Kauffman Center For The Performing Arts

by | 31. Jul 2012

Cultural | Feature

kauffman_1.jpgPhoto: Tim Hursley

Situated on a 5 acre site the Kauffman Center’s two performance venues, Muriel Kauffman Theatre and Helzberg Hall, are two distinct structures, each existing in their own acoustical envelope and housed within a dramatic architectural shell.

Five acres of green space surround the Kauffman Center and will be used for outdoor performances and as a public gathering space.

The north elevation of the building, which faces downtown Kansas City, features a series of arched walls sheathed in stainless steel that rise from the ground like a wave. From its crest a curved glass roof sweeps down towards the low-rise Crossroads neighborhood to the south and cascades into a 65-foot high by 330-foot wide glass wall, which provides the Kauffman Center’s Brandmeyer Great Hall with panoramic views of Kansas City. This dramatic glass facade and roof are anchored by 27 high-tension steel cables, reminiscent of a stringed instrument.

Photo: Tim Hursley

I am a believer that the site of a project always holds the secret for its design concept.

/Moshe Safdie

Photo: Tim Hursley

Photo: Tim Hursley

The opportunity to design a major new performing arts center was precipitated by two significant decisions: the selection of an extraordinary site crowning the escarpment overlooking the historic warehouse district and the new entertainment district, affording a 180° view of the horizon; and the decision to construct two dedicated halls for symphony, ballet, opera, and theater.

Downtown Kansas City, set upon a plateau, extends southwards towards an escarpment from where it descends, opening to an expansive view, which is further accentuated by the flat prairie landscape. To the north, one sees the drama of the downtown skyline with its grid of streets framing the property and the Kansas City Convention Center.

The drop in the land towards the south allowed us to include a new road that serves as the drop-off point and leads to a large underground parking garage on top of which sits a park. From the garage and the drop-off levels, the public ascends the grand stair to the great hall, with public gathering areas and the individual theaters on each side. Recognizing the significance of downtown as an additional access point, the North Entrance was aligned on the axis of Central Street, penetrating through the building into the theater lobbies.

Each hall reads as a distinct volume; metaphorically evoking a musical instrument and visible through the glass shell. As the natural light changes, so does the building’s transparency, reflecting the structure’s surroundings and, at the same time, hinting at its interior. At night, the entire building becomes inverted, displaying all of its interior activities to the community outside.

/Moshe Safdie

Photo: Tim Hursley

The halls are served by a series of access balconies fronting on the Brandmeyer Great Hall, forming two conical stacked rings of white plaster. People mingling before and after performances and intermissions are theatrically visible to one another. Thus, the great hall with its surrounding balconies is a counterpoint to the theaters within.

Photo: Tim Hursley

Photo: Tim Hursley

The 1,800-seat Muriel Kauffman Theatre, inspired by the great opera houses of Europe, is designed to be visually striking, yet retain an intimate experience for both audiences and performers. Audiences are seated around the stage in a variation on the traditional horseshoe configuration, bringing them closer to the performers than in auditorium-style venues.

A flexible orchestra pit configuration and the ability to adjust the stage opening width make the Muriel Kauffman Theatre adaptable for both intimate and large-scale productions. The Muriel Kauffman Theatre will host dance performances, plays, musicals and more, and will serve as the performance home of Kansas City Ballet and Lyric Opera of Kansas City. 

Photo: Tim Hursley

The 1,600-seat Helzberg Hall will be the performance home of the Kansas City Symphony as well as host to renowned international soloists and ensembles.The Hall is oval in shape, with a vineyard-style seating configuration.

The stage extends approximately one-third of the distance into the Hall, thus placing 40 percent of the seats alongside or behind the orchestra. This creates an intimate and immersive experience for both artists and audiences and allows a portion of the audience to experience the musician’s perspective during performance.

Photo: Tim Hursley

The fanning geometry of the northern facade is echoed within the interior, supporting the sculptural arrangement of the organ within it. As the custom-designed Casavant Frères organ reaches towards the ceiling it branches apart, forming skylights that allow the daylight and sun to penetrate and reflect upon the organ.

Photo: Tim Hursley

Safdie collaborated with Richard Pilbrow of Theatre Projects Consultants and Yasuhisa Toyota of Nagata Acoustics America on the design of both halls, which will share backstage facilities, including dressing accommodations for over 250 performers, as well as 11 rehearsal and warm-up rooms. The Center has been designed so it can accommodate future expansion along the east side of the building.

The Kauffman Center will provide performance homes for three of Kansas City’s premier performing arts organizations and keep them unified under one roof. The Kauffman Center’s resident companies will include the Kansas City Ballet, the Lyric Opera of Kansas City and the Kansas City Symphony.

Model photo courtesy Safdie Architects

Drawing courtesy Safdie Architects
Muriel Kauffman Theatre Section

Drawing courtesy Safdie Architects
Helzberg Hall Section


CITYKansas City, Missouri