The REACH at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington D.C. will open to the public this Saturday, September 7th. Designed by Steven Holl Architects with BNIM, the project is the first-ever expansion in the Kennedy Center's 48-year history. Aiming to open the Kennedy Center to the surrounding city and riverfront, the team made the project as a nexus of arts, learning, and culture for people to engage with the performing arts.
As a living memorial for President John F. Kennedy, the Kennedy Center offers a place where the community can engage and interact with artists. The REACH expansion combines needed rehearsal and educational spaces with a range of flexible indoor and outdoor areas.The design merges architecture with the landscape to expand the dimensions of a living memorial. The landscape design includes a narrative reflection on the life of President Kennedy: a grove of 35 gingko trees, which will drop their golden autumn leaves in late November, acknowledges John F. Kennedy’s position as the 35th President of the United States; and a reflecting pool and mahogany landscape deck are built in the same dimensions and mahogany boards of Kennedy’s WWII boat, the PT109.
Building upon the original Edward Durell Stone building, The REACH’s three pavilions are fused with the landscape and frame views to the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial and Potomac riverfront. BNIM and SHA worked with landscape architecture firm Hollander Design to execute the landscape approach. The three pavilions are interconnected below green roofs to expand the Kennedy Center’s interior space with open studios, rehearsal and performance spaces, and dedicated arts learning spaces. The landscape serves as a green roof over the interior spaces, the largest in Washington, D.C. at approximately 69,000 sf. The varied gardens also provide opportunities for casual performances and events.
The titanium white board-formed concrete pavilions engage with the landscape, gently curving to catch natural light for the interior. The concrete finish is made up of 4” tongue and groove Douglas fir boards that lined CNC plywood forms. From a distance the concrete appears monolithic and seamless but when examined up close has the scale of wooden boards that relate to the body and hand, while simultaneously showing an imprint of the building process. The three pavilions are connected through their ruled-surface geometry. This strategy creates a language of forms, from conical sections to hyperbolic paraboloids, a visual acoustics echoing across the pavilions, cupping space between them, and dispersing sound on the inside. Inside the building, a newly developed crinkled concrete texture lines the walls of rehearsal and performance spaces, integrating acoustical qualities directly within the structural cast-in-place concrete walls.
Through the expansion, the Kennedy Center’s direct connection to the Potomac River is achieved, more than 50 years after it was lost in Stone’s initial design. A new pedestrian bridge, which appears to float over the park way, allows easy access to and from the Rock Creek Trail and the Georgetown waterfront. The newly expanded campus positions the Kennedy Center as a 21st century, future-oriented arts institution that celebrates President Kennedy and his significant contribution to the arts and American culture.