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New York State Theater No. 11 - The Facade & Terrace

“Outside it is a super sight, Greek-like in simplicity and strength, harmony of mass and space. A gem, soothing to the eye inside it is a miraculous blend of taste and utility.” [1]

Philip Johnson: "We didn't want our buildings to clash. I proposed keeping a uniform spacing for the columns of twenty feet. That seemed monumental and would give the look of a classic, masonry building. Avery Fisher Hall is built of the same module. Their column system is entirely different looking from mine, but at least the rhythm of the columns is the same throughout the plaza. That gave unity to the square." [2]

(left) Philharmonic Hall

(right) New York State Theater

“The exterior facade facing Philharmonic Hall was somewhat determined by already stated modules in the columniation of the earlier building. Intervals of twenty feet were established in the repetition of slender sup ports for massive pediments, placed on platforms of a heavy ground-floor basement. But instead of subscribing to the unfocussed monotony in filling each metrical twenty feet, Johnson accepted basement, cornice-line and module; while omitting the alternate units, he established a rhythmic, even a syncopated measure, so that in clustering four open bays, these seem to carry the cornice on hollow niches, within which hang four slender diamond-studded chandeliers. Carved columns frame a high, broad open-air promenade for the parade of warm intermissions.” [3]


In the text below I have underlined 2 descriptions of the same small detail on the front of the theater. It's a detail I had never noticed before and these two writers had opposing opinions on the value of this detail.

“A continual excitement from the central fountain in the black marble bull's-eye of the plaza below focusses the enclosed courtyard as a huge out-of-door roofless room, lending it a lively and a human scale. Many refinements of Johnson's careful detailing deserve attention, the slim bronze pins topping the exterior columns which italicise the elegant engineering in minimal contact, all the pediment's crushing weight concentrated at one small point; the soft bronze-gold mosaic in the soffits; the bold absolute geometry of drums bearing massive rectilinear railings; the delicacy of deeply etched columns projected by their revelatory shadows, particularly when engaged against the enormous veneer of an arbitrarily inscribed inlay in the cutting of the travertine blocks.” [3]

The videos illustrate all the elements described.

“One of the pleasantest features of the theatre, as each of the three major buildings at Lincoln Center, is the outdoor terrace connecting directly with the Promenade. Johnson has designed the most interesting exterior of the three by introducing an alternating bay system. The smaller bays frame exterior lighting and the larger bays mark the points of entrance to the building and subway areas. […] in a maddening mannerism typical of Johnson a bronze strip runs between the columns and the architrave, making a complete visual break between the two and denying their structural relations.” [4]

[1] Louis Biancolli, New York World Telegram, April 1924, 1964

[3] Lincoln Kirstein in 1964-65 Souvenir Program

[4] Charles W. Millard, The Hudson Review, Vol. 20, No. 4 (Winter, 1967-1968), pp. 657-663 

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