Architecture studio Rex has unveiled the Perelman Center for the Performing Arts clad in translucent marble on the site of the World Trade Center in New York.
Located next to One World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan, the Rex-designed Perelman Center for the Performing Arts consists of a cubic structure with a delicate marble cladding. Davis Brody Bond served as executive engineer on the project.
The thin stone allows light to pass through, creating an ambient light inside during the day and a glowing effect at night. Natural patterns in the stone are arranged to create a relatively symmetrical pattern across the facade.
Marble is placed between the glass panels, which helps protect the interior from noise. The transparent material was also chosen for its ability to let light in while concealing activity within the building.
“He made it clear to us that you shouldn’t see any kind of commercial activity from the memorial,” Joshua Ramos, Rex’s founding director, told Dezeen.
“The idea of creating translucent marble was for it to be pure, elegant and respectful of the neighboring site, but then have the ability to assert itself at night when it is ready for work.”
The need to respect the memorial adjacent to the destroyed World Trade Center buildings was not the only challenge for the site.
It sits atop four floors of city infrastructure, including the subway systems and the Port Authority Building access ramp. As a result, Perelman’s core spaces had to be raised 21 feet (6.4 m) above street level, marked externally by a black plinth beneath the marble structure.
Furthermore, the architecture studio had to deal with existing foundation remnants from the scrapped Frank Gehry building that was initially planned for the site.
“All of the substandard infrastructure was built based on a Frank Gehry design,” Ramos said.
“So we had to go back and modify or reverse engineer the structure and find any place where we could connect the structure through what was built. His building was twice the size of ours.”
The studio found the seven load-bearing columns left behind by Gehry’s project and “played a tornado game” to support the new building. This limitation led to the structure’s dramatic cantilevered entrance, which Ramos said many people mistakenly thought was an “arrogant” design, adding that if they had a cantilever, it could have been just as dramatic.
In addition to the structural complexities, the site also led to challenges in the program for the performance areas, an aspect that Ramos said was pivotal to the overall building concept.
“Everyone talks about the facade, but what is very interesting is the reconfigurable halls,” he said.
The space contains three stages of different sizes laid out in a cruciform shape, with circulation areas around its perimeter.
A combination of four massive guillotine walls that open the stages to rotation and each other, and removable balconies and reconfigurable floors and seating allow for sixty-two different configurations of performances.
Given the lack of underground space, the team crammed the program, placing the lobby on the lower level, the backstage facilities on the second floor, and the performance spaces themselves upstairs.
This method refers to the stacking method used by Ramos at the Wylie Theater in Dallas, and Ramos noted that Perelman was replicating the ideas used in this design.
In order to have the systems needed to lower and raise the floors, Rex included a series of tubes containing threaded stainless steel segments that twist and untwist, allowing the floor to be operable.
This choice was made because standard hydraulic elevators would have required raising the building two more floors, according to Ramos.
The glass on the exterior helps isolate the performance spaces from the hustle and bustle of Lower Manhattan. The expanses of steel and marble casing were left relatively unattached.
“y“The halls are a box in a box,” Ramos said. “It’s literally not connected to the rest of the building,” he continued.
“TThey’re isolated from the building and the building’s vibrations and they’re isolated from each other – so you can have synchronized performances.”
Rex consulted with a series of creative directors in planning the various configurations that led the team to target spaces that allowed for “suspension of disbelief.”
Ramos emphasizes that this focus on performance was the guiding principle of the design and that those who reviewed early designs “never once talked about how the building would function,” focusing instead on how “iconic” the design was.
“I will say, if you’re building a glowing stone cube in the middle of Manhattan, it’s hard to say that’s not symbolic, but it’s also not really the point,” Ramos said.
Given the reconfigurable nature of the interior and the subtle effect of the marble, Ramos said the structure is intended to evoke a sense of mystery.
“The concealment created the idea of the mystery box, so that over time, as people used the building, instead of revealing itself to you, it became more mysterious.”
New York-based studio Rockwell Group carried out the interior design of the lobby and restaurant areas.
The Perelman Building is one of the last buildings in architect Daniel Libeskind’s 2003 master plan for the World Trade Center site.
Nearby, Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava recently completed a church that also features a delicate stone cladding that is illuminated at night.
Ramos was a founding partner of OMA’s New York office and bought out OMA founder Rem Koolhaas’s shares in the branch, renaming the studio Rex in 2006. Other notable projects under Ramos’ supervision include the Seattle Public Library.
Photography by Iwan Baan.
Design engineer: Rex
Executive architect: Davis Brodie Bond
Theater consultant: Charcoal blue
Acoustics: Phonics threshold
Interior architect for restaurants and lobby: Rockwell Group
Structural Engineer: MK
Structural consulting engineer: Salman
Get to know your donors and sign designer: inside
Interface Consultant: Before
Lighting design consultancy: Tillotson
Project Manager (Design and Pre-Construction): dpi