September 5, 2019

The Kennedy Center’s New Expansion Puts The Arts In REACH With Modern Design

By Maura Currie

<i>Maura Currie/WAMU</i>

Maura Currie/WAMU


Maura Currie/WAMU

At first glance, the REACH at the Kennedy Center is unassuming. Juxtaposed next to the Edward Durell Stone Building’s towering pillars and austere, grand hallways, the REACH seems tiny in the middle of its garden. But there’s more (literally) underneath the surface than meets the eye.


 

Maura Currie/WAMU

That’s not to say that you’ll find another symphony hall tucked beneath the water features and green roof — the REACH houses a decidedly different approach to the arts than its neighbor. The Kennedy Center intends for this to be a space where visitors get up close and personal with art in progress. And the majority of the spaces in the REACH reflect that mentality physically: the three studios (named Studios J, F, and K respectively) have windows that let outsiders peer in.

Maura Currie/WAMU

There’s very little fixed furniture in the REACH, because all of the spaces are designed to be dynamic. A studio could be used by the National Symphony Orchestra in the morning and be repurposed for a cocktail party by evening. In the classroom spaces that will be used for workshops and camps, everything is on wheels.

In the hallways and atriums that one might normally breeze through on their way to a workshop or activity, there are cushy chairs and power outlets. The coffee shop atmosphere isn’t an accident (and in fact, there will be a coffee shop) — the REACH is meant to be a space where people sit, work, chat and collaborate.

 

Maura Currie/WAMU

The art displays, provided by artists of local and world renown, brightens up the bright white interior. The selections will rotate, and new exhibitions like President George Bush’s Portraits of Courage will do temporary stints at the REACH.

 

Maura Currie/WAMU

Audiophiles will notice that the REACH was designed with listening in mind. In the airy atrium at its entrance, one’s voice won’t echo like it does in the Stone Building across the garden; the walls and ceiling are made with special acoustic plaster that dampens sound and helps prevent the cacophony of a crowd.

 

Maura Currie/WAMU

And in studio and performance spaces, specially-formed “crinkle concrete” acts as a means to absorb sound. It’s not quite as dampening as a recording studio, for example, because the Kennedy Center already has those kinds of spaces. But the crinkles help absorb sound better than a regular wall would — and also serve an aesthetic purpose.

 

The REACH feels fluid, with very few sharp angles, and its uses will be similarly undesignated and variable. It did feel, during a soft opening walkthrough, stark and empty in the way modern art sometimes does — but that sensory experience will be transformed once artists, art-lovers and the merely curious start to fill and use the spaces as intended on Sept. 7.

 

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