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Carnegie Hall Debuts Detailed Renovation Plans

March 2, 2011

By C. J. Hughes

 

Image courtesy Iu + Bibliowicz Architects

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After years of planning, Carnegie Hall, the historic performing arts venue in Manhattan, has pulled back the curtain on a proposal to reconfigure about half of its interior space. The $200 million redesign from New York’s Iu + Bibliowicz Architects will transform space in upper stories formerly used as apartments and offices into music classrooms and practice rooms.

On January 19, artistic director Clive Gillinson unveiled details of the project, which is under way and is expected to be completed in 2014.

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The restoration won’t alter the exterior of the brown-brick-and-terracotta Renaissance Revival complex, which opened in 1891 and was designed by William B. Tuthill. Instead, it will focus on two small towers—one 12 stories, the other 10 stories—added to the site soon after the main building went up. Both towers were designed by Tuthill, with contributions from Henry J. Hardenbergh, of Plaza Hotel fame, and Richard Morris Hunt, of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The redesign will largely retain changes made during a sweeping $60 million project in the 1980s by architect James Polshek, who also later oversaw the creation of Zankel Hall, one of the building’s three auditoriums.

In many ways, the redesign—the final push of decades-long effort to convert the building—fulfills a historical mission, officials say. In addition to staging music, Carnegie Hall has always been focused on teaching young people about music.

Design Details
Now separated, the towers at the heart of the project will be knitted together by a glass-walled connector. Their rooms will be enlarged and soundproofed, so musicians can, say, play violins without being disturbed by noise from Midtown’s streets. Local students taking part in Carnegie Hall music programs, now based off-site, will use them.

In addition, the renovation will transform the roof of the main building into a 10,000-square-foot public terrace, with plantings and benches set amid existing skylights. Plus, central air conditioning will be added to the complex, where window-mounted units noticeably protrude today.

Finally, some backstage areas will be expanded and upgraded, including the installation of a freight-sized passenger elevator on the West 56th Street side, to enhance the comfort of visiting performers and to keep Carnegie Hall competitive, Gillinson says. “The reality is that every country in the world, every great city in the world, is building a concert hall,” said in his remarks on January 19. “New York City has to remain a magnet for talent in every way.”

Moving Along
Gillinson denies that the project, announced in 2007, is behind schedule, noting that because the 304,000-square-foot building is publicly owned by New York City, the approvals process takes more time than it would with a private project.

Still, Gillinson says that even though the process began two decades ago, it did take longer than expected to relocate the complex’s dozens of residents—many of whom were artists who had lived there for decades—especially those who sued to stop their eviction. The last tenant moved out in the summer of 2010, he says, adding, “they all got much nicer places.”

The selection of the project’s architects was shadowed by controversy, too. Natan Bibliowicz, a principal of Iu + Bibliowicz Architects, is married to the daughter of Sanford Weill, the former Citigroup chief executive, who is chairman of Carnegie Hall’s board and a major patron. Indeed, Weill has given $25 million for the current renovation, which has so far raised $181.5 million.

And Bibliowicz, who also designed Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, another performance space Weill has backed, was chosen for the Carnegie project without an open design competition, like the kind used to select architects for Lincoln Center’s renovation.

Yet Carnegie Hall’s renovation, unlike Lincoln Center’s, is internal and relatively small-scale, so it did not require an extensive search, argues Gillinson. He explains that the bids submitted by other designers were inferior. Besides, he says, Weill recused himself in the selection process, and “there is no way somebody should be penalized if they are somebody’s son-in-law.”

For his part, Bibliowicz, who deferred all questions about his selection to Gillinson, says he is grateful for the chance to modernize a cherished icon. “It is incredible to be able to help bring Carnegie Hall into the 21st century,” he says. “We are so thrilled.”

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