Creating the Kennedy Center
by Hicks Stone
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts was problematic for the office of architect Edward Durell Stone. At the project's inception as the National Cultural Center, Washington, D.C., had lacked a venue for performing arts commensurate with the city's role in the life of the nation and the world.
Roger L. Stevens and the cultural center's board of trustees reviewed the original Stone design in January 1962 and, after considering the possibility of building portions of the building in phases, rejected the design outright as too expensive to build. A new construction budget of $31 million was established. Stone was asked to produce an alternative design, and, after reviewing a series of options with Stevens, the architect revived a dormant scheme that he had rejected in the office's early design process.
Borrowing the overall form of the building from Henry Bacon's Lincoln Memorial and Stone's own U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, the front of the building consisted of an attenuated colonnade supporting a cantilevered cornice, with an attic floor set well back from the edge of the cornice. The plan positioned the three principal performance halls off of a ceremonial corridor that ran the length of the building, while two smaller corridors separated the three theaters.
Initially, the project received unremarkable reviews, certainly not ones that would bear a resemblance to those that greeted the project on its opening nine years later. Instead, there were a series of contentious exchanges over the location of the project, specifically concerning its isolation and the tangle of highways that circumscribed the site.
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