Renovation keeps glamour, dumps pretension

The renovation of Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, designed by architectural firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro, arrived as a pleasant reward to New Yorkers after a long, difficult winter.

Located next to the Juilliard School of Music, a block north of the main Lincoln Center campus, Alice Tully had a grand reopening in February and is a fresh reimagining of the original.

“From the beginning, it was our self-determined goal to honor the DNA of the original Lincoln Center,” says DS+R partner Charles Renfro. “We wanted to magnify the good qualities and ameliorate the bad qualities, breathe new life into it without overriding the original design.”

The results are more than effective, as the new Alice Tully — primed to host tonight’s Lincoln Center Film Society gala honoring Tom Hanks — feels like a different structure entirely.

The original Alice Tully was a concealed structure as seen from the street. It reinforced a sense of pretension, a notion that the arts are reserved for the cultural elite.

The revamped building engages the street in a way the old place never did. The front of the renovated hall, facing Broadway, is made of glass. There is an elegant cafe and sitting area as you walk in, creating a welcoming atmosphere.

“I think this project is exemplary in confronting, head-on, the issues posed by large-scale urban-renewal projects,” says New York U. associate vice president for planning and design Lori Manor. “They are bringing contemporary urban design to bear in improving how these developments can better integrate themselves with the city.”

The most compelling change is that of the theater itself, a multifaceted venue used primarily for chamber music, but also as a screening room and a hall for amplified music. The seats are dark gray suede, and the walls are an orangish wood that seems almost alive, in a subtle, malleable way, which helps give the place a jewel-box quality.

“All of the folds, the articulations, were done for accommodating the acoustics, not for aesthetics,” Renfro says. “All of the goose bumps on the back of the wall are designed to distribute the sounds.”

The design of the room gives a first impression of unified simplicity. On second look, however, there are many complexities, small details. None detract from the overall warmth and intimacy of the room, which draws your attention to the stage.

“One feels like the same care and attention has been given to sculpting the space as a craftsman attends to carving a woodwind or stringed instrument,” Manor says.

For New Yorkers, this can only come as music to theears.

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