Rafael Viñoly Architects inspired by cello in flexible performance space design
For the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, Rafael Viñoly Architects PC was tasked with providing a state-of-the-art home for the Philadelphia Orchestra, a flexible theater for multiple types of performances, and a major new public space for the city of Philadelphia. Sited along the Avenue of the Arts cultural corridor on Broad Street, the premises would further the revitalization of this primary north-south axis in the downtown area, as well.
The resulting Kimmel Center treats the main program components as freestanding buildings on a vast indoor public plaza, Commonwealth Plaza, enclosed by a brick, steel, and concrete perimeter building and topped by an immense steel-and-glass barrel vault roof that floods the interior with natural light.
The main symphony hall, the 2,500-seat Verizon Hall, applies the acoustic principles of a cello on a vast scale, creating a mahogany-wrapped music space shaped like the body of the instrument. A series of operable doors augment the naturally resonant shape by allowing sound to flow into reverberation chambers that occupy the 16 ft wide interstitial spaces between the Verizon Hall enclosure and its interior. A configurable acoustic canopy above the stage directs sound energy out to the audience while allowing the musicians to hear themselves clearly.
The Perelman Theater, an intimate, flexible recital hall, can accommodate an audience of 650 for cultural performances and other events. Its turntable stage enables transformation from a conventional proscenium to a smaller stage with a concert shell and wraparound seating. A winter garden tops the theater and features striking views of the Kimmel Center interior and the city skyline.
Commonwealth Plaza, a sheltered extension of the sidewalk, encourages the fabric of the city to flow into the complex where cafés, free performances, spectacular architecture, and the people who visit combine to create a dynamic civic experience.
“I used to play the cello, and there is a very direct connection between playing the instrument and creating a space like Verizon Hall," says Rafael Viñoly. "When making music, the intellectual and emotional aspects of playing must be connected to the kinetic, muscular efforts involved. They’re the same thing. And the best architecture comes from knowing they’re the same.”