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Preservation Groups Protest Aspects of Lincoln Center's Renovation Plans

While much praise has been directed towards Diller, Scofidio, & Renfro’s plans to renovate Lincoln Center (Record, May 2004 Page 28), resistance is forming among preservationists to one element: the significant restructuring of landscape architect Dan Kiley’s Beaumont North Court, on the Northwest end of the Lincoln Center campus.

Kiley, who passed away last year, designed the modernist park with tightly spaced planters lined around a travertine groundscape and a simple, shallow reflecting pool featuring a sculpture by Henry Moore in its center. The new plan would, among other changes, replace the treeline with a closely-clipped formal bosque of trees, and would change the dimensions of the reflecting pool, essentially reshaping the entire space.


Groups like Landmarks West! and Docomomo’s Tri-state chapter, as well as local designers, are putting pressure on Lincoln Center to reconsider this aspect of their plan.

“The Lincoln Center Campus could achieve most of its programmatic objectives without fundamentally altering the integrity of the Kiley-designed landscape,” writes Ken Smith, a landscape architect, in a statement written to the local Community Board. He adds that Kiley’s plan is essential, because it “creates spatial containment and a balanced relationship between the serioes of open plazas, courts and shaded bosque areas.”

Like most preservation groups, Smith is happy with the bulk of Lincoln Center’s new plans, which total over $300 million, and include renovation and restructuring of several buildings and landscapes on the campus. But he tells RECORD, “I think his work at Lincoln Center was clearly the glue that held all those buildings together.” He claims that it would be possible to keep Diller Scofidio & Renfro’s proposed new restaurant along with Kiley’s plans, and Docomomo tri-state agrees, finding “the argument that the Kiley landscape must be destroyed to add a restaurant and new programming less than compelling.”

While Lincoln Center is eligible to be listed on the State and National Registers of Historic places, it has not chosen to be designated, and thus faces no rules stipulating preservation. Yet groups feel its plans for Kiley’s should be more carefully scrutinized, because they do not, they say, meet national preservation standards. Landmarks West! Director Kate West says she has met with Lincoln Center a handful of times to discuss the issue. Lincoln Center could not be reached for this story.

Both Docomomo tri-state and Landmarks West! also object to Lincoln Center’s planned significant transformation of the Julliard School, originally by Pietro Belluschi and Eduardo Catalano. “It’s an important building,” says Wood, but, as others acknowledge, it is across the street from the comlex’s core, and it is too late for changes now that the plan has moved forward. “We don’t have an answer for them. We’ve run out of options,” she says.

So the attention has turned to the new park, whose plans are still in preliminary discussions, and which Wood notes, “is every bit as significant as the Metropolitan Opera, Julliard; any of the buildings at Lincoln Center.” She follows: “Once you disrupt that fabric you really lose a chunk of what makes Lincoln Center Lincoln Center. Everything can be changed, but it has to be done more carefully in this case.”

Sam Lubell