The New World Trade Center Performing Arts Center Is Marbelous

Designed by REX, the newly revealed Ronald O. Pereleman Performing Arts Center is sheathed in book-matched marble.

REX, the New York–based architecture firm of OMA alum Joshua Prince-Ramus, has revealed yet another design that shows its obsession with materially daring buildings.


The Ronald O. Perelman Performing Arts Center, which will be located on the World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan, is clad in translucent marble resembling Rorschach blot patterns. It’s a fitting visual metaphor, signaling the structure’s programmatic conceit: it’s designed to morph to accommodate a variety of performances, from music to theater, dance, and film, taking on the vision of whomever is directing a particular piece on a particular day. To achieve the marble effect, known as “book-matched,” fabricators slice sheets from the same material slab and orient the pieces to form a mirror image.

[Photo: © Chris Janjic]

“The Perelman Center is an immensely flexible canvas on which directors can script the patrons’ entire experience from their very entrance into the building,” Prince-Ramus said in a release. “It is a ‘mystery box,’ a constant source of surprise for theatergoers and the community.”

The 90,000-square-foot structure will house three auditoriums that hold 499, 250, and 99 people, and can be combined to form seven different configurations. REX designed the circulation paths through the building to accommodate simultaneous events seamlessly. The firm pioneered this mutable approach with its design for Dee and Charles Wyly Theater, in Dallas, a performing arts space whose ground floor reconfigures based on need. The Perelman Center will also house offices for the center’s staff, a bar, restaurant, and dressing rooms. While a performing arts center was part of Daniel Libeskind’s master plan for Ground Zero, no formal plans had been revealed until now.

The ethereal effect of light shining through the paper-thin marble slabs reinforced with glass turns the building into a glowing beacon at night, but by day it looks like a solemn sculptural totem. This play on materials has plenty of historic precedents: the Beinecke Library at Yale by Gordon Bunschaft and the Pius Church, in Switzerland, by Franz Füeg, both of which were inspirations to Prince-Ramus, as the New York Times reports.

Let’s hope the completed structure, which is slated to open in 2020, hews closely to the conceptual design.

[All Images (unless otherwise noted): © Luxigon/courtesy Perelman Performing Arts Center


About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.