Architecture Review — Lincoln Center footbridge is a weak link

Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s deconstructionist design spans 65th Street

The newest installment in Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s reconceiving of Lincoln Center is the soon-to-be-completed bridge spanning 65th Street. As of this past week, the bridge looked to be substantially finished, although a bit of tarp and paper lay festooned around the sides. Even though the new structure is not one of the better elements of the revisions, it is infinitely better than what it replaces.

Having grown up in the vicinity of Lincoln Center, I always knew that stretch of 65th Street as the ugliest, most forbidding and forlorn part of the complex. Over a good part of the road extended the Paul Milstein plaza, a broad, graceless and mostly unnecessary expanse of masonry that was little enhanced by its being clad in travertine, the signature material that continues to cover most of Lincoln Center. Quite aside from the fact that the top of the bridge, 82 feet from north to south and 204 from east to west, was poorly conceived, underneath it the entire area was covered in sepulchral darkness for more than 40 years, and worse still, it was the main entrance to the colossal garage that served all of the performing arts complex. Beyond that garage there was nothing other than an unlovely side entrance to Juilliard.

Now, with the overhang removed, interesting architectural events have sprung up, from the restaurant Lincoln to a new movie theatre and a much improved and far more grandiose entrance to Juilliard.

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As for the new bridge, it is a tiny sliver compared to what was there before. Done up in the deconstructivist mode, it bends and swerves irregularly. Even though this style is dear to the architects, given that they have used it elsewhere at Lincoln Center and farther afield, it looks especially inaesthetic hanging over West 65th street; it’s rather pointless, too. It appears to bifurcate as it approaches the southern side, but that is really a feint, since the western prong is really only for structural support, even though I strongly suspect that the architects resorted to it for aesthetic reasons, because it conformed to their wayward sense of style and design. Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s work at Lincoln Center has always been a mixed bag. Some elements, like the fountain in the middle of Josie Robertson Plaza and the opening up of the façade of Alice Tully Hall On Broadway have been spectacularly successful. Other contributions, like the reconceiving of the 65th Street side of Juilliard have been less so. The new bridge, unfortunately, appears to be the weakest part of the plan.

James Gardner is The Real Deal’s architecture critic.