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Urban Crown: Metropolitan Kansas City Performing Arts Center by Moshe Safdie and Associates

Kansas City, Missouri: Graceful forms atop a hill signal a new international landmark - and urban renewal.

by Kristen Richards
July 29, 2002

In a shaky economy, the first budget cuts almost always seem to be in the arts on national, state, and local levels. The arts community in Kansas City, Missouri, was caught by surprise last week when a $736 million tax initiative, called Bistate II, was postponed until 2004. (A bone of contention is that the initiative tied non-profit arts organizations, which would have received about $368 million, to new construction and improvements of for-profit sports stadiums as well.)


But that has not put a damper on the plans – and enthusiasm – for the city’s newest landmark: the $304 million Metropolitan Kansas City Performing Arts Center (MKCPAC). Designed by Moshe Safdie and Associates, the center will be more than just a striking profile on the city skyline and an international landmark. Its location, atop the ridgeline of a 17.5-acre site, is expected to become a focal point for urban renewal and community activity in the downtown area. (Last Wednesday, The Kansas City Star announced plans to build a $199 million, 430,000-square-foot printing plant that will redevelop two downtown blocks that are only about six blocks from the MKCPAC site – the architect has not been selected.)


The 360,000-square-foot performing arts center will be home to the Kansas City Symphony, the Kansas City Ballet, the Lyric Opera, and other arts organizations. It will contain three performing spaces — a 2,200-seat ballet/opera house, a 1,800-seat concert hall, and a 500-seat flexible, experimental theater (to be built later) — all spilling out into a central glass-enclosed lobby area and lush terraced gardens overlooking the city. The plans also include a restaurant and café, and theater offices, rehearsal rooms, and support spaces.


“Kansas City’s performing arts center takes full advantage of the hillside where it sits and essentially becomes part of the landscape,” says Safdie. “It’s a very large area that has allowed me the freedom to plan as much for gardens as for concert halls. My goal as an architect is to create a structure that reflects and inspires its community.”


Joining Safdie’s team are Theatre Projects Consultants (TPC), which is responsible for the design and planning of performance spaces and equipment, and acoustic specialists Artec Consultants Inc. Kansas City-based BNIM Architects (Berkebile Nelson Immenschuh McDowell) is the Architect-of-Record. Ken Dworak, the center’s project manager and board member, will oversee the creation of the center scheduled to begin construction in 2004 and completed in 2007.


“The performing arts center’s spectacular design will be unlike anything ever seen in Kansas City,” said Julia Irene Kauffman, president of the board and chairman of the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation, which has announced plans to contribute $80 million to the project. An additional $25 million has been pledged from a donor advisory fund at the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, which Kauffman oversees. Most of the $304 million for the center will be raised privately.


Artist’s Vision By Moshe Safdie


The three performing halls are placed along the ridgeline facing south. A common glazed foyer serves the two major halls; a separate smaller foyer is attached to the experimental theater.


As the site slopes towards the south, the drive-through road cuts under the foyer, forming a generous drop-off area. Patrons proceed to a lower lobby, which opens to the view south and the terraced gardens, and then enter by grand stair or elevator to the main lobby. Drivers can then proceed to the parking area located below the terraced gardens.


The enveloping structure of the complex is formed by a series of undulating vertical segments of a circle forming the northern container of the theater’s back stage, concert hall, and experimental theater. As they ascend, they form a segmented, gently curving crown to the building. From this crest, the roof descends in a curve following the geometry of a torus of light cables, metal, and glass structure toward the south. The roof intersects with an outwardly inclined and curved glass wall, which contains the foyer towards the southern view. The tensile forces of the suspended glass roof of the foyer are counteracted by a series of cables tying down the structure to anchors at the entrance terrace. The curved, segmented northern walls are sheathed with silvery stainless steel and punctuated by acid-etched, limestone colored, pre-cast concrete perpendicular walls.


The roof is stainless steel over the performing halls, changing to glass over the foyers. The glass enclosure opens the foyer to dramatic views of the sky and skyline. At night, seen from the exterior (from Crown Center and further south), the glazing disappears and reveals the dramatically lit theater facades and activity within the public areas, café, and restaurant.


The theater facades are sheathed with beech wood panels forming continuous curved, stacked balconies. The various lounges form sculptural shapes visible under the glass structure.


The structure steps with the natural topography and is served by a linear, glazed internal gallery that extends from north to south.


The image of the center, dramatically crowning the ridgeline, varies greatly as seen from different directions and at different times of the day. From downtown, the undulating segment walls reflect the sky and trees in a musical rhythm. At night the masonry walls are lit, highlighting the playful rhythm. From the south the building shimmers during the day, revealing only hints of the theaters within. At night, the entire complex glows — the wood facades, lounges, and activity within visible even at a great distance.


The center is designed with dramatic curves, simple geometric patterns, and ample use of windows and open spaces. The stainless steel, pre-cast concrete and glass structure resembles a modernistic shell. From the north, the center’s stainless steel walls are a series of vertical circular segments. From the south, the roofline crests and falls away in a sloping curve before changing to glass and offering a panoramic view of Union Station and Crown Center.


Architect: Moshe Safdie and Associates

Architect-of-Record: BNIM Architects, Steve McDowell, FAIA (project principal)

Performance Spaces: Theater Project Consultants, Richard Pilbrow (principal), Elissa Getto (general manager), Brian Hall (director of design), David Taylor (project manager)

Acoustics: Artec Consultants Inc., Russell Johnson (project principal)


Moshe Safdie first established his architectural practice in 1964, in Montreal, to design and supervise the construction of Habitat ‘67. Today, the principal office is in Boston, Massachusetts, with branch offices in Jerusalem and Toronto. The firm provides a full range of planning and architectural services. Current projects include museums, performing arts centers, university campuses, airports, housing, mixed-use complexes, and new communities. A few of the firm’s major projects include the Salt Lake City Public Library; Library Square and the Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Vancouver, B.C.; the United States Institute of Peace Headquarters on the Mall, Washington, D.C.; and the science center and children’s museum, Exploration Place, Wichita, Kansas.


Theatre Projects Consultants (TPC) was founded by Richard Pilbrow in 1957, and has offices in South Norwalk, Conn., London, Los Angeles, Toronto, and Singapore. Recent projects include the Kodak Theatre, Hollywood; Kimmel Center, Philadelphia; New Amsterdam Theatre renovation, New York City; New Goodman Theatre, Chicago; the Glyndebourne Opera House, Sussex, England; renovation work for the Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C.; performing arts centers in Dayton, Ohio; Madison, Wisconsin; Tempe, Arizona; and Dallas; the Esplanade Cultural Center, Singapore; the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles; and new opera houses in Galicia, Spain, and Oslo, Norway.


Artec Consultants Inc. was founded in 1970 by Russell Johnson. Some of the New York City-based firm’s most prestigious accomplishments include: Symphony Hall, Birmingham, UK; the Meyerson Symphony Center, Dallas; the Culture and Congress Centre, Lucerne, Switzerland; Sala Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, Brazil; l’Auditorium, Dijon, France; and the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts, Vancouver, B. C. Facilities currently in design include an opera house and concert hall in Singapore; the renovation of the Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto; a concert hall in Costa Mesa, Calif.; and an opera house and concert hall in Miami.


BNIM Architects (Berkebile Nelson Immenschuh McDowell), Kansas City, has a national reputation for leading the sustainable design movement. Current projects include three new facilities for the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston: the School of Nursing and Student Community Center, the Mental Sciences Institute, and the Institute of Molecular Medicine (all slated for LEED certification); the Missouri Department of Natural Resources in Jefferson City; the Missouri Department of Conservation Urban Conservation Campus in Kansas City; and a new Residential & Learning Center at Shelburne Farms, Vermont. Other significant public and private projects include: the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art Addition & Renovation in association with Steven Holl; Bartle Hall Conference Center; H&R Block World Headquarters; Deramus Education Pavilion at the Kansas City Zoological Gardens; and the Noisette Community Redevelopment in North Charleston, South Carolina.


Also see:


The Master Plan for the New City of Modi'in, Israel by Moshe Safdie and Associates: An urban center rises within the contours of the land, not in place of them.

(click on pictures to enlarge)

(Moshe Safdie and Associates)
Metropolitan Kansas City Performing Arts Center, southwest elevation

(Moshe Safdie and Associates)
North elevation, at night

(Moshe Safdie and Associates)
Site plan: the 17.5-acre hillside site will include terraced gardens.

(Moshe Safdie and Associates)
The main entrance; the drop-off area will be under the main foyer.

(Moshe Safdie and Associates)
The soaring glass lobby will offer panoramic views of the Kansas City skyline.

(Moshe Safdie and Associates)
The north entry

(Moshe Safdie and Associates)
Section of the Lyric Opera Theater

(Moshe Safdie and Associates)
South elevation

(Moshe Safdie and Associates)
Southwest elevation

(Moshe Safdie and Associates)
North elevation

(Moshe Safdie and Associates)
Northeast elevation

(Moshe Safdie and Associates)
Northeast elevation

(Moshe Safdie and Associates)
Another view of the north entry

© 2002