Capitol Culture Complex


Credit: Reason Magazine

What happens when you put the wrong building on the wrong site? As this model demonstrates, you can try to fix both the building and the site. This plan is the work of architect Rafael Viñoly; Washington, D.C.'s Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts wants to use his vision to expand a notoriously unwelcoming building even while trying to reconceive an atrocious location.

Built in 1971, the KenCen could have been placed in a commercial setting (one possible site was on 14th Street) but was instead isolated at the edge of a tangle of sunken freeways. It's far from anything you want to do. Dinner before the show? A drink later? Go to another neighborhood.

The grand ramp here is intended to cover the moat of freeways, connect the KenCen to Washington, and support rehearsal and other space omitted in Edward Durrell Stone's original design. The Washington Post says brightly that "passersby would be able to look through the glass front [of the new buildings] and see dancers, actors and singers going through their paces."

That's nice. All that's wanting is some reason for there to be any passersby: There's still no commerce to generate street activity.

What public culture really needs is a good downtown corner. In Washington, it gets ever-expanding ceremonial plazas.