Studio Rex's Perelman Performing Arts Center in Abitare


Geometries of Light: Studio Rex's Perelman Performing Arts Center has a set of theaters using cutting edge technology. Abitare 629, Nov. 2023. 


The glowing cube of the World Trade Center’s Perelman Performing Arts Center hovers at an acute angle opposite the 9/11 Memorial, as if solemnly looking away. Its abstract form defers to the horrific event that took thousands of lives, left a gaping hole in the city, and plunged the U.S. into two decades of war. Backlit like a film strip by silver LED pendants that wash its marble-and-glass-paneled walls from the inside, an intense pattern of dark gray veins animates the building’s surface, tinted orange as light filters through thin slices of stone.

Like a minimalist Agnes Martin painting, each marble-and-glass panel constitutes a single brush stroke of the facade’s composition, repeated on all four sides of the volume. To reduce the aleatory chance of random patterns produced by quarrying enough marble to cover a block-long five-story cube, REX adopted a strategy of biaxial symmetry to plot out repeating patterns of veins. As a result, each face needed only four stones with matching striations, and 16 pieces altogether to make the composition radiate an equivalent pattern on each side.

The venue is a rare cultural attraction within the World Trade Center area after dark, when the office towers close and disaster tourism grinds to a halt. Its geometry recalls Daniel Libeskind’s 2002 masterplan, which anticipated a rudimentary polygon in the future performance space’s lot. Its design—led by principal Joshua Ramus of REX, founded as OMA’s New York office and bought out by Ramus in 2006—also vaguely hints toward the 1960s geometric sculptures of artists like Peter Forakis, Frosty Myers, and Marc di Suvero who once ran Park Place Gallery in a nearby loft demolished for the towers’ construction.

Viewed from Santiago Calatrava’s Oculus, the 9/11 Memorial, and One World Trade Center, the cuboid adds a contrasting figure that resolves some of the site’s contradictions. Neither a void, a supertower, nor a biomorphic form, it leaves the plaza open while offering a kind of stoop for pedestrians to linger.