A Canadian architectural firm is leading a high-profile interior renovation of Lincoln Center’s historic Geffen Hall, home of the renowned New York Philharmonic.
Gary McCluskie, a lead designer for performing arts spaces at Toronto-based Diamond Schmitt Architects, said the long overdue revamp will preserve the exterior of the building, but the hall itself will undergo a total overhaul.
“Within the room itself, it’s a complete gut,” said McCluskie. “It’s an entirely new architectural and acoustic theatrical space within the existing building.”
The famous hall has been the site of criticism dating back decades regarding poor acoustics, a “fatal flaw built into the shape of the room,” said McCluskie, who is project manager for Geffen Hall. The current rectangular setting has also contributed to complaints about a lack of intimacy for the audience.
“They have, over the years, done upgrades, but they were always limited by the size of the space,” said McCluskie. “Now, with the more … comprehensive reworking, we can really build these things into the site.”
An attempt several years ago to move ahead with a major reno reportedly led by Diamond Schmitt was scrapped in 2017 partly due to the high cost, according to the New York Times and New York Magazine’s Vulture website. The construction budget for this project is currently $550 million, with $360 million raised to date.
‘All about greater connections’
McCluskie, who’s been working out of his company’s New York office for the last four years to lead the project, is well known for his niche expertise. In addition to his work on Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, he was also the managing principal for the award-winning Harman Center for the Arts in Washington, D.C., and the design architect for the Mariinsky Theatre II in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The new design for Geffen Hall, which has taken input from a theatre designer, structural engineer, mechanical engineer and acoustician among others, will shift the focus of the stage from the front of the room to the centre. Natural wood and reduced seating capacity will help with sound quality. And the room will also have more curvature for a sculptural quality, with the goal of feeling warmer and more inviting.
That’s a key element. As high art institutions — many of which have been criticized for being elitist and out of touch with the general public — try to reach younger and more diverse audiences, McCluskie said promoting a sense of inclusivity was part of the ongoing conversation around the changes.
In addition to gender-neutral restrooms, full accessibility in and around the auditorium and a mechanical upgrade that will improve energy efficiency, public spaces such as the lobby will be expanded.
“This project is all about greater connections,” said Lincoln Center President Henry Timms in a statement. “And the whole project re-sets how we engage with the outside world.”
A space for the community
The redesign also takes into account other ways the community uses the space. That includes school field trips, children’s concerts and potential movie premieres.
“We have seats around behind the stage, which we can collapse if we want to do a film and everybody wants to be looking in the same direction,” said McCluskie. “We can also get kids close to or on stage, collapsing the first eight rows of seating.”
Formerly known as Avery Fisher Hall, the name of the hall was changed in 2015 after music executive and philanthropist David Geffen donated $100 million US as part of a fundraising campaign for the major refurbishment.
The new David Geffen Hall is expected to open in March 2024.