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Diller Scofidio + Renfro on Turning Lincoln Center Inside Out

“After so many years of averting the border patrol between the disciplines of art and architecture, while inhabiting both yet claiming to be outsiders, this is the ultimate validation,” said Elizabeth Diller last Wednesday at the Plaza Hotel, as she joined partners Ricardo Scofidio and Charles Renfro in accepting the American Academy of Rome’s Centennial Medal for their exceptional contributions to the worlds of architecture and the visual arts. The trio spent the previous evening at the New York Public Library, where they discussed their interdisciplinary design studio’s renewal of Lincoln Center. We asked writer Nancy Lazarus to attend the event and harvest some memorable quotes. Learn more on May 10, when Diller and Scofidio will be joined by DS+R monograph author Edward Dimendberg for a book talk at the Center for Architecture.

Redesigning Lincoln Center was an epic undertaking that involved a prominent public landmark and a painstaking process that evolved over nearly ten years. Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the design studio behind most of the project, has chronicled their experiences in Lincoln Center Inside Out: An Architectural Account (Damiani). The three principals shared their views on the project and the book at a recent event hosted by New York Public Library and moderated by Barry Bergdoll, chief curator of architecture and design at MoMA. The DS+R trio is just as articulate as they are creative, so here are excerpts from that discussion.

On Lincoln Center’s design:
Diller: The old Lincoln Center was too elitist, solid, and turned its back on the neighborhood and community. We were drawn to the promenade levels where everyone pours out in the middle of events. We wanted to extend that social feeling to the rest of the project. We broke down the edges to enable events in the public spaces. There’s more symmetry now across the public and private spaces.

Scofidio: There were no photos of the old Lincoln Center except the main plaza with the fountain. Someone said that in the 1960s, plazas were designed to be desolate.

On how they approached the project:
Diller: To win the project we showed many ideas, since we tend to think in multiples, with different approaches and solutions. We demonstrated our affection for the place and showed how to take it to the next step. We felt we could do it justice and interpret it for contemporary culture. We wanted to transform Lincoln Center for the logic of our time.

Scofidio: We didn’t go in and say here are the problems we have to correct. We just said we can finish Lincoln Center.

On the process and the politics:
Diller: There were multiple parts that were done consecutively as more funds became available. The difficulties were interesting, but if we’d known then what we know now, we probably wouldn’t have gotten ourselves into this. There was so much consensus building. Our constituents included Lincoln Center’s leadership, donors, New York City, academic groups, historic preservationists, the press, and the public.

On writing the book:
Diller: The book was an opportunity to reflect our thoughts. It was an immersive way to remember the pre- and post-occupancy conditions. We wanted to write a book for the general public. It’s a coffee table book, plus the intricacies of the sketches.

Scofidio: With the book we can step back and revisit the project. With the gatefold design, it all looks beautiful [in photos by Iwan Baan and Matthew Monteith], but when you open up the gatefolds you see all the travails and the angst involved.

Renfro: We were interested in documenting our projects, including the melodrama.

In retrospect:
Diller: It was transformational for our studio. It entailed sacrifice and had a lot of personal significance since it took nearly ten years.

Scofidio: I’m envious now of people who arrive at a project without knowing what to expect.

Renfro: We gave Lincoln Center new life.

Nancy Lazarus’s last contribution to UnBeige explored how technology is transforming museums. Learn more about her at www.NL3Media.com.

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