The Kennedy Center’s expansion celebrates the joy of art by bringing audiences closer to the creative process, center officials said Thursday morning at the groundbreaking of the $100 million project.
Vice President Biden joined Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter, Chairman David M. Rubenstein and architect Steven Holl to kick off the construction of 60,000 square feet of classroom, rehearsal and performance space that will be the first major addition to the marble-clad structure honoring former president John F. Kennedy.
“This new vision,” Biden said of the project, “is bound to inspire imagination and creativity and awaken in scores of young people a yearning and talent many don’t know resides in them.”
The ceremony came 50 years to the week after President Lyndon B. Johnson broke ground on the original structure, and it featured the shovel Johnson used Dec. 2, 1964, which also was employed at the groundbreakings of the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials in 1913 and 1938.
Pending approvals, construction is expected to begin in March. Rubenstein said the project would be completed in time to open on the 100th anniversary of JFK’s birth, May 29, 2017.
“When you have an iconic building, you don’t change it dramatically,” said Rubenstein, who pledged $50 million to the effort when it was announced two years ago. “We want to refresh the place, modernize it, open it up a bit.”
Holl’s design transforms the four acres on the southern edge of the arts center into a park featuring a visitors center and flexible rehearsal and education spaces with walls of windows inviting the public to peek into rehearsals. The design also provides access to the Rock Creek Park trail and the Potomac River through a series of paths and pedestrian walkways. An early design of the original facility by Edward Durell Stone placed the building on the water’s edge and offered broad vistas of the Potomac.
Kennedy’s granddaughter Rose Kennedy Schlossberg was on hand for the festivities, held in a tent on the center’s southern edge. A new board member, Schlossberg said she was proud to represent the next generation of the Kennedy family in continuing to support the center.
“We are here to celebrate an expansion that will be a place where new things can be dreamed up,” she said.
Holl said his design emphasizes the center’s role as a living memorial to JFK by fusing indoor and outdoor spaces. “What was once a parking lot and hard scape will become a lush landscape that will change with the seasons,” Holl said.
The design includes a reflecting pool that is the same length as the ship Kennedy commanded in War World II and a grove of 35 ginkgo trees, a nod to his tenure as the nation’s 35th president. A sloped lawn facing one side of the curved Glissando Pavilion will serve as an amphitheater for free simulcasts of performances happening inside the center.
Most of the new construction is underground, with two pavilions on the sloping landscape. A third, River Pavilion, is a wharf-like structure on the Potomac that will feature an intimate performance space and a cafe.
Holl designed the acclaimed expansion of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo., the Herning Museum of Contemporary Arts in Denmark and a building at the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland.
After the morning ceremony, the design team presented its work to the National Capital Planning Commission, one of two government agencies that must approve it before construction can begin
The commission approved preliminary site and building plans except for the River Pavilion. The NCPC requested that Kennedy Center officials analyze the structure’s potential effect on boat traffic and submit the results before the next review.
Rubenstein said the center has “largely raised the money for this,” although officials would not disclose how close they are to securing the $125 million. In addition to construction, the campaign includes $25 million for programming costs.
Addressing the restless crowd before Biden’s late arrival, Rubenstein gave a brief history of the center before making a lighthearted pitch.
“Any questions? Any comments?” he asked. “Any additional donations?”