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Lincoln Center New Theater: New Black Box Theater Perched on Beaumont Theater

Mr. Hardy, 77, now a high-profile architect himself, is again working on the Beaumont. His design for an addition to the building — a new black box theater that will be perched on the roof of the Vivian Beaumont Theater with a terrace overlooking Lincoln Center — is to be unveiled Thursday.

Last year preservationists warned against messing with Saarinen’s original building, and with the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, designed by Gordon Bunshaft, that abuts it.

Andrew S. Dolkart, the director of Columbia University’s historic preservation program, said in June that the new theater would amount to a “big visible box on the roof of the building, which has the sense of floating now.”

But the project has made it through the public approval process, including a nod from the Landmarks Preservation Commission (which has only an advisory role, since Lincoln Center is not landmarked). “We thought its form and planned use of modern materials would harmonize with the Saarinen design and the building typology,” said Elisabeth de Bourbon, the commission’s spokeswoman.

In an interview at Lincoln Center on Tuesday, Mr. Hardy argued that his addition is set well back and will not be visible from the plaza by the reflecting pool in front of the Beaumont. He also described his design as understated and in keeping with Saarinen’s original vocabulary.

“I didn’t think it was appropriate to stamp myself all over it,” Mr. Hardy said. “I don’t think it obscures what Eero was up to. It’s very gentle, and it should be. Eero ought to win.”

The new theater’s programming, called LCT3, will feature the work of emerging playwrights, directors and designers, and will be aimed at new audiences, with every ticket priced at $20. It has been a long time coming — André Bishop, Lincoln Center Theater’s artistic director, has wanted a black box space since he came to Lincoln Center Theater in 1992. He shares the view, he said in an interview in his office, of young writers who are “bored with these endless rounds of readings and workshops. They want a production.”

“It was a great dream of mine,” he said, adding, “Fan every talented flame.”

LCT3 already exists as a program; Lincoln Center Theater has been renting the Duke Theater on West 42nd Street in Manhattan for performances since 2008. “We started it before we built it,” Mr. Bishop said. The theater company initially considered renovating a loft to create a kind of downtown branch. But there was a general feeling that the new theater should be on the main campus, Mr. Bishop said. Both artists and administrators felt it was important “that it not be way off on west something-or-other street, not be a stepchild,” he said.

The project coincides with Lincoln Center’s larger redevelopment project, currently under way, that aims to make the campus feel more open and welcoming. So far $37.5 million of the projected $41 million construction cost for the theater has been raised, most of it internally, “from a very willing” board, said Linda LeRoy Janklow, the chairwoman emeritus of Lincoln Center Theater. Leonard Tow, a trustee, donated $7.5 million, and the new auditorium will be named for his wife, Claire. “All the theaters in this complex will be named after these theater-loving women,” Mr. Bishop said. In addition to the Vivian Beaumont, which seats 1,060, Lincoln Center Theater includes the Mitzi E. Newhouse, which seats 299.

Lincoln Center Theater’s annual operating budget of $32 million is expected to increase by between $1 million and $2 million a year as a result of the addition.

Asked whether he was concerned about being able to carry these higher costs, Bernard Gersten, the executive producer of Lincoln Center Theater, said: “Worrying is part of the game. But you also trust that what you’re doing has merit.”

Despite the economic downturn, Ms. Janklow said, the project was never in question — only the timing. “Nobody every doubted that we wanted to do it,” she said. “There was a question of when to do it.”

Construction is scheduled to begin in March, with a completion date of late 2011 or early 2012. (“We’re not breaking ground, we’re breaking the roof,” Mr. Gersten said.) A spokesman for Lincoln Center Theater said performances in the Beaumont and Newhouse auditoriums would not be interrupted.

The new theater will seat 131 in a fixed configuration — no thrust stage or moveable seats. Mr. Hardy has surrounded the seats with a curved wood enclosure. The addition as a whole, at 23,000 square feet, will include a lounge, rehearsal space, dressing rooms and offices. The second level is to have a green roof and the terrace.

To accommodate an elevator, Lincoln Center Theater will borrow stack space from Bunshaft’s library; in return, Lincoln Center Theater is providing high-density compact shelving for storage.

Mr. Hardy described the building as “informal,” with concrete trusses, textured glass that becomes translucent and an aluminum louver system.

“We wanted to continue the same geometry because it comes from the structure of the building,” he said. “It’s a new kind of structure on top of the old one, but doing the same stuff.”

Mr. Bishop said he did not want a fancy building; he wanted a simple theater, with built-in limitations. “There’s no way we can overproduce in this space,” he said.

The new theater should serve as a recruitment tool and training ground for Lincoln Center Theater, and a place for it to test talent that may eventually feed all its large stage productions. “This is our way of finding writers and directors and designers to come here and work here on all our stages,” Mr. Bishop said. “The only way for theater to survive is to constantly renew itself.”

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