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New York State Theater No. 2 - Visions and Plans

Situating the Six Constituents

Philharmonic Hall in lower right. Photographer unknown, 1961.

The preamble to the this story is long and complicated----the displacement of hundreds of families from San Juan Hill, how architects were chosen, how financing and land was secured----but I will jump to the chase. Lincoln Center was going to be home to six constituents--the NY Philharmonic, the Met Opera, New York City Ballet, Julliard, the Repertory Theater, and the Library/Museum. Each building was to be designed by a different architect. Agreements needed to be made on where each building would be situated on the land that had been cleared for Lincoln Center. Logistics, opinions, and egos meant many configurations of the buildings were proposed. Each architect wanted their building in the most prominent position. Below are a few such proposed layouts:


To Isolate or Relate?

For a time, plans for Lincoln Center included a large colonnade that pedestrians would enter beneath to get to the plaza (pictured). The idea was discarded so as not to separate the plaza from the rest of the city but to keep it open an integrated.

“The panel of architects, in reacting to this first plan, posed a fundamental question: Was the performing arts center to be isolated from the city or related to the city? The group strongly urged the latter and recognized Broadway and Lincoln Square as the focus of activity in this area. A regrouping of the buildings around an east-west axis would provide an approach to the opera house from the Broadway side.” [1]

Below are architectural drawings by Hugh Ferriss that depict several possible layouts of the future Lincoln Center. The rendering on the far right is most similar to the Lincoln Center we know today, other than the colonnade present on the east side of the plaza.


6 Main Characters

Each of the six constituents of Lincoln Center would have its own building and therefore its own architect.

Philharmonic Hall - Max Abramovitz

New York State Theater - Philip Johnson

Metropolitan Opera - Wallace Harrison

Repertory Theater - Eero Saarinen

Library & Museum - Gordon Bunshaft

Julliard - Pietro Belluschi

“Although each of the architects was responsible for his building, Rockefeller insisted that there be a general design for as a whole before the start of construction. Therefore, in 1958, Harrison, as coordinating architect, convened a series or meetings with the other five architects and d'Harnoncourt, Rockefeller, and Young. Harrison asked Rockefeller to chair their meetings. Rockefeller, a nonprofessional, could deal with all the architects as a respected layman. He persistently drew out ideas from each architect until consensus was achieved.” [1]

“That plan, with the three principal theaters clustered around an open plaza, became the point of departure for future discussions [...] They all agreed, but nobody was particularly happy. That frustration was visible in a photo taken on November 28, 1959, with the prime movers arranged around a model of the complex. By that time the architects were no longer on speaking terms. 'Everybody pretty well hated everybody,' [Philip] Johnson remembered. 'We just sat there glaring at the camera.'” [2]

(L-R) Edward Mathews, Philip Johnson, Jo Mielziner, John D Rockefeller, Eero Saarinen, Gordon Bunshaft, Max Abramovitz, Pietro Belluschi and Wallace K Harrison

Photo by Arnold Newman, 1959

[2] The Man in the Glass House by Mark Lamster

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