Music in the air as Helpern Architects Starts Carnegie Hall Master Plan

“At the Hall, architecture and mission are completely linked.”
– Clive Gillinson, Executive and Artistic Director

Carnegie Hall has selected Helpern Architects to create a master plan for the renovation of its “Front of House,” working with the Hall to explore and potentially reimagine the public spaces that welcome visitors to the iconic music venue. This year-long project will continue into early 2020.

This newest chapter in the Hall’s evolution will focus primarily on the area around the two main concert halls and the expansion floors within the Carnegie Hall Tower, last renovated more than 25 years ago. It will consider all of the spaces, surfaces, and building systems of the street-level and other public and patron amenity areas.

Clive Gillinson, Executive and Artistic Director of Carnegie Hall, comments on the new master planning work: “At the Hall, architecture and mission are completely linked. I don’t know of any other cultural institution where its world-class legacy and story have grown completely out of the power of its building, rather than being the result of one or more visionary leaders. As an institution, Carnegie Hall is always looking to preserve the best of the past while embracing the needs of future. It’s time to take a fresh look through that lens as we reconsider the contemporary needs of our concert-going public.”

The Helpern team has been studying ease of circulation, accessibility, static and digital signage, as well as food service and energy use. Excluded are the interiors of Carnegie Hall’s three legendary halls that acoustically and stylistically will not be touched. However, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems that serve those venues will be studied.

Architect David Paul Helpern’s New York City-based firm has completed master plans for dozens of institutions looking to improve their significant properties. He states this particular challenge: “Carnegie Hall is a splendid complex where hundreds of people work and hundreds of thousands come and go. The Hall does a great job at compensating for some of the operational challenges that any 19th-century facility faces in accommodating 21st-century audience expectations. We think that we can help them by finding ways to better serve their public, sustain the Hall’s vibrancy, and also respect the historic nature of the place, which has proved to be an unsurpassed asset for more than 125 years.”

“Architects deal daily with project limitations and opportunities,” adds Helpern Principal for Design Karl A. Lehrke, “but Carnegie Hall raises this equation to an nth degree. The concert halls are absolutely sacrosanct. Yet the relatively small front-of-house spaces present limitations that require creative vision and practical problem-solving skills to meet contemporary standards. Helpern has worked extensively in landmarked buildings with similar challenges, but none as wonderful as Carnegie Hall. What a great project for us!”

The place and its mission: Executive and Artistic Director Clive Gillinson further reflects: “Carnegie Hall was purely a rental venue until the early 1960s, so its unique legacy grew solely out of the fact that, from Day One, it was a magnet for the world’s greatest talent. The acoustics of Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage have been treasured by artists and audiences alike and remain a source of inspiration for all that we do. The extraordinary success of the recent Studio Towers Renovation Project has transformed our work in the areas of music education and social impact. That design also achieved LEED Silver in terms of carbon footprint, furthering Carnegie Hall’s desire to be as environmentally-conscious as possible.”

Additional background from Carnegie Hall: Throughout its history, Carnegie Hall has always evolved. The landmarked building opened in 1891 and featured three performance venues. The two historic venues, Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage and Weill Recital Hall, were restored in 1986, and a third venue, Zankel Hall, was completely refurbished and reopened in 2003.

During its 1991 centennial season—seeking much-needed artistic and production space backstage and improved amenities front-of-house—Carnegie Hall expanded into the adjacent 60-story Carnegie Hall Tower office building. Most recently, in 2014, the two Studio Towers, originally added by Andrew Carnegie in 1894 and 1897, were renovated to create specially-designed rooms for music education on the Hall’s upper floors, expand backstage, and consolidate administrative offices.

Photo courtesy of Carnegie Hall