An interior photo of a theater with a piano on the stage.

The modernization of the Terrace Theater, the acclaimed recital hall at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, has been recognized with a national Metamorphosis Award by Retrofit Magazine. The award honors Quinn Evans’ renovation of the theater’s interior, including the seating layout, finishes, systems, theater operations, and lobby.

The Terrace Theater had not been renovated since opening in 1978 as a gift from the people of Japan. While its acoustics were excellent, the space had worn finishes, aging systems, and a lack of stagecraft flexibility for a wide variety of programming. In keeping with the Kennedy Center’s mission of inclusiveness, administrators also sought to expand wheelchair access throughout the theater.  

The modernization has transformed the interior into a vibrant and versatile space, with a new seating configuration that improves sightlines and substantially increases accessibility. More than twice the number of ADA-required accessible seats are now provided. Quinn Evans also added visual drama with the introduction of rich wood paneling along the interior walls. Emblematic of soaring sound waves, the undulating panels come into synchrony at the proscenium and enhance the acoustical integrity of the theater. 

Theater operations for the theater—the busiest venue at the Kennedy Center—were significantly enhanced with features that improve its flexibility. A new adjustable proscenium and orchestra shell allow the stage to be reconfigured, depending on the performance type or size of ensemble. The ceiling was reshaped to provide a larger acoustic volume. Acoustic drapes and banners provide absorption for amplified performances but can be retracted at the push of a button for non-amplified music. A new catwalk lighting position, box booms, the addition of technical balconies, and a new audio-visual system have also enhanced operations.  

The project also includes there placement of building systems, with improved variable airflow controls, new mechanical equipment, and other measures that have significantly improved the sustainable performance of the space. The theater’s lobby was also gutted and refurbished, with curved walls that echo the curve of the wood panels in the theater interior. An open staircase was added to access a new lower level with added restrooms.  

The Terrace Theater is the fourth major renovation Quinn Evans has completed of the Kennedy Center's largest performance venues. “The modernization of the Terrace Theater presented an interesting architectural challenge, because it was imperative that we maintain the hall’s superior acoustics,” says Leora Mirvish, AIA, LEED AP, principal-in-charge of the renovation. “By significantly transforming and updating the space, we were able to preserve the acoustical integrity and enhance the experience for patrons for all types of performances.  We are honored to receive this recognition.” 

In addition to Quinn Evans, the team included theater design consultant Schuler Shook; Jaffe Holden for acoustical design; Mueller Associates for mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineering; McMullan Associates for structural engineering; and GHD for fire protection. Rand Construction Corporation served as the construction manager, and the Kennedy Center’s in-house production team designed and installed the state-of-the-art audio-visual system and lobby lighting fixtures.