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Thread: Carnegie Hall Unveils its Eclectic Third Stage

  1. #1

    Default Carnegie Hall Unveils its Eclectic Third Stage
    andante - 3 April 2003

    New York's Carnegie Hall unveiled its third auditorium, the mid-sized, subterranean Zankel Hall, at a press conference on Wednesday. The 644-seat space, complementing Carnegie's 268-seat Weill Recital Hall and 2,904-seat Stern Auditorium, opens in September with a wide-ranging two-week festival.

    "Our house of music has a new wing," said executive and artistic director Robert Harth.

    A sycamore-lined "shoebox" placed within elliptical walls, Zankel's most prominent feature is its flexibility. A series of lifts enables the floor to be arranged in several configurations, with stages of various sizes and locations (the rows of seats are moved on air casters); a moveable ceiling allows for a range of lighting and theatrical equipment.

    The first year of programming at the hall reflects its adaptability, with semi-staged events from the Kronos Quartet and cabaret star Audra McDonald. But perhaps as importantly, the moldable hall seems to have inspired an eclectic approach to programming, with new music, world music, pop, folk, cabaret, and jazz appearing nearly as often as traditional classical repertoire. "Great music comes in many forms and sizes," Harth said. "We wanted Zankel to have its own identity but we wanted the identity to be within the mantle of Carnegie Hall."

    That identity is introduced in a two-week festival that begins on 12 September with a concert of 20th-century and contemporary music led by composer/conductor John Adams. Other festival performers include Cuban pianist Omar Sosa, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, jazz musicians Kenny Barron and Dianne Reeves, actress Anna Deavere Smith, Pierre Boulez' Ensemble Intercontemporain, and James Levine and the Met Chamber Ensemble. There is no opening gala, Harth emphasized, in order to encourage the widest possible audience to visit the hall.

    The diverse programming continues through the 2003–04 season, with chamber music and recitals mingling with world music and cabaret. Jazz fans angered by the disbanding of the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band in 2002 will be pleased to find a four-concert jazz series produced in collaboration with George Wein's Festival Productions. Carnegie Hall's previously announced "Perspectives" artists for the season — pianists Mitsuko Uchida and Emanuel Ax, conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and soprano Dawn Upshaw — will bring parts of their series to Zankel, as will a just-announced fifth "Perspectives" curator — Brazilian singer/songwriter Caetano Veloso. Adams, who takes up the Debs Composer's Chair at Carnegie Hall in September, hosts a three-part interview series in Zankel as well as assisting with the hall's educational and other programming.

    With the addition of a third performing space, Harth pointed out, Carnegie Hall is returning to its original configuration. When the hall opened in 1891, there was a lower-level Recital Hall underneath the main auditorium (in fact, Harth noted, Carnegie's first performance, by pianist Arthur Friedheim, took place there). But conversions of the space for various uses over the years (its most recent incarnation was the Carnegie Hall Cinema) left it unusable for music. Four years of construction — including the removal of 6,300 cubic yards of bedrock — have restored the third hall, albeit in an expanded and updated form.

    "By realizing Andrew Carnegie's original vision of three very different musical stages under one roof," Harth said, "we are embracing and expanding upon Carnegie Hall's unique history."
    New York Construction News - Cover Story

    Worker Harmony 'Composes'
    Facility Under Carnegie Hall
    By David S. Chartock

    It may not be Beethoven's Fifth, but the noise beneath Carnegie Hall is a well-orchestrated composition being played by construction workers whose instruments have included backhoes, hoe rams, drills, flat jacks, hydraulic jacks and hammers.

    When completed, their composition will be known as Judy and Arthur Zankel Hall. Until its completion, work has been progressing since 1999 in a confined space that had to literally be carved out, requiring the removal of nearly 7,000 cu. yds. of rock.

    To create a $70.5 million, 41,000-sq.-ft., three-level, multipurpose performance and education space with a 20,000-sq.-ft. footprint beneath Carnegie Hall's Isaac Stern Auditorium was no easy task.

    "It's like building a ship in a bottle," said Nancy Czesak, vice president and project executive for Tishman Construction Corp, the project's New York-based construction manager.

    "We are constrained by the rock below ground, the lack of access above ground and the three-dimensional perspective of this unique space," she added.

    It also required a lowering of a floor by 24-ft. for the existing space, that was demolished, installation of a temporary shoring system and construction of a new concrete structure, added Tishman Construction's Chairman John L. Tishman.

    The Excavation
    To create the space necessary for an intermediate-sized facility, 7,000 cu. yds. of Manhattan Schist was excavated from beneath the landmark building, explained Richard Malenka, director of administration for Carnegie Hall Corp. Inc., the project's New York City-based owner.

    Schiavone Construction Inc. of Secaucus, N.J., did the excavation and foundation work as well as the structural metal framing and concrete and masonry work. The firm also performed the specialized tunneling work required for this project.

    "It was very complicated as to how they staged their work into the site. There was a great deal of innovation with regard to how we would use a tunneling contractor. John Tishman challenged the team to think out of the box by suggesting logistic impediments that needed to be taken into account, such as the subway tunnels. He viewed this as a mining operation and kept encouraging us to carefully review the capabilities of our contractors so that the right contractor would do the right job," said Czesak, who is also Tishman's project manager for Zankel Hall.

    Schiavone brought experience and skill to the job to accomplish its task. They brought the proper equipment and the ability to modify that equipment for changing underground site conditions, she noted.

    Anthony DelVescovo, a project manager with Schiavone Construction said, "our end of the project included the demolition of the existing building underground, rock excavation and providing temporary support for the existing building below ground.

    "We excavated up to 35 ft. deep to rock. Before that, we had to perform some structural demolition to remove existing walls and concrete slabs. There were 750 cu. yds. of brick removed," DelVescovo explained.

    In order to take the brick out," he continued, temporary steel supports had to be installed. Sometimes we had to needle the supports through existing brick walls. These needle beams were picked up by header beams, which in turn were picked up by the shoring towers.

    There were other areas that had to be underpinned, including the existing stage. To do this, DelVescovo said, underpinning panels were installed under the existing brick wall for the main hall. Existing cast iron columns also had to be extended by temporarily supporting the columns so the rock below them could be excavated. Then, rock was excavated up to 16 ft. deep and new concrete piers were installed to lower the footings. In addition, two 80-ft.-long, W36x393 steel beams were placed above a brick wall to support the brick wall so the brick wall below it could be demolished.

    The main hall seating area, he noted, also had to be supported. "This was done by drilling caissons 30 ft. below the excavation line and then installing 12 columns that supported the structure above. We also installed header beams above these columns to pick up the existing girders for the main hall. We had to transfer loads using flat jacks and hydraulic jacks."

    Tunneling was also challenging. In order to tunnel, Schiavone had to install an elevator in order to transport its machinery down to the site.

    "We had a 12-ft.-wide by 9-ft.-high hole in the exterior of the existing building at the sidewalk level. Then we installed a 20-ton hydraulic elevator that was custom made for this project. We brought in all of our equipment, including hoe rams, drills, excavators, loaders, Bobcat loaders and an air track drill," DelVescovo explained.

    Excavation began after all of the temporary shoring was done. Then 7,000 cu. yds. of rock was removed using different methods of rock removal, including hoe rams and some chemicals to expand mortar so the rock would crack, he added.

    "We also used limited, controlled blasting and a lot of it. About 1,500 cu. yds. was taken out by hand using small drills, sinking hammers and jack legs. Hydraulic splitters were also used. All of the rock was taken out in 4 cu. yd. boxes using forklifts." DelVescovo noted.

    "Installation of structural steel for permanent support of the building was next. The two 80-ft. beams were a part of this. All of the beams were set using chain falls and come alongs," DelVescovo explained, noting, "we had 400,000 lbs. of structural steel that was moved in through that small opening and then assembled below. We had about 30 columns to remove as well."

    "Everything was dependent on each other," he continued. "After the excavation was done, the steel was in place and the temporary shoring was removed, we installed our concrete walls and slabs."

    DelVescovo said there are three different slab levels: the pit level, the parterre level and the mezzanine level. "We had to drill 72 caissons into the pit level so screw jacks could be installed to support the stage," he added.

    Structural Design
    "The entire structural design involved shoring up the existing structure to allow for rock removal and then building a new structural support system that consisted of an elliptical, sloping, reinforced concrete wall 30 ft. high and 100 ft. long," noted Alastair Elliott, a senior engineer with Robert Silman Associates, the project's New York-based structural engineer.

    The 12-in.-thick, elliptical 5,000 psi concrete wall is sloped at a 7-degree angle for acoustical and structural purposes. In order to pour the wall, shoring columns first had to be used to shore up the existing beams, explained Dan Ekus, Tishman's project superintendent. When the foundations for the wall were poured, the load was transferred from the shoring beams to the wall. This, he noted, required two weeks of intense coordination.

    One of the project's structural challenges was its proximity to the N and R subway lines, which required approval from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority/New York City Transit, Elliott said.

    "We were 9 ft. from the tracks at the closest point and we had to demonstrate that normal subway line operations would not be impacted by our work. With all of the rock removal, we had to establish a rock-monitoring program that consisted of seismic monitors to detect vibration. We also worked closely with URS, the project's New York-based geotechnical engineer, monitoring the rock removal process and providing assistance regarding placement of rock anchors to Schiavone Construction," Elliott added.

    Other Structural Challenges
    Other structural challenges required the "predeflection of all of the transfer steel to ensure that there would be no movement of the main hall floor and stage above," Elliott said, noting that A36 steel was used along with connections to cast iron columns throughout the original lower level structure. We could not weld the steel connections because of the cast iron columns. Instead, all of the cast iron column connections had to be rebolted or drilled and tapped. This was time-consuming because of the time it takes to drill through cast iron.

    "Every square foot, vertically and horizontally, is different. For example," Czesak said, "architectural and structural details on one side of the project differ from the other side. This space is unique and does not exist anywhere else."

    Flexible Space
    This unique space was specifically designed to be flexible, Tishman added. To make it flexible required a system of lifts and chair wagons to allow the configuration of the space to be changed to meet different performance needs. Chair wagons hold 24 seats and are moved on casters to provide a quick and easy method for configuring space based on the type of performance.

    The basic design is a rectangular auditorium inside the elliptical shell. It features an auditorium floor that will be on a series of lifts in order to enable the auditorium to be configured from traditional and stage seating to a center stage or flat floor facility. The end stage can be three different sizes as a result of the lifts, Carnegie Hall's Malenka explained.

    Continuing, Malenka said there are two different center stage configurations as well. One is symmetrical and the other is asymmetrical. There are also two flat floor configurations; one is slightly lower than the other, which relates to capacity. In the facility's maximum configuration, which will be the smallest end stage and largest audience, there will be 650 seats.

    Primary Configurations
    The three primary configurations, according to Joe Fleischer, partner in charge, The Polshek Partnership, the project's New York-based architect, include: the end stage configuration in which people in the audience can focus on a performer on stage; in the round, where the stage is in the center of the space and the audience is all around the stage area; and when the floor and the stage is on a single level for distance learning and education programs and for orchestra rehearsals.

    "The size and configuration that can be setup when the floor is flat in Zankel Hall corresponds to the stage area of the Isaac Stern Auditorium. This was all accomplished by making the entire floor of Zankel Hall a series of lifts. The moveable lifts help to adjust for floor height and allow for the alternative configurations. We also had to find a way to store all of the seating. They are all stored in an area we call the 'garage.' It is about one-third the size of the hall itself. All of the seating elements can be stored in this space. The ultimate goal was to make the changeover from one configuration to the next as simple as possible," Fleischer said.

    The ceilings are unusual and flexible too. Ekus noted that Zankel Hall's ceiling is actually two ceilings, each consisting of 2-in. plaster. The mechanical duct work and sprinkler piping has been placed in between these two ceilings and the entire ceiling element is suspended on 6x9 steel beams supported on rubber pads to isolate sound and vibration from the Isaac Stern Auditorium above.

    In addition, he said, all of the electrical wiring for all of the equipment will be hung from the ceiling in recessed troughs.

    Flexibility is provided using a series of hangers equipped with acoustic isolators, Czesak continued, adding that no two square feet of the ceiling are the same, making the detailing and finishing work extremely complex.

    Between the stage and the ceiling is the limitation of a 20,000-sq.-ft. footprint, portions of which include space for mechanical equipment and needed public spaces. This, combined with the challenge of trying to make Zankel Hall consistent with the elegance and quality of Carnegie Hall led to a design solution that incorporated as many double-height lobby areas as possible to provide a sense of openness and not one of confinement below grade, Fleischer explained.

    In order for all of the double-height spaces and openness to be created, the existing facility, a commercial movie theater, which had originally been a recital hall, had to be demolished, because it was architecturally and acoustically compromised beyond restoration, Malenka said.

    "Carnegie Hall decided to gut the space and create something new, reclaiming the space and restoring Andrew Carnegie's concept of three concert halls under one roof," he added.

    Contractors in Concert
    The project team faced other challenges too; including performing the work while Carnegie Hall remained operational. Czesak said the solution was an ongoing coordination effort between all team members, which included Carnegie Hall. Carnegie Hall altered its rehearsal schedule and the contract Tishman holds from Carnegie Hall specifies a "no noise" work time, which means there can be no noise from midnight to 6 a.m. As a result, the working hours for the construction crews are from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m, unless arrangements have been made with Carnegie Hall.

    Czesak also noted that the contract contains "go-away" days. She described these as days the owner could use to stop construction in the event the contracted noise time was needed for ongoing operations. In addition, she said Carnegie Hall closes in the summer. This is a limited window of opportunity in which work could be planned and phased without concern for noise or interruption of Carnegie Hall's regular hours of operation.

    She further noted that Carnegie Hall is a landmark building and as such, exterior work will consist of fabricating terra cotta pieces and specialty brick for the entrance to the foyer that leads to the new Judy and Arthur Zankel Hall.

    The curtain at Zankel Hall will rise shortly. The project is expected to be completed by year-end and the first performances are scheduled for September 2003.

  2. #2


    September 7, 2003

    Where's the Party? Carnegie's Basement


    Zankel Hall will be inaugurated not with a single gala, but with two weeks of events, some costing as little as $5.

    VETERAN movie buffs in New York remember the days when the downstairs theater at Carnegie Hall was a dusty and endearingly cramped art film house, called the Carnegie Cinema.

    In the mid-1990's, Judith Arron, the executive and artistic director of Carnegie Hall, who died in 1998, spearheaded a plan to gut the theater, originally a small recital hall, and expand the basement area to accommodate a well-equipped, flexible-use, midsize performance space. Such a facility, Arron argued, would provide a happy medium between the two existing concert spaces: the main hall, now called the Isaac Stern Auditorium, a wondrous aberration with acoustics that, despite the 2,804-seat capacity, make the room feel almost intimate; and, several flights up, Weill Recital Hall, an elegant setting, though, at 268 seats, too small and too reverberant for larger chamber ensembles.

    After the typical financing shortfalls and construction delays, Arron's vision has now been realized. The Judy and Arthur Zankel Hall, with 644 seats, opens on Friday, and its eclectic inaugural season, with some 90 events, makes good on Carnegie Hall's promise to provide an alternative space suitable for the widest range of contemporary repertory, including world music. In the two-week opening festival alone, you can hear everything from traditional classical ensembles, like the Orion String Quartet and the pianist Peter Serkin, playing new quintets by Alexander Goehr and Peter Lieberson (Sept. 23), to the Orchestra of Fes, performing Arab and Judeo-Andalusian music of Morocco with Françoise Atlan, a Paris-based singer of Sephardic fare (Sept. 20).

    Yet hovering over the festivities is the plan for Carnegie and the New York Philharmonic to merge their endowments, operations, boards and administrations in 2006, to become one entity. The idea still seems as curious and unwieldy as when it was announced, in May. The proposed merger has colored the perception of every element of both institutions, including Zankel Hall.

    Now Zankel (pronounced zan-KELL) will be evaluated not just as an addition to the Carnegie mix but also as a potential home for some of the ensembles that will presumably be displaced from Stern if the Philharmonic moves in, scooping up time for its extensive schedule of performances and rehearsals.

    The American Composers Orchestra, for example, a longtime tenant of the Stern Auditorium, will offer a program at Zankel, "Orchestra Underground," with premieres of works by Lisa Bielawa and Michael Gordon (Feb. 27). How will an orchestra sound in a hall this size? Will that group or the Orchestra of St. Luke's, which is offering a Baroque program at Zankel (Sept. 19), or Orpheus or any number of other larger ensembles that now perform in Stern be consigned to Zankel (or give up and go elsewhere) if the Philharmonic arrives as planned?

    Not at all, says Robert Harth, the executive and artistic director of Carnegie. In a recent conversation, Mr. Harth insisted, as he has publicly since the announcement, that there will be room in the Stern schedule to accommodate the Philharmonic as well as most of the artists and ensembles that routinely appear there.

    "The goal of the merger is to enhance the profile of each institution and the profile of the merged institution, and therefore to enhance Carnegie Hall's presentations and the New York Philharmonic's activities," Mr. Harth said.

    He hates using the words "upstairs" and "downstairs" to distinguish between Stern and Zankel, he added, though like almost everyone, he slips into those locutions for convenience. "The programming at Zankel was designed to project that this is not the not-ready-for-prime-time space," he said, pointing out that Pierre Boulez and the renowned Ensemble Intercontemporain will present two programs there in the first week (Sept. 17-18), and that James Levine and the Met Chamber Ensemble will appear soon after (Sept. 21).

    Of course, no matter what happens as a result of the merger, if Zankel proves as inviting, efficient and acoustically worthy as promised, it should be an invaluable resource that will much enhance the musical life of New York, especially with nonclassical offerings. In a booking coup, the Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour, who typically sings before audiences in the thousands, will present two performances at Zankel (Sept. 16). With the right administrative and financial support, the Zankel calendar could conceivably accommodate two to three times the number of events scheduled for this debut season.

    Still, despite the optimism that Mr. Harth exudes over the artistic possibilities of the merger, it's hard not to feel that he is adopting a pragmatic stance and promoting a policy thrust on him by his board, especially its forceful chairman, Sanford I. Weill. Prior to the merger announcement, Mr. Harth was a vocal defender of his institution's artistic autonomy. Moreover, he has been in place only since the fall of 2001. So this season's presentations are the first he can fully claim as his own.

    In espousing the merger, he said, as he has before, that the concept behind it is not simply to "bring everything that goes on at the Philharmonic and stick it onto our existing schedule at Carnegie Hall." He expects the Philharmonic to loosen its adherence to the standard subscription series format, he said, and to try some innovative approaches to programming.

    Yet Zarin Mehta, the strong-willed executive director of the Philharmonic, has evinced scant interest in changing the status quo for his subscribers. "I don't want to change just for the sake of change if something is already working," he told The New York Times in June. Mr. Harth, when asked whether he would share artistic direction with Mr. Mehta in the merged institution, as has been suggested in press reports, declined comment.

    Still, while emphasizing that he wants the Philharmonic to participate in all aspects of Carnegie Hall, including chamber concerts in Zankel, Mr. Harth used the phrase "if the merger goes through." Everyone involved seems now to acknowledge that the talks could break down, a striking change of tone from the absolute assurance Mr. Harth and Mr. Mehta projected earlier.

    However the merger may turn out, Mr. Harth and his artistic planning team have come up with an inaugural season for Zankel that reflects an adventurous and inviting philosophy. To begin with, there will be no single, pricey opening gala.

    "I wanted to send the message that this would be a hall for everybody," Mr. Harth said. Instead, the opening festival offers 22 events over two weeks, with a top ticket price of $82. All seats for the first program, "From the Steeples and the Mountains," with works by Ives, Harrison, Thomas Adès and Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted by John Adams, are $25. Two daytime family concerts — by the Brooklyn Youth Chorus (Saturday) and Tahuantinsuyo, an Andean ensemble (Sept. 20) — cost $5 each.

    Mr. Harth's programming has won praise from one like-minded concert presenter: George Steel, the dynamic director of the Miller Theater at Columbia University, who has turned that 688-seat hall into a hotbed of contemporary music.

    "Zankel's first season is all over the place in a good way," Mr. Steel said recently. "There are fun programs that remind me of stuff we do, and others that represent different directions."

    Far from expressing any fear that Zankel's modern music and ethnic fare will siphon audiences from the Miller Theater, Mr. Steel maintains that there is a lot of repertory, old and new, ideal for halls of this size, something New York could use more of. "I like to say that Carnegie Hall, one of the world's greatest institutions, coveted our hall so much that they built one of their own," Mr. Steel said.

    That Zankel will be used intelligently for standard repertory is suggested by an appearance of the Emerson String Quartet, performing works of Haydn and Ned Rorem, and — with the pianist Emanuel Ax — a piano quintet of Dvorak (Sept. 15). Now that Zankel is available, let no string quartet ever again play in Stern Auditorium, which is just too vast for such intimate repertory.

    A powerful solo pianist can project outward in a hall the size of Stern. So can a singer in recital, provided that he or she has a large voice and a personality to match, like the soprano Karita Mattila. But a string quartet is meant to draw you in, as it can do excitingly in a hall the size of Weill. Zankel should be a fine alternative for string quartets of the Emerson's appeal.

    Zankel in one of its recital configurations, that is. The hall's adaptability has been a source of concern to potential renters. Multi-use performance spaces have had a notably poor track record when it comes to acoustics. It's hard to make a single hall that is suitable to both a symphony orchestra and a string trio, to both Cecilia Bartoli and Celia Cruz.

    Zankel is essentially a large rectangular box, with units of seats and chunks of stage that can be moved about like building blocks. Six different setups are possible: three traditional recital configurations with stage areas of varying depths; a 25-foot stage with a small orchestra pit, for musical theater and dance; a central stage with seats surrounding it; and a flat floor with the seats removed.

    Though building flexibility into the hall was Arron's idea, Mr. Harth and his team also espouse it. "We wanted to build a hall for the 21st century and beyond," he said. "But I've been adamant that because we have flexibility does not mean that we should program to fit the flexibility." Indeed, during the first season, most of the presentations will use one of the traditional recital formats, though some educational programs may take advantage of the flat floor option.

    Several ensembles that have been considering renting the hall came away from preliminary visits during construction worried that converting the space from one configuration to another would be a cumbersome and (with stage crew hours figured in) potentially expensive operation. Is it?

    "It gets easier each time," Mr. Harth replied, without entirely answering the question. This is one reason Mr. Harth chose not to offer Zankel for rental during its first season. He wanted the stage crew to learn how to use it. In addition, he needed to determine a fair rental price: $4,500 per night is the figure he has come up with. (Weill costs $1,600; the top price for Stern is $12,000, plus, in each case, the extra costs of crews, ushers and whatnot.) Zankel is now available for rental in the 2004-5 season and beyond.

    The hall was tried out in June in a "hard-hat concert," a special free program for the construction workers who built it. So it's set to go, Mr. Harth said. Meanwhile, the implications of the merger for all of Carnegie's operations should become clearer over time. "If," that is, to quote Mr. Harth again, "the merger goes through."

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

  3. #3


    September 12, 2003


    Zankel Hall, Carnegie's Buried Treasure


    A view of Carnegie Hall's new underground performance space, Zankel Hall.

    ZANKEL HALL may persuade you to rethink your attitude toward underground spaces. Technically, it may be in a sub-subbasement just inches away from hell. Architecturally, the new hall couldn't feel more privileged. Designed by James Stewart Polshek and Richard M. Olcott of the Polshek Partnership, the Judy and Arthur Zankel Hall is a serene, grown-up place, made for a maximum of 644 listeners who like to concentrate together at the same place and time.

    Described by the architects as a mining operation as well as a design project, Carnegie Hall's new performance space sits within a cavity carved out of Manhattan schist. Parts of the bedrock are exposed, actually, in backstage areas and in a public stairwell. The sense of enclosure within the earth actually enhances the brightness and clarity that the architects have brought to the design.

    Mr. Polshek has an agreeable appreciation of things French. So do I. Mr. Polshek's design for the Rose Center for Earth and Space at the American Museum of Natural History suggests at least a passing familiarity with the glass walls of Jean Nouvel's Cartier Foundation in Paris. At Zankel Hall, we catch the urbane scent of Christian de Portzamparc's City of Music, also in Paris. The perfume lingers longest in the elliptical enclosure of polished Venetian plaster that surrounds the new auditorium like a cone of golden sunlight.

    The hall is entered through the merest vestibule that opens off Seventh Avenue, just north of 56th Street. From there, double escalators descend to the orchestra level. Glimpses of the cone appear during the ride. The plaster's warm, lustrous finish, which bears traces of the hands that applied it, is a lovely visual overture to the live music that awaits us below. White lamp shades are refrains of the ellipsis motif.

    If you have visited Mr. Portzamparc's organ recital hall at the City of Music, you will expect the Zankel auditorium to be elliptically shaped also. Surprise: it is rectangular, and the contrast with the curved, sloping walls of the plaster cone is very Polshekian. The design's formal complexity is balanced and does not appear contrived.

    A luxury version of a black-box theater, the hall has the feel of a broadcasting studio, which it partly is. Periodically, the room will be used for distance learning, a closed-circuit process that will link musicians and audiences from around the world for live performances and master classes.

    Forest colors set the ambience. Walls, floors and seat frames are fashioned from maple and American sycamore. The seats are upholstered in sage. We are in an outdoor clearing, in other words, a space set aside for civilized ritual.

    The ceiling is regulation black box: an inverted thicket of house lights and stage lights, protruding from black metal trusses. The historically inclined will recognize a resemblance to Perpendicular Gothic, a style that has long evoked spreading foliage overhead. The receding darkness of the ceiling sets off the light wood.

    The walls are formed from slatted wood panels. From certain angles, the panels look woven, giving them the appearance of tatami mats. Modern architects like Walter Gropius saw in these traditional modules of Japanese design an antecedent of their own preoccupation with industrial prefabrication. Their serene horizontality also caught the admiring eye of Frank Lloyd Wright. Mr. Polshek's debt to the modern masters is explicitly acknowledged in an upstairs corridor that leads to parterre seating, where he has placed an iconic bench of slatted wood designed by George Nelson in 1946. Staggeringly elegant wall sconces, dimly lighted by blue fiber-optic filaments, glint against the pale sycamore slats.

    Zankel Hall is an industrial artifact in its own right. Apart from the excavation and construction work by the Tishman Construction Corporation, the hall itself is an intricately mechanized device that can transform itself into more seating configurations than I could find use for. Suffice it to say that the floor goes up and down, in sections or all at once, and 12 banks (or "wagons") of seats slide in and out . . . How to put it? Zankel Hall does things.

    The Polshek team worked on the design with the theater architectural firm Auerbach, Pollock, Friedlander and with Jaffe Holden Acoustics. For me, the most interesting aspect of this venture will reveal itself in a few weeks, when the hall first makes use of its new distance-learning technology. Many architects today, especially younger teams, are beginning to explore the possibilities of a hybrid space in which conventional enclosures are linked together by means of advanced communication technology.

    Zankel Hall may be the first place New Yorkers will have to observe and participate in this type of programming on a continuing basis. It will not be the last. We're just at the beginning of developments that are likely to revolutionize the ways people think about and plan shared social space. They will also change the way we think about cities.

    Like music and dance, architecture has long been among the most interactive of the arts. At Zankel Hall, down deep in the earth, new spatial thresholds await. And could we have an old one back, please? Robert J. Harth, Carnegie Hall's executive and artistic director, mentioned to me that the Russian Tea Room is for sale again. Any takers? Must have proven track record of filling rooms with stars.

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

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