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Kennedy Center Plans Expansion

Night rendering of the Kennedy Center Expansion Project
The pavilions are envisioned as being made of Carrara marble and a mix of white and clear glass. The expansion will connect the center to the Potomac River. © Steven Holl Architects

The famed arts center will add rehearsal and education space while seeking to better connect the site to the Potomac River and the nation’s capital.

February 12, 2013—The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts recently unveiled plans for a $100-million expansion that will create a flowing landscape with framed views of monuments, gardens, and water features on the current site of a parking lot. More importantly, the expansion will add 60,000 sq ft of desperately needed space to the Washington, D.C., facility via three pavilions, two of which will be interconnected beneath a large terrace.

The Kennedy Center, which opened in 1971, is the busiest performing arts center in the nation, annually welcoming nearly 2 million attendees. The facility is 1.5 million sq ft, with 9 theaters. Although the building has rehearsal studios, none are as large as the Opera House stage. The Kennedy Center has other needs that will be addressed with the expansion.

“They have one of the largest education programs in the arts, and they don’t have a single classroom.” says Chris McVoy, a senior partner of Steven Holl Architects, in New York City, the firm chosen in a national competition to design the expansion.

“So there is a real need,” McVoy says. “In addition, there was an aspiration on their part for a new project that would transform the presence of the building in the city. Be respectful of the Edward Durrell Stone building, but add a new, inviting expansion piece to the Kennedy Center.”

The expansion will encompass a complete reworking of the south side of the Kennedy Center site, a prominent location in the nation’s capital, on the banks of the Potomac River with views of the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, and Roosevelt Bridge. The resulting expanse includes a multiuse terrace for live and projected performances. (A video of the plan appears here.) 

 Aerial rending of the Kennedy Center's expansion project, which features three pavilions

The project features three pavilions, one floating on the Potomac
River. The two land pavilions will be connected beneath a large
terrace. © Steven Holl Architects

“The new building is woven into the landscape, so it doesn’t appear as a single block,” McVoy says. “It is actually three pavilions. And these smaller-scale pavilion pieces then mediate the massive scale of the monumental building of the current Kennedy Center.”

The first pavilion is a new entrance to the facility and will house a winter garden café, McVoy says. The largest pavilion, which is closer to the river, is called the Glissando Pavilion, named for the musical glide from one pitch to another. The Glissando Pavilion will house rehearsal space. The third pavilion will appear to float on the Potomac River and provide a unique space for performances.

“From the start, Steven Holl’s idea was to use this expansion project as an opportunity to connect to the riverfront,” McVoy says. “So you have this great connection to the water, which was in Edward Durrell Stone’s first design. He had steps coming all the way down to the Potomac River. There was a desire to connect to the river. So we are now realizing that initial potential in this river pavilion.”

The two pavilions on land will be connected below the terrace via two interior levels of space for rehearsal halls, classrooms, and a few offices. The stepped landscape will afford these spaces natural light while they appear to be below ground from some angles.

“It is all integrated below the landscape, but the expressions coming out of the landscape are the two pavilions,” McVoy explains.  

The pavilions are envisioned as Carrara marble and a mix of white and clear glass. The pavilions on land feature flat surfaces facing the Kennedy Center, and gently curved surfaces toward the city and the river. The distinct shape of the pavilions and their placement at the site create a welcoming spatial field that frames portions of the city and can host performances.

One wall of the Glissando Pavilion can serve as a projection screen

One wall of the Glissando Pavilion can serve as a projection
screen, enabling the Kennedy Center to display performances from
inside the center onto the screen outside. © Steven Holl Architects

“The torqueing of the pavilions has everything to do with how these pavilions relate to the context around them,” McVoy says. “So we start parallel to the existing building and then torque out toward the river or toward the Lincoln Memorial. [This reflects] the kind of movement that we feel is in many of the performing arts.”

The wall of the Glissando Pavilion that will face the existing building will serve as a projection screen, enabling the Kennedy Center to display performances from inside the center onto the screen outside. The terrace will have both grass and paved surfaces for seating. A stage area will accommodate outdoor productions.

The design team is keenly aware that not only does the Kennedy Center have expansive views of memorials, it is itself a memorial to John F. Kennedy. Quotes from the 35th president of the United States will be inscribed on some of the glass surfaces of the expansion, honoring Kennedy and his connection to the arts.

The concept design has been approved, and the team is currently working on schematic designs, McVoy says.



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