Hugh Hardy’s $37 Million DiMenna Center Opens in NYC: Interview

Hugh Hardy
Architect Hugh Hardy, long a specialist in cultural projects, is at work on a theater for Lincoln Center and a building for the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Source: Orchestra of St. Luke's via Bloomberg

Musicians have a brand new $37 million space designed for their comfort and pleasure by architect Hugh Hardy.

Tomorrow the Orchestra of St. Luke’s unveils the DiMenna Center, with plenty of rehearsal and recording studios as well as amenities such as a library, cafe, lockers and even showers.

Long a specialist in cultural projects, Hardy is at work on a new theater for Lincoln Center and a building for the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

I spoke to Hardy after a tour of the spiffy facilities.

Lundborg: What was the biggest challenge?

Hardy: First, the acoustical environment here has to prepare you to play in any other venue in the city. So, the acoustics are adjustable, though they are not made for amplified sound.

The recording studio is totally quiet -- we are removed from the world.

Lundborg: How did you deal with the existing building?

Hardy: This is an alteration of an aggressively brutalist building -- it was concrete pure and simple. I needed to change its character and make it far more welcoming.

What should the space look like? Well, wood is appealing, plus musicians, of course, love wood.

Lundborg: Why are acoustics so hard to get right?

Hardy: We’ve gotten used to bigger and bigger environments. The box office demand to increase capacity has led to all kinds of difficulties.

During the Second World War, nobody built any concert halls or theaters. After the war, Lincoln Center was a very brave project because all those architects had never built a theater before. We’ve learned a lot since then about the nature of materials and the isolation that’s required.

Lundborg: How do you begin the design process?

Hardy: The question here was, “What do you really want?” We had to sort that out because this is a unique music space and St. Luke’s never had to ask that question since they were always scrambling for space.

Lundborg: Tell me about your Lincoln Center project, which is going up on top of the Vivian Beaumont Theater.

Hardy: It’s the third theater at Lincoln Center and it’s particularly poignant for me because I worked for Eero Saarinen, who designed the Beaumont. It was to be unlike anything else in New York and Eero was convinced it should have a new form.

I have great respect for Eero’s building -- I think it’s the best one at Lincoln Center -- so our approach was to be as light as possible, make it a transparent layer of screens, which disappears as you move towards the theater.

Lundborg: What are you doing for the Brooklyn Academy of Music?

Hardy: We’re building a six-story building behind a little landmark building, so it was complicated. It’s a theater for experimentation, plus rehearsal space and community facilities.

It will be completely flexible so they’ll be able to do anything they want.

Lundborg: Did you choose to focus on cultural projects?

Hardy: I was chosen by the forces. It’s intrinsic to what interests me, and this place, this city. I’ve been lucky.

I get very excited when I go to a show -- there are all these people who don’t know each another who’ve come together to celebrate this amazing ritual. The making of community that theater provides is quite profound.

Lundborg: If you were hiring an architect to build your dream house, who would it be?

Hardy: I live in a loft in a building I designed, but for my dream house I’d get Frank Gehry, just to see what he’d do.

Lundborg: Is there a project you’d still like to do?

Hardy: When I went to India, I became absolutely obsessed with the idea of building a hotel in India. I’ve never done a hotel, and I’d love to do public spaces in that culture.

(Zinta Lundborg is an editor for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)

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