Voided slab technique ‘REACHes’ Kennedy Center

The first-ever expansion for Washington, D.C.’s iconic John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts opened in early September to much fanfare with a 16-day festival. Designed by Steven Holl Architects, the REACH is anchored by three signature pavilions—Welcome, Skylight and River—that stretch across more than 130,000 square feet of landscape overlooking the Potomac River. The highly sustainable addition is on track to attain LEED Gold certification and serves as a living theater, immersive learning center and public arts incubator.

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PHOTOS: Richard Barnes, courtesy of Arup

Arup was involved in the creation of signature engineering features of the project including a void slab design. The approach, commonly deployed in Europe but used infrequently in the United States, has plastic balls embedded in the concrete to reduce the overall deadweight to allow for longer spans. The team also designed an under-floor, concrete trench system to enable the building services to be distributed out of sightline, thereby preserving the integrity of the architectural vision. Arup coordinated closely with the Holl design team to ensure that each component of the building’s systems was effectively woven into the slab system on schedule.

The mechanical engineer is also behind the REACH’s impressive energy performance. Arup developed a combination of strategies that incorporate a range of performance-enhancing technologies, including a standalone closed-loop, ground source heat rejection system, which provides simultaneous hot and chilled water; and advanced temperature controls that enable different areas of the interior to be heated and cooled simultaneously without significantly increasing energy requirements. Using Arup’s robust in-house software suite, Oasys Building Environmental Analysis (BEANS), the team demonstrated that the addition of radiant floors would counteract the thermal effects of the Skylight Pavilion’s massive curved wall, providing both heating and cooling and significantly boosting comfort throughout the year while keeping energy demands within acceptable levels.

“The Kennedy Center has been an important cultural touchstone for half a century and we’re thrilled to be a part of the design team to help shape the future of this landmark institution,” says Gregory Giammalvo, the REACH project director and principal at Arup.

“Our team brought the depth of experience and knowledge needed to incorporate building systems in very non-traditional ways to support Steven Holl’s clear vision for the REACH’s interior spaces,” adds Geoffrey Eddy, the REACH project manager and associate at Arup.