Architect Rafael Viñoly still does hand sketches as well as beautiful watercolors for his projects. For the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, Philadelphia (1998–2001), Viñoly was tasked with providing a cultural complex: a hall for the Philadelphia Orchestra and a second performance space for multiple types of theatrical productions. The center was also to serve as a public plaza, revitalizing and uniting the north-south corridor in downtown Philadelphia. This project was especially meaningful to Viñoly as he is a cellist and concert pianist and therefore sensitive to issues of acoustics, sightlines, and audience flow. To address these issues in a design that could contend with the scale of high rise buildings to the north and a residential neighborhood to the south, Viñoly treated the two theaters as two freestanding structures enclosed in a transparent classical 150-foot barrel vault that echoes the 19th-century neoclassical architecture of the city’s major monuments.

The watercolor drawing presents, with a few brush strokes and masterful color washes, the symphony building, Verizon Hall, centered under the glass canopy as it appears from the west. The hall’s interior (not visible in this drawing) takes the shape of a multilayered mahogany cello, which the architect claims achieves perfect acoustics. According to Jay Bargmann, vice president of Rafael Viñoly Architects, watercolors are an integral part of Viñoly’s design process and are used in the early design stages to express and formalize fundamental organizing concepts. The watercolors and colored sketches are typically presented to the client as part of overall submission of the design solution. Following the watercolors, more detailed and precise drawings are presented to the client to show the actual resolution of the design.

Gail S. Davidson recently retired as Curator and Head of Drawings, Prints & Graphic Design at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

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