Creating a Dance Energy
Creating a Dance Energy
Making the Todd Bolender Center for Center for Dance & Creativity
“At a time when most cities are reducing investment in the arts, how refreshing it is to be in Kansas City where the arts are flourishing.” — Michael Kaiser, President, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts From Huffington Post
When the Todd Bolender Center for Dance & Creativity opened in August 2011, it received rave reviews for its beauty (and brawn). But, beyond the beauty of the space and the important act of saving a treasured architectural relic, the facilities are, as Jeff Bentley says, “the most significant event in the history of our company.” The Bolender Center has greatly improved the quality of life for the dance troops who inhabit the space, by providing proper rehearsal spaces so the program can expand in proportion to the enormous support of the Kansas City community.
The Todd Bolender Center for Dance and Creativity, named for former Artistic Director Todd Bolender, who passed away in 2006, is a testament to the artist vision he imbued, which is adeptly carried on by current Artistic Director William Whitener. At the opening, Jeff Bentley, Executive Director of the Kansas City Ballet summed up the project by saying “BNIM put their incredible design talent & used their vision-driven process into this remarkable new home for the ballet. They have created a new dance energy.” Energy.
The reality is that “energy” is very much a part of this building’s story. There is a strong relationship between the present use of the historic building and it’s past. In dynamic contrast and, serendipitously, in parallel, the original use for the building was as a Power House. It was employed burning coal in order to generate steam and electricity to power Union Station, the surrounding rail yards and buildings. This Jarvis Hunt-designed building was completed in 1914 at the same time as Union Station, but later abandoned in the 1970s. The decaying building had daunting structural deterioration and drainage issues. However, amid the decay, there were many innovative design features that inspired a holistic adaptive reuse, such as the “Texas skylights,” which are raised portions of roof with operable glass windows that can be opened to release heat and allow natural sunlight to come in.
As constant advocates for true sustainability through the adaptive reuse of our urban buildings, BNIM welcomed the challenge of creating an organized program diagram within an existing historical building and finding innovative and creative uses for existing structures and interior elements in new applications. The historical renovation has been referred to as a "...marvel in recycling" by the Kansas City Star. The raw spaces mix with delicately interwoven architectural elements in a play off of the mechanics of dance itself.
[Left: The south boiler room is now a stunning pre-function area. Middle: The base of the masonry chimneys punctuate the catwalk with a cloister-like pause. Right: The catwalk traverses the space next to the Studio Theater with views to the pre-function space below.]
“This building was created by many; consultant team and contractors worked diligently to breathe life back into a structure that was running out of time, as the many decades of decay had taken their toll,” said Rick Schladweiler, BNIM’s Project Architect. “The restoration of the façade, structure and major features meshed seamlessly with the vision for the Todd Bolender Center.”
The expansive space left behind armatures on which to hang the future of dance. Each intervention and adaptation was carefully planned and executed, resulting in a perfect fit for the Kansas City Ballet for generations to come. The studio requirements for daylight, height, and column free volumes were accommodated in the former North Engine Room. It is brought to life by the reconstruction of the Texas Skylight and a new “floating” studio floor plate within the volume, which borrows light from the exterior windows. The restored windows, readapted with new sustainable acoya wood sashes and insulated glazing systems, provide an energy efficient assembly while silencing adjacent train noise. A gantry crane, a remnant left over from days of moving heavy equipment, is parked in its final resting place looking down over the new Studio Theater, which has a floor area that exactly matches the performance stage dimensions. Visual “portals” into the space allow even the youngest pupils to admire — and be inspired — by observing the Kansas City Ballet in practice. The reuse of industrial pipe fittings for ballet barres, an idea that dates to the earliest days of the Kansas City Ballet, are at home in the brawny riveted interior. The former South Boiler Room creates a new public realm that is unprecedented in ballet facilities.
The volume and unique structure provides organization for a new lobby and circulation zones that are flooded in a mixture of daylight. In the uppermost landings, remnants of a former horizontal chase way inspired a new catwalk circulation corridor. The catwalk passes through a cloister-like experience in the base of former masonry chimney. In the chimney base, a view upward leads to a new skylight enclosure at top, which also serves as relief air for the HVAC system. A mesh screen cylinder on the exterior, matches the original diameter of the chimney tower that was removed in the 1970s. Unique and prominent interior sloped steel structures, once simply 8 coalbunkers and 2 ash hoppers, now serve as children’s locker and dressing areas. At each coalbunker location, plate steel funnels now reign as frames for pendant light fixtures. And above all this, tucked quietly away, is a section of conveyor system that once transported ash and coal throughout the former power plant that has been adapted. Even the pivot window hardware has been simply adapted to support new light shelves. Glass block infill marks the location of furnaces in the lobby, which now allows filtered daylight into the wardrobe workroom below.
[The dance studios are filled with light from all directions. Glazed and openings happily allow the many spaces to overlap in patterns of interaction.]
The Kansas City Ballet’s vision to be a destination for dance culture is expanded much more than that by hearty community engagement and steadfast commitment to an urban location that required renewal and rejuvenation. This site completes Union Station’s restoration and rehabilitation of structures. The building meets their needs for growth. This reinvented building provides 52,000 square feet of space, seven state-of-the art studios, a physical therapy/training room, lockers and shower facilities for the company, office space for the company’s staff and archives.
From day one, the Kansas Ballet filled the space with an artistic energy and a psychic lift in soaring daylit spaces. Voluminous studios are filled with classes of all ages as they create the next generation of dancers to enrich the Kansas City community. In the end, perhaps the best commendation of all came from a former student of Todd Bolender, Michael Kaiser, who is now President of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. who said, "I can't think of one [building] that is more beautiful than this building." Coming from someone who knows the Performing Arts and has been in many venues around this country, that speaks volumes.
[The space outside the Michael and Ginger Frost Studio Theater gathers many onlookers.]
Facts about the Todd Bolender Center for Dance and Creativity
- Project Team: Client – Power House Properties; Tenant – Kansas City Ballet; Owner’s Representative - MC Realty Group
- BNIM Consultants: Structural Engineer - Structural Engineering Associates; Civil Engineer - Taliaferro and Brown; Acoustics –Acoustical Design Group, Inc.; Code Consulting - FSC Inc.; Landscape – BNIM
- Ballet Consultants: Preservation Consultant - Architectural & Historical Preservation Research, LLC; A/V - Harvest Productions Inc.; Exhibit Design – Eisterhold Associates Inc.; FF&E - Contract Furnishings
- Contractors: Contractor – J.E. Dunn Construction; Design-Build MEP – Gibbens Drake Scott, Inc, Mark One Electric Company, Inc., & US Engineering
- Original 1914 building designed by Jarvis Hunt, architect of Kansas City’s Commerce Tower, Union Station and Kansas City Star headquarters
- $39 million renovation (five year construction project)
- 52,000 square feet
- 6 studios featuring natural light, column-free space and enormous height
- 180-seat performance theatre
- Physical therapy/training room and lockers/shower facilities, Administrative offices, costumes, wardrobes and production areas