The Vivian Beaumont Theater, a famous Broadway theater is located in the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts complex, Manhattan. This Broadway theater was designed by Eero Saarinen and Associates in conjunction with Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library and Museum.
Eero Saarinen was a trend-setting modernist architect known for his neo-futuristic architecture. This Finnish-American architect was born in 1910 to an architect-sculptor couple, Eliel Saarinen and Loja Saarinen.
His design for Vivian Beaumont Theater wasn’t bold and eye-catchy like his other works. But rather it fits perfectly with all other structures in the Lincoln center so harmoniously that very few could notice that these buildings were designed by different architects. After all, Eero Saarinen was famous for his varying style according to the demand of the project. He made bold decisions and executed them with confidence.
Maybe, this was one reason as to why his works were so diverse that it was difficult to imagine that they were indeed designed by the same architect. But the only thing that was common in all of his works is the refinement of form. His works stood as a symbolic representation of its time. They captured an era of technology, putting futuristic thoughts into it. And an optimistic hope for making the hardest of the things possible.
Vivian Beaumont Theater was seamlessly and elegantly built. Eero Saarinen’s Vivian Beaumont Theater and Gordon Bunshaft’s Lincoln Center performing arts Library and Museum, are internally separated but had their exterior design as a unifying factor that is designed such that it makes both the spaces seem as one single structure. In the Lincoln center complex, this combination of theatre, museum and library was located on the far west of the Philharmonic Hall, to the north of the Metropolitan opera house.
The prominent façade facing a large open plaza known as Hearst Plaza. This plaza, unlike the main plaza, is lined with vegetation on the southern part, that is to the north of the Metropolitan opera house. At its center is a 120-foot by 80-foot reflecting pool that adds to the diversity of the plaza and resting in this pool is Henry Moore’s Reclining Figure statue. This lounging female figure is about sixteen feet tall. It is said that this statue is inspired by the pre-Columbian goddess Chacmool. This statue added to the amity and warmth of the plaza because of its relaxing posture.
There is one more statue sculpted by Alexander Calder. This sculpture is located near the museum and library space. The sculpture, composed of a series of spindly steel plates, that resembled a spider. He called it Le Guichet, which means ticket window in French. This refers to the ticket window located near this sculpture. Incorporating all these diversely harmonious features, Lincoln center plaza North was praised to have a contemporary look while not overlooking the twentieth-century principles.
The exterior of the Vivian Beaumont Theater was kept simple but elegant, giving the square a clean and refreshing look. The frontal façade of the theater is of spartan outlook. Structurally, there is a prominent concrete attic that draws viewers’ attention due to its huge mass and horizontal planar form. This huge mass is supported by square columns, made up of exposed aggregate concrete. Then comes the glass curtain wall that encloses the interior while providing visual access to Lincoln Center Plaza North.
The steel pin construction connecting the attic to the columns is supported by two inverted, pyramidal bronze caps. This exterior composition of Vivian Beaumont Theater was considered a success among such typologies. Though this building was not placed in the main plaza, but Eero Saarinens’ design was such that it complimented the plaza before it. This was something that is not observed in any other building in Lincoln Center Buildings.
Materials and construction
The theater is decorated predominantly with wooden panels, something that is found mostly in his works. Red upholstery was also used which gave the interior a very typical theater look. The ornamentation was kept very basic to give it a minimal look. The structure was achieved by the means of modular construction. The theater space houses 1,100 seats, 770 on the main level and 330 in the lounge seating.
Eero Saarinen designed the seating such that no seat was more than sixty-five feet from the stage, ensuring that the audience got the best experience from any spot in the theater. This was realized by making use of a steeply angled and oblong semicircular orientation. At 10,000 square feet, the stage was easily more than thrice the area of any other Broadway theater. And whenever the need arises the stage can be further enlarged by its expandable apron thrust, but to make space for this extension, the first seven rows of seating are mechanically lowered to the basement.
The stages also featured an integrated forty-six-foot-wide turntable along with independently spinning five-foot-wide rings. Such a kind of performance space was one of its kind in its time. This arrangement further enhanced the quality of theater performances for the audience.
There was a lot of experimentation done by Eero Saarinen to come up with such a design, and finally, with this theater’s success, all those efforts seemed to have paid off. Eero Saarinen was praised for his ability to elegantly capture functional minimalism in the Vivian Beaumont Theater. Though the theater was later renovated a couple of times, Eero Saarinens’ design is considered a masterpiece inside and out.