Before Andrew Carnegie commissioned him to build one, New York City architect William Burnet Tuthill had never designed a concert hall. Clearly, his lack of experience was no detriment: not only did Tuthill conceive an elegant building, but his work also—and most notably—gave Carnegie Hall its legendary sound.
The Italian Renaissance design, combined with architectural notes derived from various European models, of Tuthill’s exterior reflects the eclectic architectural tastes of the period. To tackle the interior of the main hall, known today as Isaac Stern Auditorium / Ronald O. Perelman Stage, the architect, who was an amateur cellist and treasurer of the Oratorio Society, travelled to Europe to find out what makes a concert hall sound great.
The result was a beautifully resonant performance space with simple, elegant styling that helps put the focus on the excellent acoustic environment. Since the hall was built before the advent of structural steel construction—in which a steel frame bears the load of the building—Tuthill and his crew created heavy brick walls, providing further insulation against external noise.
A few years after Carnegie Hall opened, the studio towers, on the south and northeast sides of the hall were added, putting in place the basic form of the current building. In addition to this main hall, Tuthill included two other performance spaces: a small recital hall, known today as Weill Recital Hall, and a mid-size venue. Over the years, the latter space has suffered something of an identity crisis—it has been a dramatic theatre and a movie house—but in 2003 Carnegie Hall re-opened it as Zankel Hall, an newly renovated hall dedicated to jazz and world music.
Carnegie Hall’s next major initiative will be the renovation of the studio towers, which will yield an expanded educational wing and expanded backstage areas.