Photo © Iwan Baan

Lincoln Restaurant Pavilion & Lawn

Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with FXFOWLE

New York, New York

By Linda C. Lentz

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Built up on a plinth, and clad in relentless swaths of travertine, Lincoln Center was once considered by many to be a remote acropolis of culture. A half century after it was built, the iconic mid-20th-century performing arts compound is coming down to earth, or at least to the surrounding streets of New York City’s Upper West Side.

The podium and stone remain. But a whimsical glass pavilion — the latest phase in the eight-year redevelopment of the 16-acre campus by collaborating firms Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DSR) and FXFOWLE — is engaging theatergoers, tourists, and the neighboring community with a first-rate restaurant, state-of-the-art film center, and a rare patch of urban green on its roof.

Indeed, this populist intervention in many ways culminates the team’s efforts to revitalize the complex and its intersecting thoroughfare, West Sixty-Fifth Street, a master plan initiative responsible for the previously completed Alice Tully Hall renovation [RECORD, June 2009], and the Juilliard School extension [RECORD, February 2011]. This is largely due to the comprehensive 40,000-square-foot project’s strategic location on the site, as well as the critical programmatic elements the architects were required to incorporate into it: cultural, public, and private.

The new building replaces the southern edge of the former Milstein Bridge, the massive 200-foot-long overpass that dominated West Sixty-Fifth Street and linked the theaters to the main entrance of Juilliard on its north side. And, while the architects deemed the removal of the large span essential to reconnecting Lincoln Center to the city, there were two factors to consider before it could be demolished. The Milstein Bridge served as Juilliard’s student outdoor campus. It also served as an acoustical buffer that sheltered Lincoln Center’s intimate public spaces from street noise.

To fulfill the client’s need for an alternate place of congregation, the design team planned to replace this common area with green space. At the same time, they had to integrate the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s new theater complex into the podium below (a Rockwell Group project was already slotted for that location), as well as figure out how to bring a new destination restaurant to Lincoln Center.

Sizing up the location (and lack of available real estate), they opted to combine all three of these programs in a sectional relationship to one another. Concurrent with the design phase, the two firms worked with the city to reduce West Sixty-Fifth Street from three lanes to two and expand the sidewalk from 15 to 25 feet, so that they could create a gracious pedestrian esplanade. According to DSR principal in charge Elizabeth Diller, “Between the street frontage for the restaurant and the ability to offset some of the noise coming into the plaza by the structure, it was absolutely the right place.”

The intricate two-story pavilion straddles a newly expanded 55-foot-wide grand staircase and reconfigured access to the main campus, and transitions street and plaza with structural glazing supported by glass fins. On the street, this transparency turns the campus inside out and presents a welcoming face to the city. At the plaza level, it provides an airy, crystalline base for the new Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Lawn, an inviting green roof that doubles as a pocket park.

The language, says Diller, is closer to landscape architecture than that of the existing monumental structures. To this end the design teams at DSR and FXFOWLE joined forces to develop the precise form of the roof. After numerous discussions and studies examining pitch, size, scale, and use, the architects devised a hyperbolic paraboloid (hypar), or saddle shape, that dips to touch the plaza at the southwest corner and provides a point of entry up onto the lawn. Based on a frame of straight steel beams rotated against one another and layered with concrete, the hypar surface twists and rolls gently with slopes of up to 18 degrees, mimicking one of the diminutive hills in nearby Central Park. The gentle curve, says FXFOWLE principal in charge Sylvia Smith, is made by modifying the perimeter — in this case, the north and south edges.

What appears to be nature’s handiwork, however, is a carefully constructed intensive green roof system, says Smith. Approximately 12 to 18 inches deep, the surface comprises layers of insulation, waterproofing, a series of check dams and drains to direct water flow, an irrigation system, and a sophisticated soil-containment system to prevent the sod from sliding onto the plaza during a heavy rain. It is topped with a 10,400-square-foot expanse of Kentucky Bluegrass and Tall Fescue grass, a mix recommended by Cornell Department of Horticulture turfgrass expert Dr. Frank Rossi, for its virtually season-proof color and resilience.

When they were designing it, “we imagined prying the lawn up from the plaza, and filling it in with glass below,” says Diller. “The effect is a beautiful, bucolic, urban space where you can lose all track of time and have a picnic.”

For a more refined dining experience, the architects worked with Lincoln Center and restaurateur Nick Valenti in the conception and design of Lincoln, an 11,000-square-foot restaurant with a modern Italian kitchen led by chef Jonathan Benno. The most visible of the pavilion’s interior programs, the Lincoln main dining room, bar, and display kitchen occupy the horizontal stretch of the plaza level, wrapped in glass. To blur the distinction between indoors and out, the designers acknowledged the external materiality with such surface treatments as a sweeping Brazilian-wood-plank ceiling that follows the undulation of the roof and appears to cantilever out beyond the glazing, as well as a Brazilian limestone floor tile and travertine-patterned carpet both consistent with the color of the outside paving.

At the operator’s request, the restaurant continues down to the east section of the street level, where the architects added a second entrance and private dining room, in addition to a back-of-house prep kitchen, service and staff stations, and mechanical rooms that cut deep into the infrastructure beneath the plaza and plinth levels. To do this, the crew had to maneuver around 50-year-old structures and systems as they carved new spaces and upgraded electrical and HVAC designed to be invisible to visitors of the restaurant and lawn up above.

Likewise, the two firms coordinated with Rockwell Group to embrace the Film Society’s 17,518-square-foot Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center into the building’s core and shell, dipping down to the south to accommodate a central amphitheater and two screening rooms. The center’s breezy café and faceted orange-glass box office belie such complexity, however.

“There were a lot of things that had to be done behind the scenes,” recalls Smith. The idea was to minimize the complications. “So all you see is the beautiful gestures that we feel come out of the DNA of Lincoln Center’s original design.”

June 2011
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