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3 engineering wonders of the Kauffman Center

Beyond the walls and under the stage, there’s a world of architectural feats and technological wonders.

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Have you ever looked up and wondered “how?”

Photo by KCtoday

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The Kauffman Center is a great place to catch a variety of entertainment downtown (If you haven’t figured out from our events page) — from ballet, opera, and the symphony to yoga, lectures, and bands like Snarky Puppy (Google them. You’re welcome). The iconic exterior also adds to KC’s one-of-a-kind skyline.

Beyond the walls and under the stage however, there’s a world of architectural feats and technological wonders. These little-known features hold the building together and allow for modifications you probably have never noticed. Here’s a look backstage.

The Big Pull

Photo of the Kauffman Center's exterior cables

Sorry, but we roped you into this one.

Photo by KCtoday

You know those cables out front? They aren’t just for show. One of our favorite facts about the Kauffman Center is known to some as “The Big Pull.”

Basically, the leaning facade and sweeping glass ceiling don’t exactly stay put on their own thanks to gravity. To keep the structure from literally caving in, construction crews attached giant tension cables and yanked on them until there was enough force to balance the weight — sort of like humongous tent stakes. Talk about in(tents). Each cable reportedly holds 400,000 lbs, equivalent to a 250-mph wind (that’s an EF-5 tornado).

As JE Dunn project manager Matt Jensen said at the time, “It’s a gigantic engineering feat.”

Underground “Slinkys”

Photo of ridged metal cylinders under the stage

All it takes to keep them working is a little WD-40.

Photo by KCtoday

This cutting-edge tech is found underground, where colossal, collapsible columns of metal support the stage and the front rows of seats. The Kauffman Center’s pits were built on Gala System’s Spiralift technology, where interlocking metal bands move on motors to expand or contract.

“They compact to like a foot and a half of space,” director of theater operations Sara Beatty told us. “These, I call them, are like giant Slinkys.”

This flexibility can extend the stage out or add 100 chairsmeaning your seat could be a part of the action.

The crown jewel of Helzberg Hall

Picture looking out to the audience from the organ keyboard

We pulled out all the stops for this one.

Photo by KCtoday

Self-proclaimed on the Kauffman’s website, this jewel is none other than the 5,548-pipe organ.

The organ was built by world-renown maker Casavant Fréres in Canada — then disassembled and shipped in 20,000 pieces. After two months of reassembling the instrument and two more months of tuning each pipe (overnight so as to not interrupt performances), it was ready to play.

The console where the organist sits is ~25 ft above the stage (we hope they don’t have a fear of heights).

Other fun facts: Only 80 pipes are visible from the audience. The other 99% are hidden behind steel mesh. The smallest one is the size of a pencil, and the biggest one is as long as a school bus.

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