The McKnight Center for the Performing Arts


Oklahoma State University


Construction Cost: $60 million
Completion Date: 2019
Project Size:
1,100 seat performance hall 
222 seat recital hall

The McKnight Center for the Performing Arts


When Ross McKnight first saw the New York Philharmonic perform in 2014, he became determined to bring them and other prestigious artists to Oklahoma State University (OSU). McKnight envisioned a striking new performing arts center with acoustics of the highest caliber, capable of attracting and hosting national and international programs and in the process elevating OSU’s national footprint in the arts. To help make the new center soar, structural engineer Walter P Moore contributed both innovative solutions and the deep experience they have gained designing over 25 performance centers.   

The McKnight Center welcomes patrons with a 35 ft tall grand atrium that is fronted with an elegant glass wall.  To support the swooping roof over this facade, Walter P Moore used just two tall unbraced columns.  We encased these critical steel columns in concrete, greatly increasing their stiffness while maintaining their small profile.  To support the glass wall, Walter P Moore avoided obtrusive secondary structural elements by integrating vertical structural steel girts into alternate architectural mullions, providing the lateral rigidity needed within a graceful, hidden support system.

The architect and owner wanted the entire lobby space to be as open as possible, meaning a traditional column grid system was out of the question.  Walter P Moore developed several creative structural solutions, including cantilever girders along each raker line to support columns at the back of the main audience chamber. Our team also created an innovative curving truss across the back of the upper audience chamber between the rakers and follow spot platform, tying the structure together with a minimum of vertical supports and achieving the architectural vision.

 The Center’s stringent acoustical criteria puts it on par with the world’s best performance venues. To help achieve that criteria, Walter P Moore worked closely with the acoustician to incorporate a variety of solutions that ensure structural elements and connections do not transfer unacceptable vibrations or sound from outside to within the audience chamber.

For example, on past performance venues we have often specified double columns with an expansion joint between to isolate the perimeter of acoustically sensitive venues. However, the architectural configuration did not allow joints around the majority of the main chamber. Our answer: special neoprene seats that create acoustically isolated connections at every beam around the majority of the audience chamber, effectively damping structural  vibrations while still allowing the structural members to be economically  connected. Other more conventional acoustic solutions included fully grouted masonry enclosure walls and a floating wood stage floor.   

The McKnight Center’s opening in October 2019 with the Philharmonic was a grand success. Mr. McKnight’s dream venue – supported by an elegant and acoustically sophisticated structural system by Walter P Moore –  has launched the university’s arts program to new prominence, attracting students, visiting artists, and patrons.