As a frequent visitor of our nation’s capitol, I’ve grown so fond of Washington D.C.’s grand but charming style: modern glass and metal apartments and offices mix handsomely with the more classic Federalist and Neoclassical government buildings and museums throughout the city. Parks, coffee shops and roundabouts abound, and lend D.C. a distinctly European vibe, certainly differing from the sky-scraped bundle of New York. There are countless monuments and government buildings that truly fascinate me, so why not start this blog-series with the one that initially made me cringe: The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, or “The Kennedy Center” as it is more commonly known.
Upon first sight, even in high school, this Mid-Century mass of marble and glass made my inner architect shed a salty tear. Why so big? Why so rectangular? Why the gold toothpick-like columns flanking its sides?
But after attending a few concerts and musicals at the center, my opinions have warmed quite a bit. Built in 1971 after decades of discussion, the Kennedy Center lets in glorious amounts of light reflecting off the river, and shimmering through 18 one-ton chandeliers lining its hallways, a gift from Sweden.
Even more light is reflected – Versailles style – via eight 58’x 9’ mirrors adorning its interior, a gift from Belgium. There are in fact many wondrous, gorgeous gifts throughout the building from other nations, yet the building still cost $70,000,000 to complete, much higher than originally planned. (But Washington just wouldn’t be Washington if a budget weren’t smashed to bits now and then!)
Even on the exterior, over 3700 tons of White Carrara Marble were gifted from Italy and – along with its columned outdoor hallways – lends the building an airy, elegant feel, like a Greek goddess in white dress. The gold columns add the perfect dash of 70’s glamour. The ‘gold tooth picks’ then let air and light into the building and make it appear much lighter than say a heavy, ostentatious government building with massive columns and two million pounds of slate roofing on top.
The Kennedy Center is remarkable of course in many other ways than her architecture. The performances held inside (sheltered from the noise of overhead aircraft by a ‘box within a box’ design) are second to none, and world-famous talents are seen every week in her halls. Inside the red velvet belly of the building, there are even free performances every day of the year, thanks to P.A.F.E., or “Performing Arts for Everyone.”
On your next trip to Washington be sure to take a quick walk through the 63’ high sun-drenched hallways, view the massive bust of JFK or take in the views of the Potomac River outside on the cantilevered patio. The center is a beautiful specimen of 1970’s sleek, minimalist style and puts a much-needed emphasis on music, dance and the creative arts in our country.