The latest addition to the cultural life of New York will also play a therapeutic and symbolic role: that of physically closing the wound of 9/11 in the skin of the city. The Perelman Performing Arts Center, also known as PAC NYC, opens its doors this September in the last area of ground zero that remained to be repaired, between One World Trade Center (WTC) and Santiago Calatrava’s Oculus, right in front of the museum and memorial dedicated to the victims of the terrorist attack that shocked the city and the world 22 years ago.
Perhaps for this reason, because it is a reverential space, the design of PAC NYC is discreet: a gigantic low-rise cube, covered in marble, opaque and alien to the glass and steel environment in which it stands. Its windowless façade allows light to pass through and at night it filters artificial lighting from the inside, like a shadow theater performance. Inside this unassuming cube there are three stages, each expandable thanks to a system of mobile screens: like a set of Russian dolls, they can expand or contract according to need. “They are responsive and organic spaces,” one of the architects explained in the presentation to the media. PAC NYC will cover it all: theater, music, dance, opera, film and more. Performances will begin on September 19, and the opening program will include commissioned pieces, four world premieres, festivals and co-productions. In October, it will host the Herbie Hancock Institute International Jazz Piano Competition.
A container of the arts
Considering where it stands, the container-like building has modest dimensions despite the grandeur of its interior: it stands 138 feet (42 meters) tall, practically nothing compared to its neighbor, One World Trade Center, and the rest of the skyscrapers around it. But the surrounding giants cannot overshadow its massive, assertive appearance, with a black-and-white façade streaked with gray that glows at night, acquiring an amber hue in which the natural pigments of the stone seem to dance. The building cost $500 million, financed partly by banker and investor Ronald O. Perelman and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. No one knows the exact amount of the final tab, but the former donated $75 million and the latter, according to The New York Times, has contributed $130 million. Despite the discretion regarding financial issues, Bloomberg reminded reporters on a tour of the site that “[cultural] institutions are always in fundraising mode, so this center will also be open to private events.”
The glass that covers the marble slabs helps filter every last ray of light in both directions. But more impressive than the container’s light play is its interior, almost 12,000 square meters spread over two floors. In the first or main one, there will be an haute cuisine restaurant with an outdoor terrace, plus the lobby or, as those responsible for the center call it, “a living room for New York,” with a stage that will offer free and pay-what-you-want shows for New Yorkers and tourists. “This lobby, which will be open to the public, is a space where people can congregate and watch free performances,” explained PAC NY Executive Director Khady Kamara.
The three theaters are on the upper floor, with capacities of 450, 250 and 90 people each, are interchangeable and organic. Thanks to hydraulic systems, the traditional seating area can expand or contract according to the needs of the performance, whether it is theater, opera or dance. Each stage is a box separated by moving walls that is airtight and soundproofed, “so that a rock concert and a play can be held at the same time without sound interference between the rooms,” explained one of the studio partners of REX architecture, responsible for the design. The vibration of the subway, which is just below, is also not noticeable. The total capacity of the three rooms can reach 950 seats. The sliding walls can create up to 10 different spaces.
“We have invited some of the most renowned talents in theater, opera, music and dance to work with us and each other, to create and present new works that bring PAC NYC to life, and to also confirm that this is the world capital of the performing arts,” said Bill Rauch, artistic director, at the presentation. The initial program includes five concerts featuring world-famous artists, including Laurie Anderson and Angélique Kidjo, a reinterpretation of the famous musical Cats, by Andrew Lloyd Webber, and a monologue by actor Laurence Fishburne of The Matrix fame.
While PAC NYC will not stand out in the endless skyline of the city, it represents the end point of something more important: the master plan drawn up two decades ago to heal the worst wound in the city’s history. “More than half of the world’s population had not been born when 9/11 happened,” as Bloomberg recalled at the presentation. “That is why the PAC NYC is a symbol of resilience and hope, and also the last piece of the puzzle, a place that will remember what happened and at the same time ensure that it never happens again.”
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