(Bloomberg) -- New York is getting a brand-new concert hall inside a 60 year-old building.
On Oct. 8, the public will get its first interior glimpse of renovated David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center, the result of a whirlwind construction project that was decades in the making but finished two years early and on budget.
The grand opening will present a world premiere of San Juan Hill: A New York Story, which Lincoln Center commissioned from composer Etienne Charles. (San Juan Hill was the predominantly Puerto Rican and Black neighborhood that was declared a “slum” and razed in the 1950s, partly to build Lincoln Center there.)
The hall’s travertine and glass facade remain. Nearly everything else inside the building, whose renovation was led by Diamond Schmitt Architects—with public spaces designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects—is new.
The changes will register the second you enter from the plaza. The lobby has doubled in size and will now be dominated by a 50-foot-wide screen that will livestream concerts free. There are a cafe; an Afro-Caribbean restaurant from James-Beard Award-winning chef, Kwame Onwuachi; and a glassed-off ticket area that will double as a general welcome area for Lincoln Center.
The changes upstairs are even more dramatic. The soaring Grand Promenade is slightly less airy than the space in which concertgoers have long lined up to patiently await Champagne during intermissions.
Two promontories that jut out from the east and west corners of the first tier are equipped with bars. The uppermost floor has been expanded overhead to make room for New York Philharmonic staff offices that were displaced by the ground floor renovation. While the result is less cavernous—and perhaps less grand—it promises to be more functional.
All this is a precursor to the concert hall itself, whose acoustics were designed by the firm Akustiks, led by Paul Scarbrough.
Long considered one of the world’s most unpleasant halls for both audiences and musicians, this concert space is unrecognizable. Not only is the space smaller—capacity has been reduced from 2,738 seats to 2,200—it’s more dynamic. The stage has been moved forward into the auditorium by 25 feet, allowing for a small cluster of seats (often known as a “vineyard” configuration) behind the musicians.
More impressive, the walls are now covered in undulating, molded beech that suggests sound waves. The seats, which in photographs threaten to evoke the sense of a Greyhound bus interior, are lovely when experienced in person. Their pattern is reminiscent of falling petals (a motif used variously in the public spaces), and the material may remind you of raw silk.
Everything in the building, from door handles to floorboards to railings, feels reassuringly solid. Unlike other recent concert hall work in New York, the project’s $550 million price tag does not seem a mystery after a tour.
The real test will come on Saturday, Oct. 8, when an audience takes its seats to watch the New York Philharmonic strikes up its first public chords in its new, old home.
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