Today, the Kennedy Center announced plans for a $100 million expansion that will finally give the arts center much-needed space for education and rehearsal. The first major expansion since the center opened in 1971, the initiative adds about 60,000 square feet south of the facility. But most titillating is the Kennedy Center’s plot to slowly occupy the Potomac River.
Part of the privately funded expansion plan includes a floating (!!) pavilion and performance space on the Potomac, which, depending on the weather, could replicate the experience of using an airplane bathroom. (OK, maybe just in my fantasies.) It’s not the first time the Kennedy Center has put its mitts on the river: In 2005, it hosted a massive Cai Guo-Qiang fireworks show on the Potomac, scaring the bejesus out of hundreds of residents who thought they were hearing a terrorist attack. This initiative appears to be the latest step in the performing-arts center’s endeavor to gradually transform the waterway into a year-round production of Show Boat. (Also in my fantasies.)
Between the river pavilion and the center’s main building, lead architect Steven Holl wants public gardens to “fill out the space, fusing the Kennedy Center with the landscape and river,” according to a press release. Holl also plans to construct two other connected pavilions that will make room for education, administration, lectures, rehearsal, and multipurpose use. Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser has pointed out that while Kennedy Center educates millions of kids each year, the facility lacks a classroom. The center’s in-house opera company, Washington National Opera, rehearses at a studio in Takoma.
Holl’s design appears to redress the Kennedy Center’s scuttled $650 million expansion plans, which depended on a promised $400 million in federal funds. Due to budget constraints, Congress dropped its funding in 2005, and the center was forced to abandon the idea.
Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein has personally dedicated $50 million to the expansion; and before Sean Hannity gripes any further about D.C. transforming into Versailles on the public’s dime, the KenCen assures us that the rest will be paid for with private, not government, funds. “With Mr. Rubenstein’s $50 million lead gift, the Center has begun a major fundraising campaign of $125 million,” says the press release. “$50 million more for the expansion project and an additional $25 million for major programming initiatives in the years ahead.”
Photo via Kennedy Center courtesy Steven Holl Architects