Whatever unorthodox ingredients Gerber decides to toss in his shaker, they couldn't be any more unexpected than the one that New York's former mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, threw into the mix. The mayor, a known opera fan, put a freeze on the 1996 competition for the Coliseum site and insisted that each proposal include a home for trumpeter Wynton Marsalis's Jazz at Lincoln Center program. So it's perhaps not so strange that the 1,200-seat Rose Theater, the main concert hall in the 100,000-square-foot jazz complex, alludes to an old-fashioned Italian opera house, with tiers of seating arranged in a tight oval around the stage. It has, in fact, been designed to accommodate stage scenery and equipment that is superfluous for most jazz performances, but essential for opera. That said, Jazz at Lincoln Center is a cluster of performance, recording, and instruction spaces, the first major institution designed specifically for jazz. Marsalis wrote a manifesto of sorts, "Ten Fundamentals of the House of Swing," as a way to communicate his vision to architect Rafael Viñoly. In it he asserts that the Rose Theater and the smaller, 600-seat Allen Room, where musicians and dancers will perform with a dazzling skyline view behind them, are "two sides of the same thing, like night and day. The Rose Theater will sound like Lester Young, Billie Holiday, Paul Desmond and Miles Davis," Marsalis wrote. The Allen Room, by contrast, "will have the feeling of a street parade, a night of dancing under the stars, and an ancient Greek theater." The Allen Room was initially slated to be the lobby of the main theater. But that seemed silly. "Are we going to have a lobby where everybody is going to be walking around in a white tie with a flute of champagne?" Viñoly asks.
Perhaps because the Allen Room, with its 50-foot glass wall facing the street, is the one real place where Viñoly's building-within-a-building breaks through to the exterior of the Time Warner Center, it is this room Viñoly describes with the most enthusiasm. "You see the large window and you think it could have the face of Louis Armstrong floating above Central Park," he says, meaning that it's good to have something not so corporate facing Columbus Circle. "Maybe that's not architecture," he adds, "but to me that's important." It should be pointed out that the Allen Room's window also offers the best view ever of Christopher Columbus. There he is, the jaunty little navigator poised on his column, listening to the joyful noise from Wynton's House of Swing. If he could snap his marble fingers, he would.
Which brings us back to the actual circle. Formerly as inviting as a median highway strip, Columbus Circle has been newly landscaped with rings of trees, fountains, and flowers, all designed to calm and shelter. When spring comes, it might even be pleasant to sit in this small oasis as traffic streams all around, knowing that you are at the epicenter of New York.
Mandarin Oriental, New York, 80 Columbus Circle; 866/801-8880 or 212/805-8800; www.mandarinoriental.com; doubles from $595. ASIATE (at the Mandarin Oriental), 212/805-8881; dinner for two $130. The shops and restaurants in the Time Warner Center are scheduled to open next month; Jazz at Lincoln Center is slated to open in October 2004.