The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, new home of the world-renowned Philadelphia Orchestra, recently opened to rave reviews from critics, and, most importantly, from the artists, dancers, musicians and audiences of Philadelphia.
Far more than a mere concert and recital hall, the Kimmel Center represents a rich tapestry of architecture, acoustic brilliance, and versatility, woven from the cultural fibers of the city itself, due in no small measure to the work of Theatre Projects Consultants. When the Kimmel Center was in the planning stages, TPC organized an extensive programming exercise, including many meetings with every constituent who would potentially use the facilities.
“We tried to represent everyone in Philadelphia and to achieve an environment in which their imaginations could soar — where they could expand their operations and realize their vision in a space that they felt would work for them,” says David Taylor, TPC project manager for the Kimmel Center.
“We worked with a world-class team in an organized manner, with a foot-high pile of questionnaires to learn about where they were currently and what aspirations each organization had for the future.”
The Kimmel Center houses two performing venues: the 2,500-seat concert hall, Verizon Hall, new home for the Philadelphia Orchestra; and the multiform Perelman Theatre, a 620-seat recital hall and theatre. Verizon Hall, with acoustics by Russell Johnson of Artec Consultants, is destined to be one of the great concert halls of North America. Its sophisticated acoustics and performance equipment, designed by TPC, includes a massive overhead acoustic canopy in three pans and computer-controlled doors that surround the entire hall to open the volume to the reverberation chambers beyond. In addition, TPC equipped the flexible stage with coordinated suspension points and a full stage lighting system with fibre-optic data backbone and audio-visual equipment.
The highest priority throughout the design was for the symphonic acoustics. This is a hall for one of the world’s great orchestras, noted for its lush, velvety sound. But Verizon Hall also proved its versatility in its first month of operation with performances by superstar Elton John (who used an extensive “rock-and-roll” moving light rig, live and recorded video, and a high sound pressure level reinforcement rig) and an ice show. Verizon Hall is also the first to have extensive built-in projection facilities that may be used as an adjunct to symphonic performances. The opening performance events were simulcast on public television nationally and on the web internationally.
The smaller Perelman Theatre is a unique space with two basic “modes” of operation. In “recital mode” Perelman becomes a miniature concert hall, perfect for chamber music and soloists, with the platform stage end of the room surrounded by three levels of audience galleries that provide an orchestra shell. In “theatre mode” the entire stage end of the room revolves, the shell moves into a garage behind the stage and exposes an 80 by 40 foot stage with fly tower above, on which a full set of scenery could be preset. The stage has a sprung floor to support its major constituent, the modern dance company Philadanco. The orchestra floor’s raked seating is located on a wagon that is in turn placed on an elevator. When lowered to the basement, all the seating may be removed to provide a flat floor throughout the hall. This creates a totally flexible space for arena, thrust or multiple stages, or a promenade space for experimental theatre, dance or music, or even social events such as parties, balls and cabarets. “Verizon Hall is off to a promising start,” wrote Peter Dobrin of the Philadelphia Inquirer in December. “The Philadelphia Orchestra played its first full concert in its new home Saturday night, and it is already apparent that Verizon’s general sound concept is a success…. the basic bones of a great hall are all there. The orchestra has resonance at home for the first time. The individual sections of the orchestra project with a one-musician-one-note evenness. When the orchestra reaches peak volume — as it did Saturday night at the end of the second suite from Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe — the sound does not buckle. Musicians say they can hear one another.”
Herbert Muschamp of The New York Times wrote, “The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts is precise, luminous architecture for lovers of rich cultivated sound. The building puts Philadelphia on a new cultural footing for the 21st century. Mr. Vinoly [the architect] has designed an urban ensemble, composed primarily of city views. Classical music is the architecture here, the building an instrument in which to perform and hear it.”