Carnegie Hall. Host to musical legends from Tchaikovsky to the Beatles, America's premier concert hall has been restored with an eye - and ear - toward maintaining its famous `sound'
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Under the watchful eye of the architectural firm of James Stewart Polshek & Associates, the shortcomings and abuses have been remedied.Skip to next paragraph
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The scope of work in the concert hall was vast - new seats, floor, and carpet, reconfigured proscenium, and enlarged backstage area. Complicating the effort was the necessity of retaining the acoustical quality, which mandated extensive testing of all new materials. The color scheme was altered from antique white to varied shades of ivory with gold trim. Much of the work, such as a totally new electrical system, is invisible. New air conditioning, which the hall never had, will enable it to be open during the summer months. The massive duct work is hidden cleverly, filling voids in the walls. Existing openings in the hall ceiling were utilized for vents.
Part of the success of the redesign stems from the architects' attitude that nothing new or added should be made to look as though it had always been a part of the facility. Thus, the ``tiara,'' or lighting frame over the stage, follows the lines of the shell but is stylized and has a modern look, without becoming a piece of minimalist sculpture.
In the new lobby, architect Polshek says he purposely tried not ``to pander to ersatz historicism. We didn't want to be too cute, and we didn't pretend it was all there before.''
The result is a very untraditional space, declares the architect, who turned for precedent not to the American Renaissance under way when the hall was built, but to the decorative arts in Europe during the period. The pleasantly scaled, Polshek-designed torchiers on each side of the stairs were inspired by the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
One might quibble over the too-simple design of the balcony railings in the lobby, but overall there is a superb mix of old and new. It provides ``reminders of change over time,'' says Polshek, who notes that ``people who come to Carnegie Hall are not stuffed shirts.''
Adds Tyler H. Donaldson of the Polshek office, ``Carnegie Hall is the closest thing in America to a people's concert hall.'' It was that accessible, populist character - which in most cases had been only damaged, not lost - that the architects were determined to retain.
That they were able to do so - and in such an unbelievably short time - is due in no small measure to a dedicated crew of construction workers and artisans who completed their tasks with aplomb.
Yet to come are a cleaning of the exterior and construction of an adjoining 59-story office building. Designed by internationally renowned architect Cesar Pelli for a private developer, Rockrose Development Corporation, the richly evocative tower, sympathetic in design to Carnegie Hall, will provide additional backstage space and a funding source to guarantee the hall's future. Carnegie Hall is ready for its next 100 years.
Carleton Knight III reports regularly on architecture for the Monitor.