John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Steven Holl Architects
James G. Davis Construction Corporation
John J. Kirlin
72,000 sq ft interior, 130,000 sq ft landscape area
The Kennedy Center
The US$250-million expansion of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, was completed in 2019. The presidential monument was originally built in the late 1960s as a memorial to President John F. Kennedy and has since become synonymous with cultural excellence. The extra space was needed for additional rehearsal, education and multipurpose facilities so the Center could continue to host world-class theatre, dance, ballet, orchestral and multimedia performances for audiences of all ages.
The overall aesthetic is intended to break down the barrier between art and the audience. Glass is used throughout the building to showcase open space and natural light, letting it shine inward during the day and reflect outward at night. The building also features a concrete trench system to conceal building services so as not to interfere with the beauty and cohesiveness of the interior.
The goal of the renewed design was to blend the architecture with the landscape, with the REACH’s three pavilions merging seamlessly with the natural surroundings. Native or climate-adapted trees and perennials make up much of the vegetation, which has been strategically laid out to reduce rainwater runoff and prevent storm flooding. The green roofs interconnecting the pavilions create an additional 72,000 square feet of open performance, rehearsal and learning spaces and contribute to reducing the urban heat island effect.
Specially developed performance-enhancing technologies were used to ensure the expansion operation was almost entirely self-sustaining from beginning to end. The strategy included a closed-loop geothermal system, advanced temperature controls and radiant floor heating. A new water-to-water heat pump pre-cools return water to the existing chiller plant, which consists of four 800-ton chillers cooled by water from the neighbouring Potomac River. These and other elements were instrumental in earning the building LEED Gold certification in 2020.
The expansion not only cements the REACH’s position as a forward-looking cultural institution, but it also celebrates President Kennedy’s life and commitment to the performing arts in a concrete and very personal way. The result has been widely praised for its innovative, community-oriented design and its inestimable contributions to raising cultural awareness and fostering a life-long love of the arts.