Nearly Two Decades in the Making: Kauffman Center Opens Its Doors | KCUR

Nearly Two Decades in the Making: Kauffman Center Opens Its Doors

Sep 16, 2011

The concrete-and-glass shell-shaped Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts opens tonight. And it's been almost two decades in the making.

Kansas City, Mo. – A bit of giddiness was in the air at a media preview yesterday - tempered by awareness of the work ahead.

With her bright blonde hair, and tailored pink suit, Julia Irene Kauffman, in her trademark throaty voice, describes how it all began.

It was 1994 and she recalls her mother, Muriel McBrien Kauffman, drafting a mission statement for her foundation. The economy was high, and markets soaring.

"And somebody said, 'What about all this extra money, Mrs. Kauffman?'," says Kauffman. "And she said, 'Build a performing arts center.' And off she went."

Muriel Kauffman, the widow of Kansas City benefactor and businessman Ewing Kauffman, died in 1995. And Julia Irene Kauffman kept the project going.

The Israeli-born Boston-based architect Moshe Safdie was selected for the project in 2000. He famously sketched his design for a performing arts center on a cocktail napkin.

"We were dining at the American Restaurant, looking across the site," says Safdie. "And it just struck me how unique it is, because it's visible from everywhere in the city."

But remember, those were heady, expansive times. The economy was flush. 9/11, and subsequent financial shocks bit deep into the pockets of potential funders. The original proposal was scaled down.

Construction finally began in early 2007.

Safdie says the most challenging aspect for him was designing the "perfect instrument" through an intense collaboration of different disciplines. But, he's pleased with the outcome.

"I would say now that we've walked around, listened a little bit, that both in terms of the theatre design and in terms of acoustics, this is world class," says Safdie. "It's more than world class, it's the best that there is around. And that is testimony to the collaboration that took place."

photos: Laura Spencer/KCUR

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