The World Trade Center Performing Arts Center has long been embraced as a concept. But for years, it was little more than an idea, plagued (like so many of the developments at the WTC site) by uncertainty and false starts.
That changed this morning when, on the 10th floor of 7 World Trade Center in a room overlooking the reflecting pools of the 9/11 Memorial, developer Larry Silverstein joined World Trade Center master planner Daniel Libeskind, architect Joshua Prince-Ramus, and the center’s President and Director Maggie Boepple to unveil the Performing Arts Center's final design, finally giving vision to the last unknown at the epochal site.
Brooklyn-based firm REX was chosen as the center’s architect in November 2015 following a rigorous design competition. "When Joshua [Prince-Ramus] brought out the model at his studio in Brooklyn," Boepple recalled of visiting the finalists, "I had to turn to the wall because I knew we found our architect." REX’s vision is a complete departure from the site’s earlier design by Frank Gehry. It is at once new yet familiar, contemporary yet classic. Perhaps unintentionally, the marble structure speaks to its travertine forebears at Lincoln Center while also, in its shape, resembling the void of the nearby reflecting pools.
"This is a building that is dedicated to the production and premiering of unique, original pieces of art. It is also a very important piece of new civic infrastructure for lower Manhattan and both of these come with an incredible amount of vitality and energy," Prince-Ramus said before unveiling the design. "We must figure out an appropriate way for this energy to exist directly adjacent to the single most important memorial on US soil." For the team at REX, that was by designing a simple and pure form.
The Perelman, as the center will be known following a $75 million charitable donation from billionaire Ronald Perelman, will take the form of a slightly off-center box—Prince-Ramus admits this is because of below-grade constraints—whose dominant facade material will be a marble cut so thin it’s translucent. The quarry REX proposes to cull from is the same quarry that gave shape to the Supreme Court building and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. It isn’t just a pleasant concept; it’s a concept that instantly fixes the Performing Arts Center as a national treasure.
The marble will be laminated between two pieces of glass that are then insulated, protecting the building and creating an energy efficient seal. The facade will allow light in during the day and out in the evening. Despite its lack of windows, the movement of light through the facade will break the idea of theater as hermetic box. Blackout shades will be at the ready throughout the building, but won’t be fixed in place.
Not much in the building will be fixed in place, least of which will be the configuration of its theaters. Boepple says The Perelman will have "untold capabilities" owing to its flexible spaces, shaped by a series of movable walls. REX teamed with Charcoalblue to imagine the vast potential of the space; the production level’s three performance spaces and seven movable acoustic walls will allow for 11 different configurations that will house everything from intimate shows sans microphones to rock concerts attended by 1,200 people.
"The more people use the building, while we hope that they will take it as their own, the more they will simply not understand how all of these varied experiences can be happening within one single structure," Prince-Ramos said. Perelman indicated as much, saying "I think it’s going to become the iconic performing arts center in the world." Barbra Streisand will serve as The Perelman’s chairman.
Of the $250 million needed to construct the building, $175 million has already been raised: $75 million through Perelman, and $100 million through the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, using federal funds provided after September 11. The difference will be raised through private donations. No funds for the project will come directly from the city or state.
It’s an ambitious project all around, and one that’s timed to the area’s changing status as a neighborhood that’s not merely for office workers, but also for the recent influx of residents and tourists. "I recognize how far we’ve come in the past 15 years and the transformation downtown is really sort of remarkable," Larry Silverstein said, "I remember what this was like before 9/11 and on a weekend you could role a bowling ball down the middle of Wall Street...It’s more attractive than it’s ever been before." The theater is expected to open in 2020.