — indeed already is — vastly different from what it was. The spare, almost minimalist, geometry of the post and lintel theater, the perfectly square reflecting pool, and the surrounding grounds, together with the way they all responded to the striated side of the Metropolitan Opera, provide one of the most muscularly modernist experiences in New York City.
Even though most of the original Beaumont Theatre structures, designed by Eero Saarinen and Gordon Bunshaft among others, will survive, the mood of the place will be different. The severe modernist rectitude is gone, a rectitude that was not without its charms and endearments. In its place will be a clash of glass, curving metal, and several varieties of stone.
Into this mix comes the new theater, whose renderings were just released a few hours ago. It seeks to be unobtrusive, and indeed it seems so, if we can trust the drawings in which it appears to float above the roof of the existing structure.
An aerial view of the theater (source: Michael Klausmeier, Inc.)
Capable of accommodating 130 spectators, it looks from the outside to be made up of hundreds of tiny filaments that recall the façade of the recently completed New York Times Building. There is no more reason to have them here than on the Times Building, but they always look good, which is why so many contemporary architects use them.
In its geometric rigidity, the new theater looks as though it will play well with the surrounding architecture, a fact further guaranteed by its pale exterior, which will match that of the Vivian Beaumont immediately beneath it.
James Gardner, formerly the architecture critic of the New York Sun, writes on the visual arts for several publications.