The Kirkwood Performing Arts Center (KPAC) is a state-of-the-art facility located in downtown Kirkwood, Mo. Serving as an anchor for the arts and entertainment district, KPAC has a 525-seat auditorium, a 200-seat studio theater, and a multipurpose event space. The iconic structure is primarily constructed of precast concrete, although its entry features a mixture of glass curtainwall and vertical metal panels in an undulating pattern meant to evoke sunlight on natural materials. “We want the building to be very recognizable and memorable for the community,” says Kyle Nottmeier, AIA, senior architect, Jacobs.
The project team selected precast concrete because of the advantages it offered in terms of cost, acoustical performance, speed of construction, and aesthetics. Inspired by local architecture, the precast concrete panels are designed to emulate the warmth and depth of limestone. This aesthetic was achieved with a white-cement-based concrete mixture design, a custom reveal pattern, and different levels of sandblasting. The aesthetically pleasing balance of form and material composition is appreciable from all angles of the building, especially when illuminated in the evenings with dramatic, recessed lighting.
Using precast concrete helped the project team meet the project’s accelerated schedule, which was set to enable the arts center to open by the start of the next theater season. It was also essential to enclose the space as quickly as possible to allow for the intricate fit-out of the interior space.
Precast concrete also offered a way to execute the long spans required to avoid visual obstructions of the performance areas. Precast concrete was used for the 78-ft-high fly-loft walls surrounding the stage and the back of the house, as well as the roof over the theater house.
The extremely large precast concrete panels weighed 80,000 lb. An extensive bracing system with helical anchors was required to account for the weight and external forces on the panels during installation.
The process of steel fabrication and erection also required significant coordination with the precast concrete producer. Because many of the steel catwalks in the theater and above the stage span from panel to panel, precise fabrication and tight tolerance were required during the construction phase.
Once the design was complete, the team members produced and erected the performing arts center in under 6 months. Since the roof structure for the main portion of the project (fly-loft and theater house) was constructed from precast concrete components (roof slabs at the fly-loft and double tees at the house), the structure could be enclosed quickly, which allowed the other trades to begin work on the interior ahead of schedule.
Larger-than-usual connections were necessary to satisfy seismic design loading requirements. The size of the panels, in turn, led to handling challenges at both the plant and the jobsite. To address these challenges, the team designed custom rigging that could accommodate multiple pick points so that panel weight would be evenly distributed both at the plant and on the jobsite. Transportation logistics for panel delivery were also challenging. With no storage space on site, the precast concrete components had to be staged at remote lots, with deliveries made on a just-in-time basis. In anticipation of erection of the precast concrete components, and due to limited site access, the foundation work for the house and orchestra pit had to be phased so that the crane would have access for the precast concrete picks.
To lower energy consumption and fulfill the thermal performance specifications for the structure, the panels include 5 in. of extruded-polystyrene insulation, achieving an R value of 25. Between this enhancement and the significant thickness of the panels, the house also has also exceptional acoustics, which is of utmost importance because the performance space is in proximity to railroad tracks.
Construction was completed in August 2020. KPAC opened its doors in July 2021, after its debut was delayed a year by the COVID-19 pandemic.