Symphony In Wood

Muriel McBrien Kauffman Theatre

The Center’s most distinctive spaces are the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Theatre, Helzberg Hall, Brandmeyer Great Hall, as well as its acoustical design & accessibility. Each space contains dramatic eye- and ear-catching design that combines sophisticated aesthetics, acoustics & technology with the intimacy of a smaller space & the comforts of home.

Designed by renowned architect Moshe Safdie, Somerville, Massachusetts, the gorgeous wood interior was fabricated by AWI member firm Mark Richey Woodworking & Design, Inc. of Newburyport, Massachusetts. Woodwork included wall paneling & planking, doors & frames, trim, acoustical slat-wall system with structural support & a balcony rail system with structural framing. Acoustics was naturally an important consideration in the design of the $304 million performing arts center. “Ongoing communication during design allowed for seamless integration of acoustic features into final design,” explains architect Isaac Franco of Safdie & Associates. Also of help were the construction of a model of the hall as well as mockups to confirm design intent & acoustic properties.

Wood Warmth
The warmth of Douglas Fir was selected to evoke the sense of being inside a finely tuned instrument, reports Franco. Walls, slats & other vertical surfaces, as well as seat backs & bottoms were constructed of Fir for its warm color, acoustic properties & tight, even grain. The floor is made of Oak & the platform of Yellow Cedar. The horseshoe-shaped balcony levels were the most noteworthy portion of the woodwork package, adds Mark Richey’s Gregory Porfido. “It was the most intricate because the section profile was continuously changing along its length. The enormous sidewalls & sidewall wedges are clad with a series of one-foot wide beveled Douglas Fir planks. The ten-foot-high sidewalls were curved both in plan & elevation with the planks rising & falling along the sidewall length. The 40-foot-tall acoustical slat-wall system includes a complete structural system for support.”

Building Features Elevation Drawing
The always-busy Performing Arts Center is nearly 285,000 square feet. Exterior surfaces include glass, pre-cast concrete & bead-blasted stainless steel. The glass-encased lobby features 27 cables anchored by the weight of the pre-cast walls which hold up the glass. Aside from the performance halls, the Center houses office space for staff plus rehearsal spaces, warm-up rooms & dressing rooms. The Brandmeyer Great Hall is a large glass-enclosed area that serves both halls. Guests can enter from the north or south of the building. A box office, coat check, refreshment bars & a gift shop are part of the center. Several elevators in the Brandmeyer Great Hall make the center fully accessible. The 1,600-seat Helzberg Hall hosts a variety of local, regional, national & international artists & performance groups, including serving as the performance home of the Kansas City Symphony. The venue is oval in shape & the stage extends approximately one-third of the distance into the Hall, thus placing 40% of the seats alongside or behind the Sheridan Wall Section Detailorchestra. This creates an intimate & immersive experience for both artists & audiences & allows a portion of the audience to experience the musician’s perspective during performance. The distance from the stage to Helzberg Hall’s farthest seat is just over 100 feet. The visual centerpiece of Helzberg Hall is a Casavant Frères pipe organ, one of the finest concert hall organs in the country. Quebec-based firm Casavant Frères has custom-designed the mechanical organ in the French romantic tradition, with 79 stops, 102 ranks, & 5,548 pipes. The Muriel Kauffman Theatre presents a diversity of entertainers & performances from around the world, including pop & country entertainers, Broadway productions, comedy shows, & more. It is also the performance home of the Kansas City Ballet & Lyric Opera of Kansas City.

3-D Modeling
One of the most interesting, & valuable, aspects of the project was the use of 3-D modeling software by the woodworking firm. It enabled them to digitally model the different curvatures & complex geometry of each woodwork part while effectively managing & keeping track of the project’s thousands of unique parts. To develop the complex woodwork for the domed Helzberg Hall, Mark Richey Woodworking needed to ensure that each wood part aligned perfectly with other parts to create smooth, polished surfaces. Additionally, specific density requirements dictated by the acoustical design needed to be met. “Creating digital prototypes of the various wooden elements allowed us to identify & fix problems ahead of time, before we cut a single piece of wood,” explains Ritch Winokur, engineering manager at Mark Richey Woodworking. “If there was any interference between the parts & the structural elements of the hall, or among the parts themselves, we would just remodel the part with the software.” The 3-D modeling “helped us to overcome one of the biggest challenges on this project: modeling parts twisting evenly through the space,” he summarizes.

Great Cast
Porfido notes that tremendous harmony existed on the project, despite its size, with everyone working together. “We kept pushing the schedule & began pre-planning early on with all trades.” Mark Richey Woodworking suggested changing the construction from solid wood to veneer to improve the quality & save money. Substructures originally designed as field framing & drywall were re-engineered as prefabricated, shop-built structures. “We respected the design & worked hard to execute it,” adds Porfido. “The architect respected our expertise in woodwork & thoughtfully revised & resolved millwork details.” “It was a great pleasure working with both Mark Richey Woodworking & the general contractor,” adds Franco. “They did not just carry out details without thinking; they reviewed our drawings & improved on our details where appropriate. During construction we all worked together to ensure the best possible installation for the project.” The design of the Kauffman Theatre’s expanded facilities will provide dramatically enhanced performance capabilities—including a vast 5,000-square-foot stage; a larger orchestra pit that can accommodate 95 musicians; increased backstage facilities; a 74-foot tall fly tower; & a flexible proscenium stage opening. The theatre’s fly tower allows for scenery as tall as 30 feet to be flown above the stage, allowing productions to make use of more sophisticated scenic design elements.

This article is from the Design Solutions Summer 2012 edition
. – Design Solutions Magazine is the official journal of the Architectural Woodwork Institute. Each quarterly issue showcases beautiful examples of fine architectural woodwork manufactured by AWI Manufacturing Member companies. To find out more visit

Bryan Dudley General Manager with C.S. Humphrey & Company ~ Kansas City, MO used the SL Laser in templating the walls & floor for this complex project.

Here is a quick description of how they used the SL Laser:

  • We shot the raw concrete, walls, etc. in several trips to the site.
    SL Laser Logo

  • We made a jig to locate the center for all of the holes (HVAC ducts) & shot the hole locations with the laser.
  • We laid out each piece like a giant puzzle & cut a dovetail keyway into the mating ends.
  • The installer installed each piece per our final drawings/map.
  • We then used shop glued-up blanks of 2 ½” Tongue & Groove flooring (some blanks were 21′ long x 5′ wide) to
    cut into the final flooring shapes
  • The final floor pieces also had the HVAC hole located (from previous laser templates)
  • Each piece was set like a puzzle, including the treads & risers.

“This building does not have (1) straight wall or anything & we could not have performed like we did without the SL-Laser”. Bryan Dudley