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Monday, December 25, 2023

David H. Koch Theater New York (architect Philip Johnson)

  Rajesh Kumar Rana       Monday, December 25, 2023

David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center
David H. Koch Theater

David H. Koch Theater New York

The David H. Koch Theater is one of the most famous and popular cultural centers in New York, hosting enchanting dance performances. The opening of the theater took place in 1964. Initially, only ballet performances were staged there. Now the cultural center hosts dance performances of various styles. The new theater was built for the opening of the 1964 World's Fair in New York. The project of the luxurious building was developed by the famous architect Philip Johnson. After the exhibition, the beautiful building remained in the hands of the city authorities.

 In the 60s, the theater hosted enchanting productions of sensational Broadway musicals, including Carousel, The Tsar and I, and many others. The initial fame and popularity of the theater quickly faded, at the beginning of the 21st century it was in a deplorable state and gradually collapsed. The city authorities did not have the funds to repair the historical building, the once popular theater was threatened with closure.

 In 2008, prominent oil tycoon David Koch took the initiative to provide the theater with $100 million, enough to not only refurbish the cultural center but also to successfully maintain it over the next few years. Now the beautiful theater bears the name of its new patron. During the last reconstruction, many original elements were restored in it.

The millionaire provided a huge amount for the reconstruction of the theater with one condition - that in the future the theater would bear his name for at least 50 years. After this period, the theater can be renamed, but the Koch family, according to the agreement, can refuse the proposed new name once. The theater is very large and richly decorated; its hall can accommodate 2,586 people at a time. In the process of reconstruction, new large armchairs were installed in the hall, and it is also decorated with luxurious carpets. Since the opening of the theater, many valuable works of art have been kept within the walls. Its visitors will have the opportunity to see beautiful sculptures and art paintings by famous masters. 

20 Lincoln Center Plaza, New York, NY 10023, United States

Official website:

Nearby airports:

 » Manhattan Airport - 8 km  » Teterboro Airport TEB - 11 km  » John F Kennedy Airport JFK - 22 km  » Essex County Airport CDW ) - in 27 km  » Northeast Philadelphia Airport PNE - in 116 km 

David H. Koch Theater New York (architect Philip Johnson)

It took two years, more than 50 lighting and building materials companies, interior design companies, $19.3 million, and 1,000 workers to build the New York Ballet Theatre.

It received the name of David H. Koch quite recently: in 2008, oil billionaire David Koch allocated $ 100 million for the reconstruction and technical renovation of the theater. Therefore, on November 25 of the same year, at the traditional winter gala concert, the name of the patron was included in the official name of the theater, which will be called that way for at least the next 50 years, but according to the agreement, Mr. Koch's heirs can refuse any renaming. However, many New Yorkers still refer to the theater by its original name, the New York Ballet Theatre.

The first spectators who saw the performance of artists on the new stage on April 18, 1964 were the workers who built the building with their families. It was a pre-premiere screening of George Balanchine's Raymonda Variations, "Agon" and "Western Symphony".

And the grand opening of the theater took place on Friday, April 23, 1964, with the production of Allegro Brillante, as well as scenes from other ballet productions. The opening of the theater was televised throughout America.

The theater building was built at the expense of the banker and politician Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller for the 1964 World's Fair on the territory of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. The ballet theater was the second project implemented in this complex. Before the theater, Avery-Fisher Hall (New York Philharmonic Hall) started working here.

Philip Johnson was invited to the role of architect of the theater on the advice of his Harvard friend Lincoln Kirstein. Kirstein was one of the most important figures in American culture of the 20th century, he influenced the art of dance, cinema, music, painting, photography, architecture, literature and sculpture. It was he who stood at the base of the New York Museum of Modern Art. In 1933, in London, he met George Balanchine, who was touring with the Russian ballet at the time.

Balanchine accepted Kirstein invitation to work in the US, where they founded the School of American Ballet and the American Ballet Company that same year. In 1947, with the patronage of city councilman Morton Baum, the company became the New York Ballet, and constant touring and the world's biggest names in choreography ensured its fame. It was for the New York Ballet that the Ballet Theater was built, and its project was initially developed taking into account the recommendations and wishes of Kirstein and Balanchine.

Johnson made the first sketches for the project back in October 1957, before the official receipt of the order. In this version, the theater overlooked Lincoln Square with a glass facade with a semicircular concrete colonnade. However, under pressure from the Lincoln Center master plan team (led by architect Wallace Harrison), Johnson changed the design to maintain symmetry with respect to Avery Fisher Hall on the north side of the square and compositional unity with the planned Metropolitan Opera House ( 1966, architect - Wallace Harrison).

David h. Koch theater
David Koch Theater
image source Wikimedia

Johnson designed the classic orthogonal façade, making it seem like a reflection of the Philharmonic (Avery-Fisher-Hall) designed by architect Max Abramovich: he used the same scale, height and the same architectural principles, making the play of volumes and combination of materials much more interesting. The columns on the facade of the Philharmonic are spaced at equal distances from each other, forming nine equal intervals between them. Johnson grouped the columns in twos in his design, resulting in four pairs of columns with three enlarged intercolumns. Thus, he not only created a more interesting rhythmic pattern of the three-dimensional composition, but also correctly placed the accents, designating the main entrance to the building with the central span. This solution gives the facade volume and monumentality.

Paired travertine pilasters are placed along the smooth walls of the side facades of the theatre. Speaking about the theatre's design, Johnson said: "Some might suggest that the twin columns of my theater came from the east facade of the Louvre, built by Claude Perrault," which is not surprising, given the way Johnson liked to emphasize continuity from historical styles. But he went on to say: “I wanted to replace the nine intervals between the columns, as was done in the Philharmonic building opposite, with three to achieve clarity of composition. So I immediately marked the path to the main entrance. The contrast with the Philharmonic is obvious.”

Jenny and "Ancient Dance"
The theater hall, decorated with works by sculptors of the second half of the 20th century and contemporary artists

The craftsman used Italian travertine as the material for the octagonal columns on the facade of the building. In 1994, at the theater's 30th anniversary conference, in response to journalists' questions about the building's architecture and the materials used in its construction, Johnson said: "I thought if travertine was good enough for God [referring to the fact that the Vatican Peter's Basilica ], then it is quite suitable for us."

The facade is decorated with chandeliers resembling giant hyacinths suspended between pairs of columns. On the opening day of the theater, their light was repeatedly reflected in eight million (according to the number of New Yorkers at that time) gilded balls, from which a curtain was assembled that hid what was happening behind the glass facade, inside the building. Over time, the balls faded and turned from gold to silver.

Of the theater hall, Johnson said: "I made it for George." This is a classic hall, made, according to Balanchine's wishes, in deep pomegranate tones with minimalist round headlights, with multi-tiered balconies, accommodating almost 3,000 spectators. In 1982, during the reconstruction of the hall, the orchestra pit was enlarged, which initially seemed to Balanchine too small (now it could also rise to the level of the stage), and the proscenium, also expanded for special performances by Balanchine.

In the hall, called the Grand Promenade, there is a golden curtain and vault, the decoration of which took 18 kilograms of gold. This decision still remains a significant expense for the theater: since 1964, the vault had to be restored three times. Along the four tiers of balconies, located along the entire perimeter of the promenade, there is a lattice of thin metal vertical posts, grouped in two, like the columns on the facade.

The very principle of the "superimposed" lattice on the structure is, of course, a tribute to the teacher and chief architect of the International Style, Mies van der Rohe , although it should be noted that in the rest of the interior design, Johnson has moved as far away from the principles of the International Style as ever before. He combined styles, played with the alternation of low and cramped spaces and huge halls several stories high.

Johnson seems to be transforming from a modernist architect to a baroque architect . For the grand opening, Kirstein arranged an art gallery on the balconies, almost completely hiding the white walls behind works of art by contemporary artists. Today, exhibitions are often held in the space of the Grand Promenade and in the bypass galleries, but there are only a few permanent works that have taken their places since the opening. Philip Johnson said: “Ordering decorative works to decorate architecture is dangerous at any age. In my case, it's almost impossible.

Artists are interested in realizing their creative potential, not mine. And I, on the contrary, strive for the self-sufficiency of the architectural space, and not for decorating the walls. But sometimes we can agree and work together. And the theater at Lincoln Center is a good example of that." Today, the Grand Promenade is adorned by two sculptures in Carrara marble - "Two Circus Girls" and "Two Nudes", made by the sculptor Elie Nadelman in the 1930s - as well as an abstract relief by Lee Bontecou, ​​the painting "Numbers" by the artist Jasper Johns, "Journey to Crete” by Reuben Nakian and others.

Architectural and design features:

  • The David H. Koch Theater is part of New York's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
  • The first spectators who saw the performance of artists on the new stage on April 18, 1964 were the workers who built the building and their families.
  • On the main façade of the theatre, Johnson groups the columns in pairs, thus emphasizing the entrances.
  • The theater got its name from David h. Koch in 2008, when the billionaire Koch allocated $100 million for the reconstruction and technical renovation of the building. So the theater will be called at least the next 50 years.
  • In designing and building the theatre, Philip Johnson worked directly with the great Russian-born ballet dancer George Balanchine. It was Balanchine who proposed to increase the proscenium, install mechanisms for raising the orchestra pit and make the auditorium in pomegranate tones.
  • To finish the facades of the building, Italian travertine was specially brought from Rome. The same material was used to build St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.
  • It took 18 kg of gold to decorate the arches of the front hall of the theater.
  • The hall of the David h. Koch Theater can accommodate up to 3,000 spectators.
  • In the original design, the theater overlooked Lincoln Square with a glass facade with a semicircular concrete colonnade. However, under pressure from the Lincoln Center master plan team, Johnson changed the design to maintain the symmetry of the composition.


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