Plans for Major Renovation of Avery Fisher Hall Renewed

Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, designed in 1962 by Max Abramovitz.

Can architecture breathe new life into the the classical orchestra? Well, this was the idea in 2003, when the New York Philharmonic and Manhattan’s Lincoln Center selected Foster + Partners to renovate Avery Fisher Hall, an intervention that might have created a new standalone structure to usurp Max Abramovitz‘s modernist music box. As with many architectural ambitions preceding the 2008 financial collapse, the Avery Fisher Hall project was stalled, standing immune to the wave of renovations that updated the rest of Lincoln Center. The excitement of the international design competition withered away when the prospect of $300 million in construction costs appeared inexpedient in times of austerity.

Now, almost ten years and one wildly successful Diller Scofidio + Renfro project later, talks of a renewed renovation scheme for Avery Fisher Hall have begun. According to The New York Times, a “radical re-envisioning” is in the works, which will take on the challenge of redefining the concert hall “at a time of challenging orchestra economics and changing audience habits.” Officials have put Foster + Partners scheme (approved in 2005) aside, and they will be soliciting new proposals to update the patron experience with better facilities and improved acoustics.

Citing the success of the $1.2-billion Diller Scofidio + Renfro campus renovation, Lincoln Center and the Philharmonic have expressed renewed confidence in the Avery Fisher Hall project as well as a new sense of urgency in the wake of declining ticket sales. “If you’re not thinking about the way in which our art form and music and audiences are evolving,” the orchestra’s executive director Matthew VanBesien told the Times, “you’re not serving the art form long term. You really want to build this next great hall in a new way, to do the kinds of things you maybe are doing but want to do in a more compelling way or maybe can’t even imagine yet.”

What is somewhat certain at this point is that the 1962 Abramovitz shell will remain intact while the interior will undergo a major overhaul, including the addition of a new auditorium. A theater designer has been selected, though the architect and the acoustician involved with the project remain unknown. Strategies for fundraising have also not yet been disclosed, though the anticipated new auditorium is expected to attract a munificent donor with the prospect of a major naming opportunity. [The New York Times]

- Kelly Chan