Kansas City, Mo., is not necessarily a city that comes to mind when you think of an arts destination, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Home to several museums, including the nationally recognized Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the city also boasts a symphony orchestra, an opera, and a ballet company. And now, with the opening of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts this past fall, the city's spot as an arts powerhouse has been solidified.

The building was a labor of love for the project's chairwoman, philanthropist Julia Irene Kauffman, as she saw her mother's vision through to completion. Muriel McBrien Kauffman had wanted a performing arts center for the city, and started planning it in 1994. In 2000, Julia Kauffman and the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation—a fund established by Julia's late mother to support arts organizations in Kansas City—made a gift of $105 million to launch the project.

Located on a five-acre site in the heart of the city, the building helps weave together three distinct neighborhoods: downtown, the Crossroads Arts District, and the Power & Light District. Designed by architect Moshe Safdie and his firm, Cambridge, Mass.–based Safdie Architects, the project sits confidently on the city's horizon, and its unique architectural form—a ribbed, helmetlike shape—gives Kansas City a notable landmark.

While the Kauffman Center as a whole strikes a sizeable urban presence, the real cause for celebration is its technical prowess, most of which is hidden in its structure, acoustical performance, and lighting. The center is made up of several buildings in one, wrapped in an envelope of metal and glass. It has two main performance halls, Helzberg Hall, which will be the Kansas City Symphony's permanent new home, and the Muriel Kauffman Theater, which will be the performance space for the Kansas City Ballet and the Lyric Opera of Kansas City.

Each hall is structurally independent of one another as well as the main glass-enclosed lobby area known as Brandmeyer Hall. This was done to assure state-of-the-art acoustical conditions in each of the performance venues, something not lost on the world-class musicians, vocalists, and dancers who performed during the building's opening celebrations.

The same attention to detail that is paid to the architecture, structure, and acoustics is also paid to the lighting, both inside and out. Safdie Architects worked with Cambridge, Mass.–based Lam Partners on the architectural lighting, and with Los Angeles–based Theatre Projects Consultants on the theatrical lighting.

As Glenn Heinmiller, Lam Partners' principle-in-charge of the project, explains, his firm has a long history of working with Safdie's office. In designing the lighting for the Kauffman Center, he knew it would need to be about keeping the lighting to a focused minimum in order to highlight the architectural features.

One of the most dynamic of these features is the building's 65-foot-tall by 330-foot-wide glass curtainwall, which wraps the front of the building and reveals the interiors to passersby. This dramatic expanse of glass is further highlighted by 27 high-tension steel cables that anchor both the glass wall and the sloping metal roof above it, and this canopy of cables is one of the key elements of the entry drive.

Heinmiller and his team, with the assistance of local lighting firm Derek Porter Studio, have artfully lit this exterior space in a seemingly simple, yet technically sophisticated, way. Five different luminaires work in concert to illuminate the drive and its architectural features. To start, 70W metal halide (MH) floodlights with a narrow beam spread wash the structural cables. A 39W MH forward-throw bollard lights the driveway surface, and the luminaire acts as a guide to demarcate the walkway from the roadway. In-ground LED marker lights provide the edge for the building side of the roadway. And at the building base, the architectural niches along the façade are highlighted with 20W in-ground MH lensed wallwashers and soffit-recessed MR16 halogens with an adjustable gimbal.

Despite the scale of the building, the lighting design provides an intimate feel and sets the stage for the spectacle within. It perfectly complements the center, and helps to complete Muriel Kauffman's vision for Kansas City's ascendance in the arts.


Project: The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, Kansas City, Mo.

Architect: Safdie Architects, Cambridge, Mass.

Associate Architect: BNIM Architects, Kansas City, Mo.

Acoustics: Nagata Acoustics, Tokyo and Los Angeles

Structural Engineer and M/E/P Engineers: Arup, New York

Lighting Designer: Lam Partners, Cambridge, Mass., in association with Derek Porter Studio, Kansas City, Mo.

Theater Design and Theater Lighting: Theatre Projects Consultants, Los Angeles

Project Size: 285,000 square feet (total); Muriel Kauffman Theatre (18,900 square feet); Helzberg Hall (16,800 square feet); Brandmeyer Great Hall (15,000 square feet); Arts District Terrace (113,000 square feet)

Project Cost: $413 million

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