Kennedy Center Expansion Opens

John Hill
5. September 2019
Photo: Richard Barnes

Six years after Steven Holl Architects was selected to design an addition to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, the REACH, as the expansion is known, opens to the public.

Since 1971 the Kennedy Center has occupied a building designed by Edward Durell Stone on the east bank of the Potomac River just north of the Lincoln Memorial and National Mall. Penned in on the south and east by a tangle of freeways, the Center attempted to expand about 15 years ago with a scheme by architect Rafael Viñoly that would have decked over the Potomac Freeway. That scheme never came to fruition, and in 2013 Steven Holl Architects was selected to design a $100 million expansion to the Center, sitting primarily underground on the small triangular plot of land south of Stone's original building. (Eventually the project cost $250 million, including a pedestrian bridge linking the Center to the Potomac River.)

Photo: Richard Barnes

Expressed as three concrete pavilions sitting above a newly sculpted landscape — what is actually a massive green roof — the design of REACH is reminiscent of Holl's earlier Bloch Building at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. In DC, the 72,000-square-foot addition consists of open studios, rehearsal and performance spaces, and dedicated arts learning spaces. Outside, the green roof and gardens "will provide opportunities for casual performances and events," per a press release from Holl's office, while the north wall of the largest pavilion will be used to project simulcasts of live performances from inside the Center.

Photo: Richard Barnes

The board-formed concrete surfaces on the outside of the pavilions were made with 4" tongue and groove Douglas fir boards, their grain evident in the concrete when seen up close. The interior surfaces of the concrete walls in the performance spaces feature a crinkled concrete texture that was designed with acoustics in mind but also give the building some of its most striking moments. As can be seen in these photos, clear and translucent glass brings natural light to many of the spaces in the expansion.

Photo: Richard Barnes

The REACH at the Kennedy Center opens to the public on September 7, 2019. Opening festivities continue until September 22 with "16 days of 'creativity in action'" and nearly 500 free events across the newly expanded campus.

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