Toronto firm to help design Lincoln Center renovation in New York

December 10, 2015
New York's next major cultural project will be shaped – in part – by Canadian architects.

Toronto's Diamond Schmitt Architects Inc. were named Thursday to the design team for David Geffen Hall at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts; they will collaborate with the British office Heatherwick Studio.

The project, with an estimated budget of $500-million (U.S.), will reshape the largest concert hall at Lincoln Center, New York's most prominent cultural complex. Opened in 1962, the hall has been the home of the New York Philharmonic ever since. The new renovation is meant to make "a hall with a more expansive role as a cultural and educational center for New Yorkers and visitors alike," Jed Bernstein, Lincoln Center's president, said in a statement.

Winning the job is a huge victory for Diamond Schmitt and Heatherwick, who beat out more than 100 competitors for the job in a two-year selection process. The two firms bring very different backgrounds. Thomas Heatherwick is not a trained architect – though he gained global fame for designing the U.K. Pavilion for the 2010 Expo in Shanghai, known as the Seed Cathedral, and then the cauldron that carried the flame of the 2012 Olympics.

Heatherwick is now working with Bjarke Ingels Group on Google's new headquarters, and has been tapped for two controversial public-private landscape projects, the Garden Bridge in London and Pier 55 in New York.

Diamond Schmitt, on the other hand, is a 40-year-old architecture firm with a global reputation for performing-arts spaces; led by Jack Diamond and Donald Schmitt, it has designed more than 40 such buildings, including Toronto's Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, the Maison Symphonique de Montréal and the New Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia. The firm is now working on the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.

Soon, in New York, it will be working on one of the most important music venues in the Western Hemisphere, which is widely agreed to need an overhaul. Formerly known as Avery Fisher Hall, the venue has acoustics that have been broadly panned – reportedly by orchestra members as a "pinball machine." The current renovation will reconfigure the hall and its common spaces.

Lincoln Center, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, came out of a particular moment in architectural history. The complex was a so-called "urban renewal" project that replaced several blocks of low-income housing, and its marble-wrapped buildings were cut off from the adjacent streets. They also blend neoclassical and modernist details, a mix that quickly passed out of fashion. Most of the campus received a $1.2-billion (U.S.) overhaul, which was completed in 2011, led by the New York office Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

In 2005, an architectural competition was held to renovate what is now Geffen Hall – and won by the prominent British firm Foster and Partners. But those plans did not go forward. The hall was renamed in 2015 after music mogul David Geffen donated $100-million toward this project; the current renovation will examine new approaches to performance and audience engagement.

Acoustic design firm Akustiks and theatre design firm Fisher Dachs will collaborate with the architects. Construction is expected to begin in 2019.

The Globe and Mail

By Alex Bozikovic