The REACH is the first major expansion of Washington D.C.’s renowned Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and has been made almost entirely self-sustaining utilising technologies developed by Arup.
Opened in September 2019, this iconic new addition, designed by noted architect Steven Holl, is anchored by three signature pavilions that stretch across a sweeping, green lawn overlooking the Potomac River. The Welcome Pavilion, Skylight Pavilion and River Pavilion echo and extend the adjacent main building and link together below-ground to form an expansive facility providing classrooms, studios and a variety of multi-use public spaces.
Intended to break down the traditional barriers separating art and audience, the REACH's design prioritises porous, open space, natural light and clean lines. To support the architect’s design vision for the project while also meeting ambitious sustainability targets, Arup’s integrated team of engineers and consultants collaborated closely to develop a holistic building systems strategy that optimises energy performance while remaining largely unseen. The strategy incorporates a range of performance-enhancing technologies, including a closed-loop, ground source heat rejection system, advanced temperature controls and radiant floor heating, which combine to make the REACH self-sufficient nearly year-round and have put the project on track to earn LEED Gold.
Design excellence in action
“The Arup team brought the depth of experience and knowledge needed to incorporate building systems in very non-traditional ways to support the architect’s clear vision for the project,” says Geoffrey Eddy, Arup’s Project Manager for the REACH. For instance, the team’s expertise in advanced analysis provided great benefit when it came to the design of the Skylight Pavilion. The pavilion’s main feature is a massive, curved-glass wall that presents heating and cooling challenges. Arup used the Oasys Building Environmental Analysis Suite (BEANS)—a robust software tool developed in-house—to perform a comprehensive thermal comfort analysis, which demonstrated that using radiant floors to provide both heating and cooling would significantly boost comfort throughout the year while keeping energy demands within acceptable levels. When the architect had a difficult time finding a standard grille for the radiant floor system that met their design criteria, Arup also worked with them to develop custom grilles.
The team also designed an under-floor, concrete trench system to enable the REACH’s building services to be distributed out of sightline, thereby preserving the integrity of Holl’s design. To ensure that this approach didn’t undermine the ability of operations staff to access services in the event of a problem, Arup coordinated with the architect to create a “knock out” concrete panel to provide direct access to the largest trench.
A “void slab” design, which is commonly deployed in Europe but used infrequently in the US, incorporates plastic “footballs” into the concrete to reduce the overall deadweight and allow for longer spans. To ensure that each component of the building’s systems was effectively woven into the slab system on schedule, Arup met with the design team regularly and coordinated closely with the contractor.
The REACH’s fire protection systems were also designed with a clear focus on visual integrity. Arup fire protection expert Ray Grill helped the design team route sprinklers through interior spaces in an unobtrusive manner. In addition to meeting safety standards, this bespoke sprinkler approach reduced costs.
Leveraging global best practices and technological advancements to maximise efficiency
One major contributor to the REACH’s impressive energy performance is the standalone closed-loop, ground source heat rejection system developed by Arup in cooperation with the client’s sustainability consultant. The system employs a water-to-water heat pump capable of providing simultaneous hot and chilled water, while extracting or rejecting energy into the ground, rather than directly into the river.
The Kennedy Center has been an important cultural touchstone for half a century and we’re thrilled to be a part of the design team to help shape the future of this landmark institution. ”Gregory Giammalvo Principal, Buildings
To boost the system’s geothermal connectivity, Arup specified the use of bentonite-enhanced grout. Already widely deployed in Europe, this approach was unfamiliar to the Kennedy Center’s authorities of jurisdiction (AHJ). To counter their concerns about the additive’s potential effects on the water table, the team collaborated with geotechnical staff in our London office to demonstrate that bentonite posed no environmental risks. The REACH's highly efficient heat rejection system produces a surplus of chilled water at various points throughout the year, which is then used to supply other areas on campus, enhancing overall efficiency.
The HVAC system was also designed to maximise energy performance. To provide simultaneous heating and cooling to different areas of the interior without significantly increasing the system’s energy requirements, Arup developed advanced temperature controls and custom dampers that stop warmer air from flowing over the fin tubes into the cooler rooms.
Our team brought the depth of experience and knowledge needed to incorporate building systems in very non-traditional ways to support Steven Holl’s clear vision for the REACH’s interior spaces. ” Geoffrey Eddy Arup Project Manager | The REACH