If you aren’t hanging out in geodesic domes, well then you aren’t living life to the Fuller-ist. Rest assured you don’t have to head upstate and fork over $350 a night to do it. Though you will have to go uptown.
Tucked into The Rockefeller University’s Upper East Side campus is the Caspary Auditorium, a 40-foot-high, 90-foot-round dome built in 1957. The dome serves as a meeting and lecture hall, but to get a look inside, you needn’t be a Nobel laureate (Rockefeller’s faculty boasts five of them). Just snag a ticket for one of the upcoming performances in the Peggy Rockefeller Concert Series.
The concert series, founded by electrochemist Theodore Shedlovsky, has been in full effect ever since Caspary opened in 1958. Back then, the dome, designed by Harrison and Abramovitz, was covered with glinting blue and yellow Italian mosaics, but they soon began popping off (thus putting the “doh!” in dome) and were replaced by the current latex cover.
The hemispherical shell’s new sheath was declared “gloomy,” by the AIA Guide, but the space-age interior is anything but. One enters the dome through an elevated walkway that doubles as the lobby. From there, glass doors (we’ll call them “pod bay doors,” a la Space Odyssey) look onto the auditorium.
Take your seat and it’s like you’re “inside of a giant golf ball,” as one guidebook put it. Your eyes gravitate toward the plaster discs bubbling out of the ceiling. They were designed by acoustical consultants Bolt, Beranek & Newman, who also had a hand in Avery Fisher Hall.
Needless to say, the acoustics are top-notch: over the years, the room has hosted everyone from jazz legends like Dizzy Gillespie and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, to opera singers like Kathleen Battle, to classical music virtuosos like Leila Josefowicz and James Levine. At last Wednesday’s season opener, Indiana-based Grammy winners Pacifica Quartet played chamber music by Mendelssohn, Shostakovich, and Schumann. At the next installment, on October 21, pianist Joyce Yang will play Debussy, Rachmaninoff, and others.
If you don’t think you love classical music enough to shell out $30 for a ticket ($10 for students), rest assured a trip up to Caspary doubles as a museum visit, since the lower level houses a display of “Tools for Discovery” — instruments that university researchers used (and in some cases created) for their scientific breakthroughs. (Among the innovations developed at Rockefeller were travel vaccines and the AIDS cocktail.) I mean, sure, Lincoln Center is lovely — but can you admire a crystalline form of the tobacco mosaic virus, an infectious organism whose isolation led to a Nobel Prize for two Rockefeller researchers?
What’s more, you can also snoop around the campus, if you’re so bold, and uncover other masterpieces of midcentury modern design. Adjacent the dome, lounge chairs dot a Philosophers Garden consisting of a pool and fountains. It was designed by Dan Kiley, the landscape architect who also had a hand in Lincoln Center.
Chilling poolside and then taking in some music? There’s no place like dome!
Peggy Rockefeller Concert Series at Rockefeller University, 1230 York Ave., Upper East Side; performances Oct. 21, Dec. 17, Feb. 17, March 31, April 20 at 7:30 p.m. ; tickets $30 each or $10 for students.