Considering how few things in New York City exist today much as they did during the Benjamin Harrison administration, it’s something of a wonder that Carnegie Hall is still Carnegie Hall. Of course, today’s Carnegie Hall is notably different than the one that opened in 1891 — the acoustics are better, there isn’t as much horse-and-buggy traffic by the entrance, no one in the lobby is debating whether Grover Cleveland should run for President again. But it’s still Carnegie Hall, which is to say that it remains Manhattan’s premier high-end arts venue, and one of the most iconic institutions that the city has to offer. In recent years, as was inevitable, change has come to Carnegie Hall — the last resident of the 116-year-old Carnegie Hall apartments was moved out in 2010, for instance. The changes planned for 2011, though, have to rank among the most ambitious and wide-ranging in Carnegie Hall’s 120-year history. A full-spectrum green retrofit overseen by the architecture firm Iu + Bibliowicz began earlier this year, and will target LEED Silver status. When its retrofit is complete, Carnegie Hall will have a ninth-floor green roof, low-E windows, a newly integrated design, and a host of other green building features. In short, it will still be Carnegie Hall, as well as something notably different and more contemporary.
The Carnegie Hall retrofit itself is still largely in the fact-sheet and rendering-.jpg phase, but the early indications are very promising indeed. While green roofs are almost always the most ambitious — and loveliest and most fraught — part of any green retrofit, the most ambitious component of the Carnegie Hall green retrofit would appear to be the integration of Carnegie Hall’s three stand-alone structures into one working whole. In all, 167,000 square feet of space will be retrofitted, with the 130,000-square-foot South Tower making up the lion’s share of the project. Those storied Carnegie Hall studio apartments — Mark Twain and Marlon Brando both lived there, although (sadly) not as roommates — will become teaching rooms, and an expanded music education wing will add 24 new music rooms to the facility. Throughout, Iu + Bibliowicz have pledged to preserve the building’s distinctive 19th-century architectural grace notes while bringing building management systems up to the state of the art, installing low-flow plumbing fixtures, sprucing things up with low-VOC paints and finishes, and making other familiar green building improvements. The ninth-floor green roof/outdoor piazza has the distinction of being the fulfillment of a plan that original architect William Tuthill, in a Martin Dressler moment, had envisioned back in the 1890s.
How will the Carnegie Hall retrofit turn out? As is generally true of this kind of ambitious retrofit on a pre-war building — the war, in this case, being the Spanish-American — the Carnegie Hall retrofit is going to be a prolonged process; the retrofit itself began in January, and work is being phased slowly so as to avoid conflicting with Carnegie Hall’s performance schedule. But successful green retrofits on such iconic (and, more to the point, old) Manhattan buildings as the Empire State Building and Helmsley Building suggest that retrofitting buildings old enough to remember the Calvin Coolidge administration can indeed be done, and done well. We’ll be keeping an eye on this one, and may be discussing the retrofit with Iu + Bibliowicz in this space later this month.