Sister Cities: Closer Look At Kansas City’s Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts

Kauffman Center via Arch Daily

Chicago YIMBY continues its Sister Cities series with a closer look at a building that innovated when it was built a few years back, the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, Missouri. Located at 1601 Broadway Boulevard at the end of a visual corridor through the city’s convention center, the structure rises over the landscape atop of a small hill like two sails blowing in the wind. Developer Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation spent multiple years creating the center that was designed by famed architect Moshe Safdie.

Kauffman Center via Arch Daily

Discussions for the center began in 1994 by Muriel McBrien Kauffman herself prior to passing away in 1995, that led to the creation of a foundation which executed on her plans in the following years. After a feasibility study in 1997, the foundation purchased the 18.5-acre lot in 1999 and began searching for a designer. This led them to Moshe Safdie who had worked on Habitat 67 in Montreal and later went on to design notable structures like the Marina Bay Sands Resort and the Jewel Changi Airport in Singapore.

Concept sketches for the Kauffman Center via Arch Daily

After drawing his initial sketch on a napkin, he presented his formal proposal in 2002 against three other designers. During the four years of development the team grew to include Theater Projects Consultants, BNIM as associate architects, and Yasuhisa Toyota as an acoustician. In 2006 ground broke on the $413 million center for which no tax-payer money was used, as the city only owns and operates the $47 million parking garage.


Meant to ‘take root’ into the rolling plains of the two states the city stands on, the overall form mimics the hills and windswept grasses of its surroundings. This consists of two separate theater buildings with separate performance spaces, each structure is perfectly symmetrical and made up of vertical arches pushing forward while offsetting from each other as they meet in the middle. Safdie claimed he wanted visitors to see music and movement from every angle.

The Great Hall via Arch Daily

The waves are clad in acid-etched precast concrete panels meant to mimic the limestone buildings of Kansas City, which is then contrasted by stainless steel panels lining the curved facade of the waves. The two are then connected by a single lobby dubbed the Great Hall which is completely clad in glass panels providing transparency between the arts and people, this is pierced by white circulation spirals that provide visitors views into the open space mimicking a performance.

Construction image of the Kauffman Center via Kleinfekder


One of the most impressive aspects of the center is the structure itself. Hidden behind its reflective facade is a steel shell which replicates under each arch that makes up the overall form, these are partially supported by 27 tension cables which fly through the glass Great Hall. These cables are then anchored outside to 1.5 ton embeds connected to the foundation below; The structure eventually shifted six inches once it was hung from the cables and released to settle.

Construction image of the Kauffman Center via Kleinfekder

Construction image of the Kauffman Center via Kleinfekder

Joining the steel cables is 40,000 square feet of glass and 25,000 cubic yards of concrete as the theater buildings themselves are concrete pods within the aforementioned steel shell. The cables are also where the glass panels of the lobby hang from, with the vertical columns that keep the cables in place holding the rest of the facade.

Sections of Kauffman Center theaters via Arch Daily


The larger of the two is the Muriel Kauffman Theater which serves as more of an opera house-style for traveling performances, the Kansas City Ballet, and Lyric Opera of Kansas City. With balconies surrounding the central hall, the 1,800-seat theater is enclosed in undulating walls decorated with murals done by students of the Kansas City Art Institute. It boasts a 5,000-square-foot stage from which 80 percent of the seats are less than 100 feet away, a 90-musician orchestra pit, and seats with an integrated translation screen for foreign-language operas.

Muriel Kauffman Theater via Arch Daily

The smaller Helzberg Hall only holds 1,600 guests and is home to the Kansas City Symphony. Due to the nature of the performances, the great hall is made up of multiple stepping seating platforms surrounding all four sides of the stage which sits towards the center of the space. Adorned by steel curves meant to mimic the building’s exterior, no seat within the wood-cladded interior is further than 100 feet from the stage. Its acoustics were also tested with a 1/10th scale model prior to being approved.

Helzberg Hall via Arch Daily

Joining the center is the aforementioned parking garage which sits under the center’s cascading front entry lawn. With over 1,000 vehicle parking spaces, it is topped by 300,000 pieces of high-density foam, tons of sand, and 100,000 square feet of sod. Completed in 2011, guests were finally allowed onto the manicured ground with over 100,000 visitors during its opening weekend of September 16-18 of that year.

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14 Comments on "Sister Cities: Closer Look At Kansas City’s Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts"

  1. only 2 posts a day now and 1/2 is about some other irrelevant midwest city

    • Really? Incredible hostility. Why are any other cities “irrelevant”?
      Take a hike, Roger.

      • J, try using context clues to figure out my hostility. My name is “Roger”. Do you know of anybody who has been named “Roger” in the last 60 years? No! It’s because nobody HAS been named Roger in the last 60 years! So, obviously, I’m old. Also, I complained about too few posts on a development blog. Does that strike you as a person who has other things going on in his life? Do you think I’m hanging out with my supermodel girlfriend in Miami and checking this website on the beach? No! I’m pinging it like Pavlov’s dog hoping that my self-esteem can get a boost by the announcement of a tall building in the city where I live. So, I’m bored too. Old and bored and you’re taken back by my hostility?

    • Any thoughts on the building itself, Roge?

    • Journalism costs a lot of time, talent, and money you know. Feedback is always welcome, but it should be constructive and come with a tangible takeaway.

  2. Richard M.Daley | February 16, 2023 at 8:28 am | Reply

    Donate some money Rog I’d like to see 5 posts aday money talks good Job chicago yimby👌

  3. Hopefully we can start getting “What $200k gets you in Wicker Park” posts to fully replace Curbed.

  4. Great piece, hadn’t seen this building. Always worth knowing what else is going on in the country.

  5. I love the Sister City Series! This building is gorgeous. Mid-sized cities are really pushing the envelope. Thanks for reporting, Ian!

  6. I’ve performed in the Kauffman Center multiple times. It’s an incredible space that has completely energized the already sizable artistic community on Kansas City. I wish we had something comparable here in Chicago.

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