The Center at the Center of the World: No Pain, No Gain
Back when the Whitney Museum mounted SCANNING: the Aberrant Architecture of Diller+Scofidio, the partners were beating back the outer edges of technology and art with conceptual works filling vitrines, marching on little tracks, and (literally) hammering holes in the walls. They had won the only MacArthur Award ever given for architecture, and one could see that they were clever. One could also imagine that they were frustrated, having attracted lots of private art commissions, but only two actual buildings. One, Blur, was more or less made of water; the other was Slither– social housing in Gifu, Japan. Sophisticated and ingenious, but surprisingly free of attitude, it worked at every level.
However, it was lost in SCANNING’s haze of preciousness, which for all its brilliance was off-putting, and obscured what was—within the context of that show—evidence that they could also stand and deliver seriously good architecture. It’s true that they were already at work on New York’s Eyebeam and Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art, but who knew that the mother lode of Lincoln Center would be waiting in the wings?
This time, they’re still standing (having survived what must have been some scary backstage politics, with many, many hands eager to stir the architectural broth) and have delivered a sophisticated and ingenious program of unimaginable complexity. Adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing for results that are, so far, exhilarating—ample reward for years of simply trying to navigate the maze of temporary construction and poor signage lit by naked bulbs just to find one’s way to theater or concert hall. In fact, Alice Tully Hall has been transformed from its conservative geometric stodge into a ringing, swinging multi-purpose wonder. Watch Juilliard dancers in the second-floor practice room, seminars in the WLIW studio fronting Broadway, and try the mini-arena seating to view the passing parade or peer into the corner café. It’s all-glass, all the time, and never repeats itself.
The best way to see new buildings and theaters changing, or taking, shape is simply to get down to the West Side and wander through the campus while it’s still in progress. Definitely worth the trip, even before you’ve set foot in a building to see what’s on stage. Don’t rush – it’s about exploration, about watching the 21st century materialize before your eyes — and the process is fascinating! Or search before you go. lincoln center (Only cavil: the roof of the restaurant really looks like AstroTurf.)