Imagine Lincoln Center before the facelift began. The old access drive (which ran along the east side of Avery Fisher Hall, Josie Robertson Plaza, and the David H. Koch Theater) peeled away from Columbus Avenue and led vehicles on a path between the top of the Columbus Avenue stair and the plaza. While it was a useful pick-up/drop-off location, it caused an unwieldy clash of pedestrians and cars, which, from both design and safety standpoints, wasn't entirely successful.
"The Jaffe Family Drive was designed to totally transform that experience," says Lincoln Center President Reynold Levy. "By dropping the old plaza-level service road beneath the expanded grand stair, we've eliminated the congestion that used to occur when both cars and people were rushing across the roadway to make curtain at the same time. Separating the vehicular and pedestrian traffic is a huge improvement for our patrons."
Conceived by the architectural firm overseeing the redesign, Diller Scofidio + Renfro in association with Beyer Blinder Belle Architects and Planners, Jaffe Drive not only separates cars from pedestrians, but also removes vehicles from the plaza level, enhancing what is perhaps Lincoln Center's most famous view.
"Lincoln Center was very keen to keep a drop-off as close to the venues as possible," says Liz Diller, principal of Diller Scofidio + Renfro. "So we thought, why not do that in a sheltered space? We proposed to drop the road, expand the stair, and make a more gracious and ceremonial entrance."
Stretching from its street-level entrance just below 65th Street to its exit near 62nd, the roadway descends beneath the extended grand stair and leads to the Bruce and Robbi Toll Entrance, a porte corchre underneath the stairs that serves as a comfortable, weather-protected, concourse-level entrance. This clean, modern entryway includes a wide, brightly lit drop-off area, seating, signage, and direct access to most of Lincoln Center's theaters.
Both of the Susan and Jon Rotenstreich Corridors, on the north and south side of the Toll Entrance, offered covered, ADA compliant access to the Metropolitan Opera House, David H. Koch Theater, Avery Fisher Hall, and Lincoln Center Theater. Stairways, escalators, and an elevator also lead to the Plaza level.
Utilizing many of the same materials unveiled last year at Alice Tully Hall, The Juilliard School, and along West 65th Street: glass, travertine, landscaping, and integrated information technologies: the redesign softens the edge of the campus, creating a more-inviting Lincoln Center, no matter who you are or where you're coming from.
"Here, the solution was a little bit different than on 65th Street," says Diller. "[We wanted to] make a great stair, to make a glamorous entrance. Whether you're being dropped off or coming by foot from the subway, it doesn't matter. It's a democratic, big, wonderful drop-off that's well-lit and really feels like it's part of the city."
While respecting the original planners' modernist aesthetic, Diller Scofidio + Renfro have made the area around Jaffe Family Drive very 21st century. Where concrete, monoliths, and sharp angles created a block of theaters that felt cut off from the surrounding neighborhood, trees, glass, metal, and softer angles now add a feeling of transparency.
The new grand stair, for example, elegantly extends over the Jaffe Family Drive from Columbus Avenue to the Plaza. The staircase has been expanded to 171 feet from its original 115 feet wide, and the steps are now five-feet deep, flanked by ramps with delicate glass canopies leading to Avery Fisher Hall and the Koch Theater. And the stairs serve a second purpose as well, transmitting program information to visitors and passersby via fading LEDs embedded in the risers.
On either side of the grand stair, 110-foot-tall flagpoles: to the manufacturer's best knowledge, the tallest stainless steel poles in North America: add additional drama and light the plaza. And new banner locations next to Jaffe Family Drive make signage more visible to vehicles traveling down Broadway and Columbus.
The redesign has also enhanced the southern entrance to the 65th Street subway station. To be reopened by the MTA this spring, the pedestrian walkway has been brightened and refreshed, and the stairway now leads to the corner of 65th and Broadway, an improvement for everyone living in and passing through the neighborhood.
"This new face of Lincoln Center at its primary entrance presents a much more graceful approach to the public at large," says Levy. "The openness of the design creates an entirely more inviting connection to the surrounding city and the neighborhood, and that's been our goal from the beginning."
The addition of plants and seating adds another refreshing layer to the revitalized Lincoln Center. At the south end of the Jaffe Family Drive, the Charles B. Benenson Grove, a micro-park at 62nd Street beside the Koch Theater and across from the David Rubenstein Atrium, creates a more welcoming southern approach and a restful meeting area. The 3,500 square-foot space adds stone benches and four kinds of trees, which, when they bloom in the spring, will offer a dramatically new look for the formerly barren area.
"I believe that in the future: once it's no longer a construction site and it's more grown-in: people will feel like it should have always been this way," says Diller. "They'll see a new language there, but it won't feel like a renovation. It's an interesting thing to be doing architectural work, because it becomes part of the fiber of where you are, and hopefully it will feel good in perpetuity."