Time to redo Lincoln Center

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Proposal, in 2000, for a new Lincoln Center by Franck, Lohsen & McCrery. (City Journal)

The Future Symphony Institute has reprinted on its website three plans to rebuild Lincoln Center, published in the autumn 2000 issue of City Journal, the quarterly of the Manhattan Institute. “A New Lincoln Center,” though or in fact because it is quite long, is a joy to read. Myron Magnet, the journal’s editor, before inviting three classical architects to describe their individual plans, launches such a memorable case against the architecture of the current Lincoln Center, and against modern architecture generally, that I would reprint the article even if it were completely without any timely rationale for doing so.

I sent a query to FSI asking about that. Its founder and director, Andrew Balio – he is also principal trumpet for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra – replied with a plausible argument.

Indeed, the New York Philharmonic has begun the campaign to raise $500 million to renovate the inside of what is now called David Geffen Hall, formerly Avery Fisher. They have raised $100 million from Mr. Geffen. … It is a shame because they all need to be replaced with something such as you see in the article. For some reason, it has been deemed that Lincoln Center is worthy of historic protection status. I, and many , many people, do not share that view. So, it is still relevant!

To be sure. How magisterial for New York were the Lincoln Center to be rebuilt along lines reminiscent of New York at the apogee of its 20th century greatness even as pressure builds to do the same thing with Pennsylvania Station. New York can afford to do this. America can afford to do this.

On the other hand, maybe the current Penn Station into which we scuttle like rats should receive heritage protection status. It is verging on half a century long in the tooth, isn’t it?

Again, Magnet wrote his piece in 2000. His three classicists were Quinlan Terry, Robert Adam and the firm of Franck, Lohsen & McCrery. The FLC proposal brought to mind its proposal just a year or so later, also printed in City Journal, to rebuild the World Trade Center. If that classical plan had been selected, it would have been completed far sooner, for far less money, and Manhattan would have fallen in love with it.

It is too late for the World Trade Center, but a classically rebuilt Lincoln Center and Penn Station would work the same magic for New York City.

To conclude, I take a paragraph from Myron Magnet’s passages leading up to the three proposals. A tough job; still, choosing just one from the entire procession of his critical remarks must be described as a thankful task.

Most critics, as the individual buildings opened between 1962 and 1969, charged that they failed because they weren’t modernist enough. In fact, the reverse was the case: they were insufficiently traditional. As it was, the architects of the three principal buildings fell between two stools. As they attempted to cling to their modernist principles while at the same time making a nod toward the tradition of classical architecture, they created a kind of proto-postmodernism: modernist buildings with some traditionalist doodads tacked on. Lacking postmodernism’s smart-aleck “irony,” though, these buildings really are nothing but kitsch – sentimental and insincere evocations of something meaningful, without any understanding of, or passion for, the underlying ideal. So perhaps the best critic of the complex was Lyndon Johnson’s wife, Lady Bird, who at the Opera House’s opening gushed: “Ah have an impression of red; Ah have an impression of gold; Ah have an impression of chandeliers.” Crude impressions of bygone elegance, shreds and patches of tradition, is what Lincoln Center’s architecture is all about.

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Lincoln Center (wikipedia.org)

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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3 Responses to Time to redo Lincoln Center

  1. Harriet Swift says:

    Mr. Magnet’s crude & offensive caricature of Lady Bird Johnson removes him from any list of serious taste-makers. To ridicule an accomplished and sensitive woman by smirking at her Texas drawl is appalling. That you concur with this kind of nasty, personal commentary is very disappointing.

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    • Actually, Harriet, that was an homage to Lady Bird and her intuitive good judgment.

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      • Harriet Swift says:

        And what good judgement was at work in adding Mrs. Johnson’s Texas accent? Whatever Magnet meant to convey it was lost in his use of a phonetic accent to limit Mrs. Johnson to a drawling outsider. This is a historic tool used to ridicule. If the comment had come from the first lady of France would the quote be full of cute Frenchy English phonetics? Doubtful.

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