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A Call to Save a Floating Performance Space by Louis Kahn [UPDATED]

A 50-year-old floating performance space designed by architect Louis Kahn may be sent to a Louisiana shipyard for scrap at the end of this year’s tour.

The Point Counterpoint II barge
Point Counterpoint II in South Haven, Michigan (2009) (photo by Sean Benham/Flickr)

A 50-year-old floating performance space designed by architect Louis Kahn may be sent to a Louisiana shipyard for scrap at the end of this year’s tour. Appearing more like a UFO than a boat, Point Counterpoint II was built from 1964 to ’67 and debuted in 1976 for the American Bicentennial, and has since been the maritime home of the Pennsylvania-based American Wind Symphony Orchestra (AWSO). The 195-foot vessel, incorporating circular doorways and a 75-foot-wide stage revealed by a hydraulic lift, was commissioned by AWSO conductor and founder Robert Austin Boudreau.

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma wrote a letter that will be in the August 17 issue of the New York Review of Books on its status in response to a June article by Martin Filler on Kahn’s career. Emphasizing how the self-propelled music boat is “a powerful, living testament to American creativity and to the elemental role that culture plays in human life,” Ma writes:

After five decades, Robert Boudreau (who just turned ninety) and his wife, Kathleen, have decided that they cannot keep running the barge. Despite their best efforts, they have not yet found a new guardian for it. Lacking an alternative, in late July, at the conclusion of the Orchestra’s 2017 tour, this remarkable, mobile cultural institution will be broken down to scrap in a Louisiana shipyard.

Ma adds that “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,” and asks readers to join him and Boudreau in finding a new home for Point Counterpoint II: “Please share any suggestions with Robert and Kathleen at [email protected]

As Elizabeth Bloom reported this month for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, this is not a sudden crisis; Boudreau has been working to find a new owner for two decades (it had its first farewell tour in 1997). However, no potential buyers for the boat have appeared, even with the big architectural name attached to its creation.

The Point Counterpoint II barge
Performance on Point Counterpoint II in South Haven, Michigan (2009) (photo by Sean Benham/Flickr)

Kahn died in 1974, before Point Counterpoint II’s 1976 debut. Like his designs for the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, or the National Parliament House in Bangladesh, it has a visual play with geometric forms and textural emphasis on materials. AWSO has a map of Point Counterpoint II’s ports of call from 1976 to 2009, including sites along the American waterways from the Great Lakes to the Long Island Sound, as well as international destinations like the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, France, Wales, and Jamaica (a photo gallery further chronicles the journeys). At each stop, the boat’s exterior has opened like a clamshell, revealing the stage, where music played for spectators seated on shore.

At a time when attention on Khan’s buildings is strong, such as the recent restoration of the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven and the Salk Institute in California, it may seem surprising that one of his more unconventional works would have a precarious future. Nevertheless, as Hyperallergic reported, Kahn’s only surviving commercial work, the Coward Shoes store in Philadelphia, was demolished with little attention in 2014. It remains to be seen if this will be Point Counterpoint II’s final summer riding the waves, but if you can, it’s worth attending one of its unique concerts. The 2017 tour schedule is online, with upcoming performances in Ontario and New York, concluding in New York’s Sackets Harbor on August 2.

Update, July 20:

The Chicago Tribune reported on July 18 that officials and activists in Kingston, New York, are planning to meet with the Point Counterpoint II owners on August 4 to talk over the potential relocation of the boat from Ottawa, Illinois, to the Hudson River town. However, the funds to do so have yet to be identified.

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