One of the weirder projects in architect Louis Kahn’s body of work may be facing an untimely end. The unique Point Counterpoint II, a 195-foot-long floating concert hall commissioned by the American Wind Symphony Orchestra, may dock for the last time in its present form. Without a new buyer, the concert hall may soon be torn off and turned into scrap at the end of the month, with the underlying barge turned into a simple vessel to move goods.
The boat is an extreme outlier in the Kahn oeuvre, one dominated by powerful, towering modernist architecture such as the Salk Institute. The stainless steel barge first set sail during 1976. Conductor Robert Austin Boudreau asked his friend Kahn to design the unique floating music hall in the ‘60s. The project was finished after the architect’s passing in 1974, just as the country’s birthday celebration reached a fevered pitch, and served as a bold, whimsical way to celebrate the Bicentennial. Ever since, it’s helped the group “make cultural waves on the waterfront,” serving as a mobile venue.
The centerpiece of the double-hulled, self-propelled river showboat is the hydraulically-operated 25-foot-tall stage that opens up like a clam shell when the boat is docked and ready for a performance, and lowers after concerts so the vessel can slip under bridges.
Since debuting in Biloxi, Mississippi, in 1976, the odd-looking ship has logged serious miles on rivers, lakes, and oceans, docking and hosting performances in numerous waterfront locations across the Unites States, as well as along Northern European Rivers and the Caribbean, Baltic, and Irish seas. In 1989, it even sailed to Russia and performed near Saint Petersburg.
It’s not a fast boat by any means, with a top speed of 6-8 knots depending on the current. But it’s a big advance on the symphony’s previous vessel. The first Point Counterpoint, which Boudreau purchased for $4,000, was a sunken vessel dredged up from the bottom of a river in Pittsburgh.
According to a recent letter in the New York Review of Books written by cellist Yo-Yo Ma, after five decades, Boudreau has decided he can’t pay for upkeep anymore. Unless a buyer appears by the end of July, the boat will be broken down for scrap in a Louisiana shipyard. Ma calls the ship, “a powerful, living testament to American creativity and to the elemental role that culture plays in human life.”
The ship is currently tied up in Ottawa, Illinois, where Boudreau and others have sought potential buyers. In 2015, the conductor suggested making the ship a part of the first Chicago Architecture Biennial, having it appear on the Riverwalk for a concert, and even discussed the potential of selling it to the City of Chicago.