“You have to revitalize a landmark that represents tradition and a myriad memories for New Yorkers”. That was the challenge given to the architects for redesigning the iconic Lincoln Centre Fountain being inaugurated today in New York City. The famous landmark that has seen millions walk past, sit on its rim waiting for friends while licking an ice cream cone, watch weddings held against the backdrop or simply take a respite from the Big Apple frenzy. Today, 10,000 miles away, the fountain will appear in a contemporary avataar.
This time, the waters will not just shoot up, they will DANCE. A liquid choreography has been created for the Lincoln Centre Fountain by the Los Angeles based firm WET, which has also designed the Dubai fountain at the foot of the tallest building in the world, Al Burj.
Nervous New Yorkers and conservationists have voiced their concern over changing what appeared to be a timeless symbol of the arts. Originally designed by Philip Johnson and inaugurated in 1964, the site has been filmed in countless movies including the famous scene in The Producers when Zero Mostel doused himself in the waters. Cher emerged from a limousine looking radiant to meet Nicholas Cage in Moonstruck, Diane Keaton and Woody Allen had a famous dialogue around the same fountain in Annie Hall.
In one of the many world famous auditoriums embracing the fountain Ravi Shankar, Zubin Mehta, L Subramaniam, Amjad Ali Khan, Birju Maharaj, Malavika Sarukkai and many more celebrated artistes from India have performed. Yours truly has pushed a pram carrying her babies past this landmark and rushed across the vast plaza one evening holding sari pleats in my left hand and a microphone in my right to interview former first ladies Jackie Kennedy and Barbara Bush during the Festival of India celebrations in 1985.
The 1.2 billion US dollar renovation was done with great care keeping the history and sentiments of many. The new rim of black granite is slim but designed to hold “a 350 pound man doing the conga” said Andrew Anderson a collaborating architect. The water used to rise in gradations but will now surge as a cylinder or column. The way people dress up for the evening will also be reflected in the fountain which will now be coloured for the evening events, with the waters changing intensities between “light and flirty or loud and frothy”. “It is somewhere between architecture and dance.” says Elizabeth Diller the primary architect.
While India sleeps, New Yorkers will witness an enduring landmark gush forth a modern mantra in one of the greatest cities in the world.