NEW YORK - MAY 21: People gather on opening day of the new Illumination Lawn at Lincoln Center May 21, 2010 in New York City. Architects Diller Scofidio & Renfro designed the sloping green public lawn which warps on two sides and forms the roof of a pavillion. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts did an "architectural striptease" Friday — unveiling changes to the complex to open it up to surrounding streets and attract a wider public.
That's how architect Elizabeth Diller refers to the $1.2 billion renewal of the 16-acre complex in the past few years.
On a hot, sunny day, hundreds of people enjoyed the new 7,000-square-foot grassy lawn atop the sloping roof of a restaurant, still under construction.
The lawn, designed by Diller, looks on a reflecting pool highlighted by an original Henry Moore sculpture.
The half-century old center, the world's largest arts complex, includes the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, a Broadway theater and the Juilliard School.
"Of course it's real grass!" exclaimed Nils Krarup, an 8-year-old pianist who came to see the grounds with two friends — so shiny and beautiful that it hardly seemed real.
The complex offers a free Wi-Fi network, a dozen dining places and, opening in the fall, a $20 million Italian restaurant with star chef Jonathan Benno, the former chef de cuisine of nearby Per Se.
On this spring day, people lined up for free gelato and lemonade.
The grass on the sloping lawn was not just any grass. For about a year, Lincoln Center experimented growing different varieties in a New Jersey parking lot to choose the one that would best weather all four seasons.
Also officially opened Friday was a new grand staircase to the center's main plaza — each stair illuminated by LED lights leading to a new water fountain. Underneath is a weather-protected roadway for vehicles bringing spectators to shows.
Diller also redesigned the new Alice Tully Hall, across West 65th Street from the grassy lawn in a building that houses Juilliard.
Another addition to Lincoln Center is the David Rubenstein Atrium, which has become a popular lineup for discount tickets along with a public cafe.
"This all replaces the site of West Side Story," said Eugene Brister, a retired vocal coach sitting on the grass. "They've really opened up Lincoln Center."
It was built on land that was once the turf of ethnic Puerto Rican urban gangs whose stories of love and violence are at the center of the Broadway musical composed by Leonard Bernstein.