Opened in 1966, the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts is one of the world’s most highly mechanized performance venues. Its vast array of hydraulic elevators, motorized stages, and automatic rigging systems harmonize nightly to create dazzling productions. To stay ahead of advancing technological demands, the New York City entertainment landmark is undergoing a state-of-the-art modernization of its original theatrical infrastructure, scheduled over a six-year period.
The complex upgrade of stage rigging systems and machinery was bound by many logistical constraints that resulted in unique project challenges. First, there could be no disruption to the Met’s 24/7 theatrical operations, meaning all work needed to be meticulously choreographed among hundreds of rotating show productions. Second, electrical equipment enhancements required to power the new machinery improvements needed to be completed before the old electrical could be disconnected – again, ensuring no interruptions to operations. However, limited space in the stage house required the construction of a new drive rack room to be added atop the upstage area. Lastly, zoning constraints and the venue’s strict directive that construction could not utilize the main building spaces, required creative external building solutions.
With more than 15 years of experience as engineers and owner’s representatives for the Metropolitan Opera House, McLaren was brought on as the prime consultant for the theatrical infrastructure renovations. The expert team of multidisciplinary engineers clearly understood not only theatrical rigging, building structures, construction, and machinery, but was also in tune with the Met’s operational history and future vision of programmatic objectives.
The project began with a thorough structural evaluation of the over-stage theatrical infrastructure to assess its current capabilities and determine feasible upgrades needed to support the new automated rigging system and modern machinery. McLaren’s specialized entertainment engineers evaluated the facility’s upper and lower gridirons, roof trusses, and the framing spanning loads. It was determined the rigging equipment system upgrades would require some bartering of load capabilities between the two gridirons and roof truss to safely sustain the modern batten winches, point hoists, and lighting bridge winches. The team added minor local reinforcements in the form of bolted connections to the main truss for supplemental support. McLaren also worked with the Met and its rigging vendor, Tait Towers, to engineer the winch frames and other rigging components.
To solve for space constraints, a drive rack room was constructed to house the electrical power systems used to control the new rigging and machinery. Avoiding any show disruptions, the electrical systems needed to be completed and ready for a seamless switch-over before the original could be disconnected and removed. McLaren’s structural engineers strategically designed the expansion to fit behind the gridiron and above the stage house. Additionally, the team modernized and extended the building’s elevator to serve the new top-level systems room.
Sightline limitations guided the geometry of the 1,800-square-foot, 12-foot-high vertical addition which was designed as a long span “bridge” structure. Because the existing roof framing of the original building did not provide adequate support, two large trusses, each spanning 75-feet-long, were added to bypass the entire roof. These were supported by the addition of four new columns that were affixed to the existing truss below, carefully navigating the structure’s current ductwork. McLaren’s construction engineers provided typical shear connection designs for the drive rack room expansion framing and truss connections.
Moreover, steel framing was used to create the new room’s floor and roof. Removeable computer flooring was chosen to best service and adjust the power cables that run underneath the vertical addition and cascade down to feed into the infrastructure at the grid level below.
Because construction access was not permitted through the main building, McLaren’s construction management team provided a logistical solution of sequencing the work and erecting an external construction hoist. The hoist and 60-foot bridge to account for the building setback, were utilized by all workers, subconsultants, and vendors to access the construction site at the roof level.
Notable portions of the Metropolitan Opera House infrastructure upgrades were completed in 2020, including the drive rack room structure and lighting bridge replacement. The remaining work is scheduled to continue toward completion over the next few years as the technologically upgraded home to the most creative and talented singers, conductors, composers, musicians, stage directors, designers, visual artists, choreographers, and dancers from around the world.