Old Center Gets New Look

April 1, 2008

BROOKLYN, NY -The Brooklyn Academy of Music, America's oldest performing arts center in continuous use, has unveiled a dramatic new 132-foot undulating glass entrance canopy designed by H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture. The canopy is the final piece of a restoration project begun in 2002, during which BAM's historic structure at 30 Lafayette Avenue - The Peter Jay Sharp Building - underwent an extensive exterior restoration led by H3. The capital project has featured the recreation of BAM's 15-foot-tall parapet and colorful cornice, refurbishment of stained-glass windows, partial roof replacement, restoration of the terra-cotta ornamentation, handicapped accessibility, and enhanced exterior lighting. The canopy completes the work on BAM's exterior and provides the 1908 structure with a modern architectural expression.

Photo: Peter Mauss

"Restoration of the BAM façade has been a six-year journey, and the result has been well worth the effort," said BAM President Karen Brooks Hopkins. "The new canopy has a tough, urban look, but is simultaneously graceful and light; it is perfect for BAM."

BAM's 1908 building at 30 Lafayette Avenue (named The Peter Jay Sharp Building in 2004 following The Peter Jay Sharp Foundation's $20 million gift to BAM) was designed by Herts and Tallant - premier theater architects of the period. Its eclectic Beaux Arts style is also seen in other Herts and Tallant designs in New York, including the Lyceum Theatre and the New Amsterdam Theatre (restored by H3's Hugh Hardy in 1997).

"The concept for the undulating glass canopy developed out of BAM's long history of adapting programming to cultural, musical, and audience changes seamlessly blending tradition with innovation," remarked Hugh Hardy, FAIA, principal of H3. "The canopy is an architectural expression of this adaptation as it introduces an innovative element to the robust Herts and Tallant façade."

The new glass canopy design responds to the rhythm of the five façade doorways using a transparent, curvilinear gesture. With no original design for protection over BAM's five entrance doors, H3 gathered precedent for a historic design approach through Herts and Tallant's decorative canopy at the Lyceum Theater. However, the bulk of a canopy literally made in this style would obscure rather than reveal the façade. Instead H3 created a light, contemporary structure, permitting a clear view of the façade as one ascends the steps into the five doorways. Supported in part by an 11½-inch curvilinear stainless steel tube, 65 triangular panels of one-inch-thick laminated and tempered glass are held in tension, forming part of the basic structure. The result is a frameless pattern of identical glass triangles that composes a waving, uninterrupted transparent surface.

At night the canopy is a source of illumination for the entranceway doors. "The canopy and cornice restoration are set in juxtaposition to one another, and present two opposing views of working with old buildings," continues Hardy. "On one hand the 15-foot-tall cornice is a faithful restoration; on the other, the canopy is an invention responding to the precedent of the Lyceum Theater. The contrast between traditional and contemporary materials and technologies is a testament to BAM's traditions of presentation and its progressive nature." 

The BAM building features polychrome terra cotta and is finished in light-colored brick. The main entrance opens on to Lafayette Avenue with five large double doors embellished with cherub figures. Five corresponding double-height windows extend across the second floor façade. Restoration reclaimed the original building's elaborate terra cotta cornice composed of surprisingly brilliant colors and set with 22 full-sized lions' heads. The BAM building, listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2006, lies within the Brooklyn Academy of Music Historic District, designated a New York City Landmark in 1978.

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