Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Kennedy Center is expanding.

Last June, Congress approved legislation authorizing the Kennedy Center to begin fundraising for an expansion on the center's south end. (North end expansion is blocked by The Watergate.) This comes after Congress refused to fund a $650 expansion in 2001.

The expansion will cover over the concrete parking garage with sod and create a new outdoor pavilion for free summer concerts near the parking garage entrance. Halfway between the KC and the south boundary will be the "Glissando", a classroom and rehearsal space with another outdoor pavilion. One wall of this pavilion will be curved to provide a space for projecting films.

Perhaps most interesting will be a new floating stage adjacent to this area. It will be enclosed with Okalux, an insulating plexiglass-like material. The floating stage is both an homage to President John F. Kennedy (who often spoke to the primordial nature of the sea), Edward Durrell Stone (the architect of the Kennedy Center, who originally planned for floating stages and water access from the KC until his original designs were changed to accommodate freeways and cost), and the original "Watergate" floating concert stage. (The original "Watergate" name comes from the terraced steps west of the Lincoln Memorial that lead down to the Potomac River. The steps were originally planned as the official reception area for dignitaries arriving in Washington, D.C., via water taxi from Virginia, but they never served this function. Instead, beginning in 1935, the steps faced a floating performance stage on the Potomac River on which open-air concerts were held. Up to 12,000 people would sit on the steps and surrounding grass and listen to symphonies, military bands, and operas. The concerts on the barge ceased in 1965 when jet airliner service began at National Airport, making too much noise for music programs to continue.)

The KC currently has only one room for offices, and no classroom or rehearsal space. The changes will be the first expansion of the KC since it was finished in 1971.

KC board chairman David Rubenstein has donated $50 million of the expected $100 million price-tag. A formal design will be unveiled in four to six months, and will need National Capital Planning Commission, U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, and DC Zoning Board approval.

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