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NYCB Opening Night Benefit - American Music


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There are worse things Mr. Koch could have done with $100 million, no matter how it was acquired. Anyway, isn't it true that donors usually want their names on things, whether a theater, a hospital, inclusion in the donor lists in programs, or a colored paper cutout of a balloon posted at the neighborhood food market? Anonymous is better, but that doesn't make it popular.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I'm thankful that Koch's contribution has made possible the renovation of a theater built and, thanks to Lincoln Kirstein, in large part designed, for George Balanchine. Beyond that, for Peter Martins to place Koch's contribution on the same plane as Balanchine and Kirstein's . . . granted that this sort of easy flattery must tempt anyone charged with courting donors . . . is as superficial and noxious an understanding of history as his choreography sometimes seems to be of human nature.

How much did it cost to attach Koch's name to the building, and what fraction of that sum would it have cost to buy vodka shots for last night's audience, to celebrate with and thank the loyal people who keep NYCB viable by purchasing tickets throughout the season and/or buying over-priced gala seats? In the large scheme of things, Koch is to be thanked. But self-aggrandizement has erased a little bit of history, and that makes me a little sad.

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I see your point, kfw. But one has to live with the excesses of human nature, especially when "human nature" is actually the product of economics and class.

I reside across a strip of water from Palm Beach. One gets the impression that many (not all) people in this population of socially striving rich folk seem to require an awful lot of praise from the outside world and even from each other.

It does not seem to occur to them that there might be a bit of insincerity, hyperbole, or even ho-hum in the exaggerated praise which is mother's milk to some.

But ... they DO provide money the government (i.e. we the taxpayers) is unable or unwilling to provide. Some of it goes to frivolous or reprehensible causes, and of course there are tax write-offs. But some of it goes to causes that all of us admire and support, not least of which are the ballet companies which could not survive without the Mr. Koch's of the world.

:P I just realized how far we've strayed from the original thread. It would be wonderful to hear more about the music, dancers, and dancing. :wink:

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My previous post on the topic doesn't seem to have made it or was deleted. The NY Stae theater is an abomination of architecture and should never have been built or torn down and replaced shortly after everyone realized what a monstrosity it was.

After that "performance" by the NYC Ballet's big shots, they won't be getting a penny from me nor will I attend their performances. Shame really for the talent, to be managed by such taste "whores". Aside from the fact that Peter Martins R+J was a disaster, he demonstrates how well he's managed to play the suck up to wealth and power in America. Koch's business ventures are repulsive and he has contributed to the financial meltdown the little people are going to take a mighty beating on, while he and his buds fritter about on their mega yachts on gated estates.

The ego of people like Koch is amazing. If he wanted to benefit the arts, aside from his main purpose of a tax write off and getting his name on the building, he could have donated to the NY State Council for the Arts and they could have distributed the money, since presumably they know where it's most needed.

And finally, what exactly can they do with that building? It's hardly worth saving and most likely it will all be wasteful cosmetic nonsense, when artists could better use the financial support - smart move - stick on a building to help a dance company.

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It's a little late to defend the State Theater's design, but defend it I must. In its time, it was a vast improvement over any other large dance house in NYC. (Then being primarily the Old Met and City Center) It has good sight lines, and even accommodates the people who actually like to view ballet from far over on the side, with its rings extending far around to the right and left. When it opened, the major failing of the place was that the orchestra floor had been made too low, and cut off feet back to about row G or H. That was an engineering failure, not one of architecture. The other acknowledged problem was acoustical, and made City Opera's life more difficult, but remember, this was a place that was designed in close consultation with Balanchine, and his natural proclivity was to serve his art first! Now, if you don't like the decor motif of the large rhinestones, that's simply a matter of taste, but you don't look at them during the ballet! As to the rest of the house, it's hard to go wrong with red and gold, or blue and silver.

I saw Midsummer Night's Dream there in its first week in the new house, and from where I sat, row M, center, everything looked quite all right to me. It would be interesting to know when "everyone" perceived that it was such a "montrosity". From what I can see, it appears to be a serviceable house for dance, and most of its problems have to do with things unseen by the audience.

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additionally it's important to remember and to defend the auditorium's design of orchestra seating, which initially was excellent and comfortable in ways it was not after all the tweaks made by adjustments to the hall for acoustical reasons.

once the orchestra pit was enlarged, sometime after 1970 and two rows were removed, the seating became as 'tricky' as it's been ever since. at that time the seats were made narrower and the leg room, and the way to pass through to take one's seat, shrunk to the current 'tight' arrangement. in its original arrangement, the aisles of the orch. level were roomy enough, more or less, to let one's legs strecth freely from one's seat and those taking their seats could pass by w/ little or no bother.

had i been philip johnson i might have posted a disclaimer around the orchestra level saying something like: This is NOT what i designed or devised for patrons of this area of the theater.

likewise all those rather unsightly panes and drum-like supports that congest the arms of the rings were all added after the house opened in hopes, mostly in vain it seemed, of approving the acoustics.

in sum, what the NYSTheater became is not what Johnson planned.

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Yes, the fiddling around with the orchestra level in particular spoiled some of Johnson's best ideas for the seating. He declined to use a central aisle, as his layout of the seats was to make it unnecessary to have one. The funny business with the shapes on the rings was also a Bad Idea, but they have little to do with the original design. My own sensibility would be to restore the general seating plan and other smaller details to Johnson's original concept, but now that he's dead, I'll bet they've got some really interesting ideas of what to do to that defenseless building.

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Even as it is, I find the George Balanchine Theater to be by far the best place to see a ballet. Even those orchestra rows, with only the aisles along the walls: so much better than having an aisle down the middle that wastes the half dozen most perfectly centered seats in each row, for instance. The leg room may be less than it was, but still more than any other theater I know. And, so extremely important, seats for the most part avoid the head directly ahead that blocks your view of center stage by strategic "scattering" within the row: exactly opposite to the "perfect" lock-step seating at the Philharmonic's Avery Fischer Hall where every view is blocked-- next Fall I wonder how ABT will deal with this.

I hope the $200,000,000 (yes, another $100,000,000 must be added to Mr. Koch's huge gift) isn't used for something like that Fischer "perfect symmetry" or for an "improved", voice (and noise)-enhancing stage. One thing though, that huge ball that sits above center orchestra, hovering ominously over probably among the best seats in the house: but as one who has been through earthquakes, it always makes me edgy; I think we have a geological fault about three miles north of Lincoln Center.

I thank its originators for making it a great place to look at dance, even if not a great place to look at.

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Mel Johnson's view is the architecture is invisible in the darkness and so it doesn't matter.

I take a different approach to the "built environment". It's meant to meet many demands and purposed and in edifices such as a theater for ballet, opera and music the building itself contributes to the mood of both the audience and the performers.

I personally feel exhilaration approaching, being around, walking through, being in and working in some buildings and feel horribly depressed in others. As an audience member, the ENTIRE theater experience counts for me and I can report that both Met Opera, The NY State Theater and Avery Fisher Hall are extremely uncomfortable to be in and around. I suppose one would have to have a sensitivity to architecture to sense this.

Sticking red plush carpet and gold leaf and "crystal" chandeliers does not make for an elegant interior. Simply using these is a cheap shot and an excuse to use real design and pick up the tried and true and in the case of these buildings garish and indiciative that the architects and designers were slackers and incompetent. Absolutely no comparison to the great halls in Europe or even Carnegie Hall for all it's faults. But these buildings actually manage to be offensive.

If you are going to copy, why not COPY something that was / is successful and not show hubris and trying to do something - design a hall - which you have no experience in. Philip Johnson, Harrison& Abramowitz (Wallace Harrison) and Max Abramowitz. Philip Johnson, incompetent the first go round was given a shot to fix up what he had screwed up and failed again. The entire project has received horrible deservedly horrible reviews since it was completed. All this is understandable when you look at who was given the commissions for these projects. Beware of corporate architects and their huge egos.

The use of travertine is completely inappropriate in NYC and it has not weathered well at all and the arches of the Met Opera look like the effort of a child with a compass.

The maintenance of the property has been sub standard for a premiere cultural center. The famed Belmont room at the Met Opera is so shabby, falling apart and tacky and falling apart is looks like something for a third world country. Yet this is offered as a "perk" to members. What a joke!

The whole place should be torn down.

Despite that some wonderful art takes place there. These artists deserve better. I don't think the Martins Koch duo will deliver.

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Now, I believe that we are into a "de gustibus" spiral, which never leads anywhere. While I can sympathize with the idea of the ballet-going experience to be an enveloping experience of Gesamtkunstwerk, it is not, for me, at least, a "without which not" of audience service. It's nice, but not essential.

The matter is not so much that the architecture becomes invisible in the dark. In the reflections of the stage lights, a certain ambience is created when the lights go down. I still like what I see from the third ring angle, whether right or left. I do agree that travertine was a bad idea from the get-go. Even in the benighted days of ecological unconsciousness that was 1964, I realized that the atmospheric pollution of NYC would make short work of such a chemically reactive stone. Sadly, that has come true. The atrium of the place is still lovely, and upholds the Johnsonian ideal of the primacy of space over mass. When he violated his other principles, such as a rejection of applied decoration, he failed there.

As to seismic threats to the building, I'd hate to be inside an auditorium ANYwhere if a repeat of the 1884 magnitude 5.3 NYC quake came along. That one probably involved the Manhattanville Fault which goes from 125th St. to Harlem Meer, but the epicenter may have been on the East River Fault, which runs below that feature.

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re: sightlines in the orch. level - while they might not be the worst of NYC theaters, they became worse with the reconfiguration of the seating and legroom. Before the reworking, the sightlines were far, far better. i have had any number of problems with head obstructions from an orchestra seat since the seating's rearrangements. Before that, never a one.

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Now that I read all these new observations this morning, I realize that I've always thought the theater was very comfortable and a good place to see ballet. Also that I've never found it beautiful, even from the very beginning, but none of the buildings at Lincoln Center seem to me real masterpieces except for Juilliard (which has been disfigured inside in the last 10 years and the graceful bridge across 65th Street removed) and the Vivian Beaumont (or Mitzi Newhouse, or whatever it's called now.) Avery Fisher has always been a big barnlike thing, but at least they worked on the acoustics, which were the serious problem there and for years. The Met is a big fat opera house, it's not understated and maybe like a bordello a little bit, but so what, people have always carried on in opera houses anyway, and they were much, much worse in the old 'dressing room' area of the Palais Garnier which was full of all manner of misbehaving...so they discarded it.

It may not be legroom of certain big jets, but it sure beats the Joyce Theater, which is like being in a sardine can, and the horrible sightlines of CCNY. That's the one that should have been torn down or completely reconstructed, I mean they even have these big cushions a foot thick so you can manage to see anything at all. I hate to go there, and yet do. The State Theater is no monstrosity just because it's not an architectural masterpiece. I don't find it at all disagreeable, just not inspired, exactly the way I feel about Avery Fisher, but the Met actually has something when the performance starts going; it's spacious and airy and feels clean. With all the aura of wealth, you still feel you're at something rare and you often get something rare in Mr. Levine's hands. It's not up to that level at NYST, but that's still a good place.

It doesn't matter if the Met is a little tacky, but I agree with drb that that ball at NYST always bothers me too!

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The NY Stae theater is an abomination of architecture and should never have been built or torn down and replaced shortly after everyone realized what a monstrosity it was.

Oh, I LOVE Philip Johnson's NYST / Koch Theater -- from the inside at least, which is what counts. The sight lines are terrific. I adore the Promenade (and I especially like the Elie Nadelman statues at either end) and the balcony off of it looking out over the plaza fountain. Both are great spaces for mingling during intermission (or during a ballet you'd rather not endure again). The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th ring galleries around the promenade are great for people watching and great for art installations, too (as long as it's something you don't need to stand back from to really see). It's the kind of space that the two theaters across the plaza really need and will probably never get because other things need to be fixed first. I even love the big, gaudy chandelier in the auditorium itself (and the beaded curtains hanging all the way down the Promenade windows) -- it reminds me of the kind of costume jewelery a beloved auntie used to wear. Yeah, there's a lot of 60's glitz in the place, but as that same auntie would say, "Well, dear, it's a look ..." I think it will all be quite fabulously retro once it's been refreshed. It's New York of a certain time and for me, at least, precious for that.

Yes, the acoustics could be improved and the reluctance to put either a center aisle or two off-center aisles in the orchestra is just pig-headed (driven by either a foolish reverence for tradition or an unwillingness to boot top-dollar subscribers from their seats), but now that the ladies rooms have been expanded, the place is darn near perfect. The outside's big and blocky, but hey, they just don't make them like the Palais Garnier anymore ...

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It may not be legroom of certain big jets, but it sure beats the Joyce Theater, which is like being in a sardine can, and the horrible sightlines of CCNY. That's the one that should have been torn down or completely reconstructed, I mean they even have these big cushions a foot thick so you can manage to see anything at all. I hate to go there, and yet do.

Papeetepatrick, I feel your City Center pain. I buy my tickets for performances there with gritted teeth; there are simply no really good seats, even if one is willing to spend top dollar. (Row A in the Grand Tier is too close for the height, in my opinion, and even some of those seats' sightlines are blocked by the railings.)

However, I was pleased to learn from the Tishman website that "the partial reconstruction and complete renovation of the 2,750-seat New York City Center (NYCC)" will include "the relocation of the entry and the new build out of lobby-related amenities, the creation of a grand mezzanine lobby and new grand seating tier, improved auditorium seating and sightlines and the preservation of historic elements." (Emphasis mine.)

I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a good result!

Re NYST: I hadn't read rg and Mel Johnson's posts before I wrote mine -- I didn't realize that Philip Johnson had devised a different (and better) seating plan for the orchestra level. I suppose there is no way that the original plan could be reinstated now, alas ... I do remember what the auditorium looked like before the allegedly acoustic enhancing tubes and panels at the ends for the rings were added (and the doodad over the proscenium, right?) -- the design was indeed crisper. But still, I love the place -- we have worn around the edges together for many years now.

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[-- we have worn around the edges together for many years now.

I actually feel this way about all the Lincoln Center venues, they're just comfortable and familiar and basically friendly by now--and I have to admit I like the Promenade at NYST quite a lot too, both entering and leaving; it works well even with flaws elsewhere. That's great news that they'll really work on NYCC! I hope it works--because they definitely have an enormous challenge to meet. Complaints about Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles seem absurd when compared to NYCC, and they now have Disney Hall for the orchestra, the Pavilion still for opera and the Kirov will be there for 'Nutcracker'. I've never found the sound there to be inferior either (it may vary in different parts of the house, though, but I've been 3 times, I think), and I saw 'Vanessa' and 'Parsifal' there in recent years. Point being, they do need to fix NYCC no matter what the uncertainties for NYST and NYCO, because it is not in reasonable shape for Kirov, ABT, etc., and just as uncomfortable even when it's B'way things by Encores.

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Travertine / Bordello

The entire project has received horrible deservedly horrible reviews since it was completed. All this is understandable when you look at who was given the commissions for these projects. Beware of corporate architects and their huge egos.

The use of travertine is completely inappropriate in NYC and it has not weathered well at all and the arches of the Met Opera look like the effort of a child with a compass.

I did a bit of a background search on the endless controversial genesis of Lincoln center--and here’s what came up:

The travertine idea most likely came from Mies van der Rohe. Mies had used it in the 1929 Barcelona Pavilion and in the lobby and plaza the great Seagram Building in 1959 (the plaza travertine has been replaced due to its tendency to stess up under ice). After that its use become something of an architectural fad in New York.

Johnson was borrowing a lot from Mies at the time and the purist lobby of the Seagram Building is probably an inspiration for the State Theater prominade. The staircases (like the one the piano is often parked under) are from Mies’ Crown Hall in Chicago. Johnson borrowed superficially and widely and forgot all about structural integrity of the elements he took, for which Ada Louise Huxtable called him the “Peck’s bad boy of architecture”--“he just doesn’t give a hoot about structure.”

Johnson later said more bluntly that he was an architectural whore--hoping that someone would correct him (nobody did)--and that he was just a holding place in the history of architecture (Charlottesville Tapes).

Huxtable reviewed the State Theater in the New York Times (Balancing Up: 10/28/1962) as being most likely “tastefully chi chi.” The overall Lincoln Center project, she thought, had started out as a “highbrow dream” and ended up a “middlebrow monument,” the result of committee design that inevitably works by “compromise and fatigue decision.”

Some of the compromises had been over a symmetrical beaux arts plan versus a modernist asymetrical one and over Rockefeller’s desire for “vaulted gothic arches, fluted columns and classical carvings” for the Met, according to Wallace K Harrison. Harrison’s earlier design is a little more interesting that what turned out--it had Corbusier barrel arches traveling back into a slightly wavy Frank Gehry building. (picture at NYT: New Opera House Will Be Imposing: 10/25/1958)

Huxtable’s later review commended Johnson’s building as being “sumptuously elegant” and “sensuously beautiful” and said all of Johnson’s architectural taste “might be naughtly but it’s nice.” (NYT: Glass-Fronted Room: 10/23/1964).

It must be remembered of course that hundreds of families of a lively neighborhood were displaced as a result of the “slum clearance” for Lincoln Center. And that Avery Fisher’s name (he was the manufacurer of wonderful vacuum tube hi fi equipment) has far pleasanter associations than that of Koch Industries (for which, see Wikipedia).

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Thansk, Quiggin, for that background. Like Patrick, I'm one who came to like the place over time. My major objection was always size. It's too big for smaller ballets.

At first the Nadelman sculptures seemed a dreadful joke. With time, they've become like those objects that a great aunt might have brought back from a world cruise a couple of decades ago. Given time and habit, objects of gentle ridicule often become old, irreplaceable friends.

I'm a fan of the interior spaces in the Seagram building, especially the original Four Seasons. The State Theater Promenade, on the other hand, took a long time to get used to. It always seemed to me to be grey, under-lit, and visually cold. "Promenading" suggests something human, warm and gracious. Not at the State. From above, people walking across the floor turn into darkish silouettes against the slush-colored stone. From below, people on the balconies are reduced to black cutouts against the lighted walls behind them.

On a sunny matinee afternoon, however, I remember the place as friendlier and more human. Mobs of kids at Nutcracker time made a difference, too. One virtue it definitely has, even compared with the famous 19th century lobbies of the world: lots of uncluttered space, a great luxury in Manhattan.

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Given time and habit, objects of gentle ridicule often become old, irreplaceable friends.

The Nadelmans were put in by Lincoln Kirstein to warm up the space. They're a bit bizarre, pseudo-Nadelmans: "blow ups" from small originals that Kirstein owned...Kirstein was always wary of Johnson, way back to his Gray Shirt fascist activities.

Places do get warmed up by age and associations. The problem with the big space of the State Theater lobbies is that there are no happy corners where people tend to gravitate. The balcony and fountain are friendlier. I remember Avery Fisher being better in this regard--Huxtable says there are inadvertant niceties about the building which she terms "daringly derivative."

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Tear down the Met & State Theatre? Never! It's not just the perfect sightlines & magnanimous openness of the NYST and the (admittedly over the top) glamour of the Met I love, I love the whole complex. I always feel so happy the minute I step out of the train or off the bus and the Lincoln Center plaza comes into view.

Agreed that the Met isn't the best place to see ballet but it's far from the worst, and it's such a beautiful building. I love the view from the outside and I've always loved those gaudy lights that raise up just before a performance, and now that the crystals have been refurbished they sparkle even more brightly. Those red carpeted staircases manage to convey both glamour and a spacious wide open feeling. There's no better feeling than walking up the 8 or so steps to the parterre boxes, but it's also fun to look down on that staircase from the very top level when I'm sitting in the family circle boxes

And the State (I will never call it the Koch) has always struck me as having a perfectly democratic design – no grand staircases curving up the middle, instead that wonderful, wide open promenade where everyone traverses the floor, mingling and saying hello to friends before finding their group in their own little corner. I also love strolling around the interior balconies that overlook the promenade and taking in the wonderful display of photos that recall the different eras of NYCB.

Now as to the gala program itself – it left much to be desired. I pretty much saw it as drb did way back at the beginning of this topic. Taylor & Ulbrich in Unanswered Question were the highlight of the evening, Calcium Night Light was enjoyable, the singer almost (but didn't quite) ruin "The Man I Love" and the rest of the evening was an unbelievable waste of talented dancers.

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One problem (missed opportunity?) Lincoln Center has is that its theaters are among the very few non-skyscrapers that one can actually see from all sides in NYC. (The Flatiron Building is another example. Here's a recent image.) Most NYC buildings are crammed up against each other with only their facades readily visible, and, in the majority of cases, even the facades can't be taken in as a whole from the street. (Quick -- fill in the top half of the theater that we love to hate! Here it is in all its glory. And here.) Even Lever House, which has the whole end of a Park Avenue block to itself, can only be taken in from something akin to a three-quarter view. (here's a recent image ) NYST / Koch (I'm trying ...), Avery Fisher, and the Met might make a more satisfying impression if all one could see were their facades. But they're doomed to sit there exposed in all their blocky glory. The east elevation of NYST / Koch (still trying ...) is particularly bleak.

NYC's very orderly street grid somehow got overlaid with a rather chaotic assemblage of buildings that rarely form a coherent vista in terms of size, style, building materials, etc. (For example, Here's the jumble around Union Square, looking north from the south end of the park. Union Square West wasn't any more pulled together 70 years ago than it is today. I can see this part of Union Square from my window, and it looks almost the same now as it did in that old shot, except that the 2nd and 3rd buildings from the right have been replaced with two even more incongruous low rise buildings, including a one-story MacDonalds, of all things. What you might not be able to pick up from the black and white photo is the fact that the bricks on the backs and / or the sides of the buildings in no way resemble the materials used on their facades, even though they too are visible. I imagine that the architects assumed that one day they wouldn't be.) Lincoln Center is again one of the few NYC multi-building sites sites that was intended to be "read" as a coherent whole. (There must be others, but I'm drawing a blank as to what they could be at the moment ...) So, yes, it's disappointing that we got something like this. ( Here's a more flattering view, but you have to have a helicopter ...)

While I'm cutting and pasting, for those of you who haven't been inside NYST / Koch (in about 10 years I'll be able to omit the "NYST" while typing but will probably still be saying "Kotch er I mean Coke" ...) Here is the Nadelman on the west end of the Promenade. Here's the Promenade itself (looking west). And here is the auditorium with the big "auntie's brooch" chandelier and the matching rhinestone studs along the rings. And finally, go here for links to pics of other Philip Johnson buildings.

Wow. Way, Way OT ...

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Wonderful work, Kathleen, thanks. I have way too many opinions on all these, loving a few of them (the Flatiron especially-literally every time I see it), to which I'd add that I like all of Madison Park and its collection of surrounding buildings (with the Flatiron as the special jewel) quite a bit more as a 'world in itself' than Union Squar--which has a few buildings of interest, like the 19th century 'skyscrapers' toward the North of Union Square West, one of which was one of the Warhol 'Factories.' I don't care much Union Square Park as a place to spend time as with some of the other small parks, but I like it okay. The old 20s, 30s buildings at Madison Park entrance me every time I go there--the lobbies of some of the insurance buildings with murals, etc.. But mainly wanted to say that I just don't find that prospect of Lincoln Center disappointing, even with space between the houses--it seems sort of ancient classical, sort of American, and on the east side of B'way you can see all of the complex except the part hidden by Fisher Hall,which has to be taken in separately (the Library/Museum and theater and pool). I think it's just grand, and am glad this thread has made me focus on it more specifically, since I've heard criticism of it all my life. I think it's quite a triumph that there could be such a spread in Manhattan like that, especially spilling across the street. Other possible 'read as wholes' complexes might include Rockefeller Center, but definitely the WTC area, and that would include the 80s World Financial Bldgs. around the destroyed WTC, which don't look terribly good by themselves (80s urban architecture has not been often easy to love, and although I do love the much earlier Seagram Building, I have to admit I can't stand Johnson's ATT Building either, it's just awful, and hateful to work in too--it's just so cloddish.)

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This topic has swerved from a thread on the Opening Night Benefit performance to a critique of Koch and again to a critique of New York State Theater architecture, and the civility factor has gotten a bit battered intermittently along the way. It would be great to get this back on track.

Did anyone see the performance? Was there dancing in it? :thumbsup:

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Other possible 'read as wholes' complexes might include Rockefeller Center

(Slapping self on forehead) Rockefeller Center, of course! How could I forget that one -- I walk by it at least once a week.

And Madison Park is just lovely, lovely, lovely -- especially now that it's been so lovingly renovated (it has its own conservancy organization, apparently). It's definitely a place to go and be serene. Union Square is where one goes to be jostled, buy produce, protest something, or hang with skateboarders. It was a blast on election night.

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