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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.