One of Edward Durell Stone's last major works, the Kennedy Center represents an enlarged version of a form he developed to great acclaim in the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi—a low-slung box with a surrounding single row of thin columns supporting an overhanging roof. In New Delhi, metal filigree grilles softened the building's severe geometry. The Kennedy Center program called for three major auditoriums, greatly magnifying the box, and the building's size then outweighed the relief provided by the narrow, bronze-painted exterior columns.
For many years, the DAR Constitution Hall (see FB05) and Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University (see FB17.10) had been the only sizeable auditoriums available for performing arts groups in the city. After World War II, plans for a national cultural center were made by a congressionally appointed committee. Prospective sites included the Southwest Renewal Area and Foggy Bottom.
By 1960, Stone had proposed plans for a curvilinear structure along the Potomac River north of Memorial Bridge to include three major theaters and a prominent overlook adjacent to the river; it was later altered. Commenting on his approach, Stone once said, “In considering the general building type, I would say that Washington is primarily a city of white buildings in a park-like setting. I would see no reason for departing from that.” After the death of President Kennedy in 1963, Congress decided to build the center as a memorial.
Critics condemned the building, though general public reaction to this modern rendition of a classic Washington monument has been enthusiastic. Its larger-than-life hallways, thickly carpeted in red, convey the sensation of a grand and important place. Moreover, the building fulfilled its purpose: to draw performing artists of national and international stature to the city.