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Kennedy Center’s $250M REACH addition debuts Saturday

It’s the first expansion of the site since its dedication in 1971

Two modern pavilions made of gray material. One has an overhang. The sky above them is deep blue.
The REACH complex at the Kennedy Center
The Washington Post/Getty Images

The campus of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will grow 4.6 acres with the opening of its new REACH area this Saturday, September 7, the center’s first expansion since premiering in 1971. Designed by Steven Holl Architects, the $250 million project will roughly double the Kennedy Center’s outdoor space, bolster its public areas by 20 percent, and add 72,000 square feet of interior space across three pavilions near the Potomac River.

The project has been more than six years in the making, with the design being announced in early 2013. A ceremonial groundbreaking was held in late 2014 and regulatory approvals as well as construction followed. The original budget for the project, since increased, was $100 million. REACH includes 11 “flexible spaces” for various uses, an outdoor stage and a video wall, 130,000 square feet of landscaping—including 35 gingko trees—and an arts cafe. It is linked to the main Kennedy Center building and, via a new pedestrian bridge, the riverfront.

A 16-day opening festival planned from September 7 through September 22 will feature more than 1,000 artists and 500 free events, according to the center. The days will have themes and involve workshops, interactive installations, DJ performances, stand-up sets, and film screenings, among other activities. While free, the events require timed-entry passes, which are available either online, by phone at 202-467-4600, or in person at the center’s box office.

“Local and national headliners include Arrested Development, De La Soul, Kronos Quartet, Roomful of Teeth, The Second City, Thievery Corporation, Debbie Allen, Yalitza Aparicio, Bootsy Collins, Renée Fleming, Judah Friedlander, Robert Glasper, Angélique Kidjo, Alan Menken, Tiler Peck, Carrie Mae Weems, Mo Willems, and Dan Zanes,” the Kennedy Center notes in a recent release. The opening festival is being primarily sponsored by Wells Fargo.

Philanthropist and billionaire David Rubenstein, who has been chair of the Kennedy Center’s board since 2010, helped spearhead the capital campaign for REACH. In a statement earlier this year, Kennedy Center head Deborah Rutter described the expansion’s purpose as such:

“More and more, today’s audiences crave connection—with art and with each other—while artists and arts organizations desire customized spaces that nurture their creative endeavors. The REACH will fulfill many of those needs, all within a one-of-a-kind design that is a work fo art in and of itself. We imagine an energized, active space where visitors can go behind the scenes, observe an intimate performance, or simply sit and enjoy the stunning architecture and river views, surrounded by the energy of art in progress.”

Mayor Muriel Bowser will speak at the opening Saturday. Renderings of the site are below.

An aerial rendering of the Kennedy Center REACH expansion, showing three pavilions and grassy areas along the river.
Rendering of the REACH expansion
Kennedy Center/Steven Holl Architects
A rendering of an airy pavilion filled with tables, visitors, and dangling lights.
Rendering of the skylight pavilion
Kennedy Center/Steven Holl Architects
A rendering of the grassy grounds of the REACH expansion at the Kennedy Center.
Rendering of the REACH grounds
Kennedy Center/Steven Holl Architects