In celebration of the recent release of Lincoln Center Inside Out: An Architectural Account (Damiani 2013), the New York Public Library recently hosted Elizabeth Diller, Ricardo Scofidio and Charles Renfro, principals of the eponymous architecture studio—stylized as Diller Scofidio + Renfro, or DS+R—in conversation with MoMA's Curator of Architecture Barry Bergdoll. Among other topics, the participants attempted to define the object itself, only to conclude that the beautifully-printed tome is beyond categorization: it is at once an art book, literally overflowing with beautiful full-bleed photography (more on that shortly), and a scholarly record of the decade-long redesign of one of New York City's iconic public spaces. Indeed, Diller offhandedly characterized Lincoln Center Inside Out as "an architectural porno book," though Bergdoll contended that it is as encyclopedic as it is eye-catching.
So too can the book be perused in a number of ways: At over 300 pages, Lincoln Center Inside Out is constructed almost entirely of gatefolds—which, as the panelists noted, might very well be a first for a comprehensive visual and quasi-technical document of such size and scope. The first tenth of the book consists of introductory text and a series of nicely laid-out conversations between DS+R's Ilana Altman and various, followed by some 30 gatefolds, each of which spans eight normal pages. The exterior panels of the pages invariably feature photos—interiors, exteriors, details, wide angles and even a few process shots—by Iwan Baan and Matthew Monteith, concealing explanatory text and images within. Suffice it to say that Lincoln Center Inside Out (pun most certainly intended) is about as comprehensive as they come.
Photo at top: Alice Tully Hall, Iwan Baan, 2008
Bergdoll lauded the book's built-in experience of discovery as Scofidio acknowledged that the design serves as "a metaphor for the travails [of the project]," which looks immaculate on the surface but actually goes several layers deep. In fact, he later disclosed that the "archaeology of the space" was a challenge unto itself: By some accounts, upwards of half of the total cost went into bringing the woefully neglected substructure up to code (fun facts: there is a full gas station in the parking garage and there is a river underneath Juilliard).
The metaphor applies not just to space but to time as well: Diller commented that the highly tactile, physical construction of Lincoln Center Inside Out serves to slow readers down and take their time absorbing the dense vignettes, which cover everything from grass species for the 'hypar' (hyperbolic paraboloid) roof lawn to the form studies for the prow-like geometry of the new Juilliard building.
If time is a luxury in the present, so too does it bear the burden of the past (architecture buffs ought to recognize at least a few of the faces in the 1959 photo above). Not only is the 16-acre space regarded as a canonical example—or relic, depending on your taste—of high modernism, but all 12 constituents of the campus must unanimously agree on the use of public space. Hence, a twofold characterization of the space: where Scofidio framed the redesign of Lincoln Center, at the outset, as a case of a project that "had a good start [but] had to be finished," Renfro countered that he saw it as "uncompleting it." He suggested that the old space was "dead architecture," and that the redesign opened new possibilities for the space.
Diller offered a compromise, noting that her most vivid memory of the old Lincoln Center was the "fantastic buzz during intermission," when the atriums and plaza would be fleetingly become a social space par excellence, as though the buildings were communicating with each other. The goal, then, was to create this experience at all hours of the day, and Bergdoll gushed that the DS+R's vision for Lincoln Center had "given it a daytime." (Scofidio later remarked that the original plaza was characteristic of the 60's, when "plazas were designed to be desolate"—dead architecture, if you will.)
In any case, they all agreed that the almost overambitious project was a worthy undertaking—Diller related that there seemed to be more at stake in taking on a project in their hometown, of taking responsibility for "what was there [and] what was left behind," likening the completion of the project as a "post partum situation"—which was the basis, perhaps, for the extra effort in documenting the project in Lincoln Center Inside Out. The fact that the highly visual volume is more appropriate for a coffee table than a reference library affirms its sui generis appeal—and, hopefully, that of Lincoln Center itself.