Credit: Darrow Montgomery/file

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The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, nestled between Interstate 66 and the Potomac River, has stood as a national and local center for the arts since its opening in 1971. “The most deep-seated worry,” The Washington Post wrote in a 1978 article on the institution’s architect, Edward Durell Stone, “was not that the the cultural center would dwarf the national monuments, but rather that it would become a national monument in itself, and thus not be a place where fluid culture thrives.” But despite its design flaws and changing tastes in urban design, culture does indeed thrive at the Kennedy Center; it plays host to the National Symphony Orchestra and the Washington National Opera. More than two million people enjoy its paid and free programming each year.

Now, for the first time since 1971, the site is seeing major construction once more. An expansion is underway that will provide the center with rehearsal spaces, classrooms, more public spaces, and a connection to the river.

In this episode Amanda Kolson Hurley, City Paper’s architectural critic and author of recurring column Concrete Details, reviews the Kennedy Center on-site, inside and out. She notes that its location and design isolate the center from neighboring Foggy Bottom, the National Mall, nearby Georgetown, and the Potomac. This isolation, coupled with the building’s size and opulence, has been the source of criticism since its construction. 

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Music for this episode was by Lee Rosevere, used under the Creative Commons license.