Meet Me in the Ditch Outside Alice Tully Hall

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In the first of a series in The Design Observer, the architecture critics Alexandra Lange and Mark Lamster have lunch at the Lincoln Center to discuss the redesign of Alice Tully Hall supervised by Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DSR), A rude waitress and unsatisfactory chairs have made Lange and Lamster sour and snarky. Lange is particularly bitter about the “ditch,” as she refers to the sunken entryway on Broadway (above). “Why do we go down?” she wonders. “If the point of hiring DSR was to open everything up, why not have it open out on the sidewalk?”

Lamster also has a problem with an exterior feature, in his case the “WOG,” or wedge of grass along 65th Street. Lamster describes the entryway the “sad Pringle of turf” as “about the width of a MET diva.” Both Lamster and Lange intensely dislike the entrance canopies. Lange calls them “bombastic,” while Lamster elaborates, “DSR is headed toward self-parody with the obsessive folded planes, which are so very Rem Koolhaas circa 1997, and were a dubious conceit even when he was doing them back then.”

Lamster and Lange don’t hate everything about the new Lincoln Center, but every time they start discussing what Diller Scofidio + Renfro did right the critics spot something they don’t like. Eating overpriced panini in a temple of culture is always a little deflating (“what would a public space in New York be without some branded dining component?” Lamster says at one point), and one is bound to become nostalgic for a building’s old, familiar irritations, as Lamster and Lange do. 

Most of their complaints concern threshold points in Tully Hall. The problems Lamster and Lange point out have as much to do with the current state of American cultural institutions as they do DSR’s design. The jarring design elements are coded thank you notes to all the patrons who made $1,000 contributions to the remodeling project. How are they supposed to know their contributions made a difference without a little bombast?

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