His first complete scheme appears in 1958:
|All NYST drawings courtesy Drawings and Archives, Avery Library, Columbia University.|
|Photo courtesy Dennis Wong.|
|Photo courtesy The Wallpapers.|
After Johnson's first scheme was finished, John Rockefeller III, who was intimately involved in the creation of Lincoln Center, began to worry. All the architects had been given free rein to design whatever they wanted, regardless of how the individual buildings would work together in the complex. So Rockefeller called a series of meetings to discuss aesthetics with all six architects and Rene d'Harnoncourt, director of the MoMA at the time. They agreed on a few things and fought over a lot more, but it was finally agreed that the three main buildings would present similar colonnaded façades to Robertson Plaza, with spacing between the columns in multiples of twenty feet. Johnson went back to the drawing board.
One of his new proposals was not all that different from the first, but his idea was to wrap his latticework colonnade around the whole plaza in a rectangle, connecting the three main buildings. Quite a characteristically arrogant move on his part, since his design would have affected the front of the other two main buildings. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that he was just brainstorming.
Romanesque cathedral, perhaps even specifically the one in Pisa, foretelling what I have long believed, that this complex was one of the first great works (read "large" more than qualitatively) of Postmodern architecture. Who knows what that weird wing is on the right side.
The next sheet of yellowed paper gave me chills for so many different reasons. Mostly it was because I was touching something that Philip Johnson himself most certainly touched, where he had actually picked up his pencil and started doodling, working out ideas. More than any of the others, with this one I really felt like I was in intimate contact with a piece of architectural history. But then there was what was on it. The large drawing was one thing.
But even better was this tiny little rough sketch upside-down on the same sheet of paper. I thought my head might explode.
Does that remind you of anything?
Of course it's very possible that the arches had always been Harrison's. It's also possible that, whether the rectilinear frame had been added at his insistence or not, Johnson knew that's what the Opera House was going to look like. Maybe he was just sketching it there to give himself a point of reference for his adjacent theater, to remain contextual. Some suspicion has to remain, however, that the Met looks the way it does because of Philip Johnson. We may never know, but either way, I'm fascinated.
|Photo ©2010, Ryan Witte.|
It has windows with the same curved corners. I think it's a terribly exciting transitional moment, because it's the first tiny inkling that Johnson is rejecting the cold, hard, orthogonal rectilinearity of strict Modernism and embracing a softer, more organic approach.
Here's the longitudinal section for the next scheme at the end of 1959. He goes one step further with the arches in each of the modules of the lobby and promenade, curving the corners not just on the vertical axis as in MoMA's East Wing but also on the horizontal axis. So more than just ovals inside rectangles, he's getting something closer to eggs inside of boxes.
|Photo courtesy SMoA on FB.|
I was particularly interested in the State's grand staircase. Johnson changed it three times. Beyond the drama inherent to a grand stair in any theater, he was obviously acutely aware of how significant circulation would be, both experientially and symbolically, in a building dedicated to the art of Dance. In that previous drawing you can see that two flights start at the Plaza level and ascend to a single central landing.
The other thing he realized was that, although it produced a pleasing trio of modules combined with the balcony outside, the Promenade inside would much more likely read as a single, self-contained volume. I also suspect he was becoming aware of how the lobby would feel intimate and cavernous, while the Promenade would be expansive and airy. So instead of leaving it divided in half by the modules like the lobby level below it remained, he visually opened up the Promenade into that single, wide-open space, now square in section.
The next scheme is from early 1961, and it's getting very close to what we see today. These drawings were on linen, a very thick, waxy, durable paper that I'm not sure I've ever felt in my own hands.
George Balanchine's choreography.
Very strangely, even if it had been created by Balanchine himself and not Johnson, only in the very last longitudinal section (at bottom) was there the slightest indication anywhere of the innovative sprung-wooden stage floor construction that would make this one of the best theaters for dance in the world. Evidently Johnson provided Balanchine with numerous drawings for it until, finally, an exasperated Balanchine said "look, I'll just design it myself."
Maybe if Peter Martins and I become good buddies, or he hires me as his head of marketing, I'll have more opportunities to walk around and explore their backstage facilities more extensively. Aside from that, I'd like to believe I understand the evolution of the architecture of this building better than probably anyone, with maybe the exception of JCJ Architecture, who were responsible for the most recent renovations. As I said, getting a good look at these materials was an incredibly frustrating, comical journey. In the end, it was absolutely worth every clenched fist and facepalm.
©2010, Ryan Witte