Saving an Altered Landscape
Plans to redo a Dan Kiley design ruffle feathers of some and earn praise from others.
By Alex Ulam
People on both sides of the growing controversy over the fate of the North Court in New York City's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts agree that it is one of the city's most distinctive landscapes. Designed by landscape architect Dan Kiley, who died last year, the North Court's geometric proportions and balance convey the religious harmony of a temple. An L-shaped arrangement of massive planters frames a shallow reflecting pool that contains a Henry Moore sculpture. The landscape's geometry complements the perpendicular lines formed by the surrounding exteriors of Wallace Harrison's Metropolitan Opera building and Max Abramovitz's Avery Fisher Hall. A large open pedestrian bridge that crosses West 65th Street shelters the plaza from Manhattan's hectic street life, creating a sanctuary of visual and aural quietude.
What is in dispute is whether signature elements of the North Court can be removed and its plaza redesigned in a way that preserves the spirit of the Kiley landscape. Kiley's design at the North Court faces significant change, as part of a $475 million plan for Lincoln Center by the architecture firm of Diller Scofidio + Renfro. The plan includes the renovation of a number of the complex's buildings, its landscape, and the surrounding streetscape. At the North Court, the plan calls for the Kiley-designed pool to be reshaped and for Kiley's arrangement of travertine planters to be replaced by a linear bosquet of trees set directly into the ground on the southern end of the court. The pedestrian bridge is to be removed as part of a strategy to reinvigorate West 65th Street, and in its place a new 250-seat restaurant that has a sloping parabolic lawn on its roof is to frame the northern edge of the plaza.
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