Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein will donate $50 million to the project, the single largest gift in the institution’s history.
“He has funded programming in many ways,” said Michael M. Kaiser, president of the Kennedy Center. “And now also a physical structure.”
The project is neither the loftiest nor the most expensive expansion by a Washington arts institution in recent years. The 200,000-square-foot renovation of Arena Stage, completed in 2010, carried a price tag of $135 million. Still, the expansion would serve a need that has dogged the Kennedy Center for over a decade: Its growing budget and programming necessitate physical growth.
The Kennedy Center brings in about 2 million people each year. An additional 1 million tour the complex annually. It serves the dual purposes of bustling arts center and memorial to Kennedy. And with the 2011 acquisition of the Washington National Opera, which rehearses in Takoma Park, and the growth of Kaiser’s DeVos Institute of Arts Management, classrooms and rehearsal spaces are needed more than ever.
“We run the largest arts education program in the country,” Kaiser said. “We work with 11 million children a year . . . but the building doesn’t have a classroom in it.”
“We don’t have rehearsal space of any consequence at the Kennedy Center,” Rubenstein echoed.
Holl, praised for his ability to blend existing buildings with contemporary structures, said the center’s proximity to the Potomac inspired his design and pays homage to Kennedy’s love of the sea.
“The overall concept was to fuse architecture and landscape,” Holl said. “Right from the beginning, I thought of the idea of getting down to the river, that this shouldn’t just be a pragmatic object added on to the existing Kennedy Center.”
The proposed design is relatively small — about 60,000 square feet of indoor space — compared with the existing 1.5 million-square-foot complex. The three pavilions would be connected by unobtrusive pathways or underground tunnels. The most ambitious structure is an outdoor stage that would float on the river, rising and falling with the tide. A second pavilion would provide a new entrance to the Kennedy Center on its south side for those arriving by bus or on foot, while the largest pavilion, named the “glissando,” after the rapid sweep of a musical scale, would contain classroom and rehearsal facilities.