Welcome to David Geffen Hall

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday October 13, 2022

While the jury is still out on the acoustical reworking of the completely reconfigured home of the New York Philharmonic, the public is invited to visit the new David Geffen Hall for any reason that suits them. Come for a concert, a recital, a jazz performance or an after-school activity. Come for coffee, lunch, drinks or dinner. Come see the commissioned art on the north and east facades by Nina Chanel Abnay and Jacolby Satterwhite (below) that references San Juan Hill, the vibrant Black and Puerto Rican neighborhood demolished to make way for Lincoln Center. Whoever you are, whatever are your interests, the New York Phil invites you to take part in their home for the performing arts. Below: Nina Chantal Abney, “San Juan Heal”; commissioned by Lincoln Center for the Performing Artis in collaboration with The Studio Museum in Harlem and Public Art Fund. Photo: Nicholas Knight, courtesy Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, The Studio Museum in Harlem, and Public Art Fund


Originally called Philharmonic Hall, it first opened in 1962 to universal boos because of acoustics so poorly configured that the musicians onstage could not hear one another and the audience couldn’t hear the woodwind section. In 1976, it underwent acoustical upgrade, with somewhat better results, and was renamed Avery Fisher Hall. But the acoustics were still mediocre. As time went on, audiences diminished, budgets shrank, and its shabbiness became painfully evident. In 2003, the Philharmonic considered moving back to Carnegie Hall, which made for strained relations with the Lincoln Center board, who pushed Avery Fisher Hall to the side while the rest of the campus was totally renovated, with Diller Scofidio + Renfro on board as architects.

But in 2015, David Geffen made a gift of $100million, which gave the Hollywood mogul naming rights. A new president and board of trustees got to work and, in short order they brought in a design team headed by acoustician Akustiks. The lead architect was Diamond Schmitt of Toronto; the firm of Tod Williams Billie Tsien [twbta] was retained to design the public spaces; also on the team was theater consultant Joshua Dachs. At the ribbon cutting on Saturday, President and CEO Deborah Borda spoke at length about the cohesiveness of the design and construction process, which took advantage of the pandemic period to double and sometimes triple the daily work force. The result was that the job was completed two years ahead of schedule and under budget, with Turner Construction leading.

While the acoustical re-design was the main concern, reimagining the public use of the building was equally important to the organizers. Not only did they need to build a new, younger audience with a greater diversity of programming, they had to make amends for the brutal callousness with which the site was originally acquired for Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts through what Robert Moses termed “slum clearance.” During the last several years, particularly influenced by Black Lives Matter, Lincoln Center and the Philharmonic have been reaching out across the boroughs, and especially to their own back yard. On this soft opening weekend at the Philharmonic, tickets were pay what you wish, and concerts will be free on the last weekend of October.


I spoke Greg O’Malley, who represented twbta at the ribbon cutting. Through a subsequent email conversation, he spoke about how the firm approached and executed the design of the public spaces. The welcoming lobby (above), with its lowered ceiling, richly patterned textiles and carpeting, he said, actually serves all visitors to Lincoln Center and the Philharmonic. The lower ceiling focuses attention on the center space in front of a 50-foot digital media wall (below), which will display Jacolby Satterwhite’s An Eclectic Dance to the Music of Time; this area is acoustically outfitted for performances and lectures. The large space, with its graceful furnishing that give a nod to midcentury modernism, becomes like a living room for the entire Lincoln Center campus. And throughout the season, the media wall simulcast live performances free of charge, for anyone who wishes to just come in for refreshments. Photo top and above: ©Peggy Roalf

The rich palette of colors are as carefully conceived as the architecture itself. Red, Greg said, has always been a traditional theatrical color, often associated with the lobby of the Metropolitan Opera. The bold and lively blue patterned carpet has the feel of syncopated jazz. And the bronze beaded curtains in the windows of the Sidewalk Studio, which is a multipurpose space for performances, lectures, and community engagement, reference the storied, now closed, Four Seasons restaurant.

Lincoln Center is located between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues between 62nd and 65th Street. For information on New York Philharmonic programming, go here