Sail into the Sunset

Louis Kahn’s floating concert hall faces demolition

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Louis Kahn’s floating concert hall faces demolition. (Courtesy Sean Benham/Flickr)
Louis Kahn’s floating concert hall faces demolition. (Courtesy Sean Benham/Flickr)

Louis Kahn: modernist architect, shipwright?

Kahn’s lesser-known and only maritime project, Point Counterpoint II, a 195-foot floating concert hall, could soon face demolition if no potential buyer claims the ship.

The ship was commissioned in 1976 by the American Wind Symphony Orchestra (AWSO) as part of a Bicentennial project. It is currently docked in Ottawa, Illinois, where it awaits its uncertain fate. Owner Robert Austin Boudreau has been trying to find a new guardian for two decades, but to no avail. If no buyer follows through by the time AWSO finishes its 2017 tour, it will be sent to a shipyard where its acoustical shell will be dismantled and the rest repurposed as a derrick barge, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The floating stainless steel concert hall has carried an orchestra up and down America’s waterways since its construction, docking at major cities and small towns without orchestras along its route. Once docked, the roof of the barge opens up—not unlike a clam shell— revealing its concert stage. It also doubles as an art gallery and theater showroom.

“Its life is really in moving along the American waterways and connecting people of diverse circumstances around art,” said William Whitaker, curator of architectural archives at the University of Pennsylvania, to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.“The question is, is there a way to sustain that and keep it going into the future?”

World-famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma wrote an unpublished letter in the New York Review of Books in an attempt to drum up support. “It sails as a powerful, living testament to American creativity and to the elemental role that culture plays in human life,” Ma wrote. “At a time when our national conversation is so often focused on division, we can ill afford to condemn to the scrap heap such a vibrant ambassador for our national unity.”

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