An arched glass roof encasing Philadelphia's new performing arts centre, designed by American architect Rafael Viñoly and British engineer Dewhurst Macfarlane and Partners, is guaranteed to get rave reviews
An immense barrel-vaulted glass arch soars over an entire block of downtown Philadelphia. This roof is the unifying feature of the new £180m Kimmel Centre for the Performing Arts, designed by architect Rafael Viñoly, with British structural engineer Dewhurst Macfarlane and Partners.

The spectacular folded plate-glass roof covers a 100,075 ft2 space, housing a concert hall and a recital theatre as well as a restaurant, cafe and public plaza. The 2500-seat Verizon Hall, which is centred at the far end of the site, was designed as the new home of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Viñoly has drawn on his musical background – he is a trained concert pianist – to create a sensitive performance space, based on the shape of a cello, in which architectural and musical distinctions are blurred.

The sinuous, curving forms of the concert hall, which is finished in mahogany to further enhance the sense of a musical instrument, contrast with the more brutal cubic interior of the Perelman Theatre, an 87 ft3 transformable performance space. The two buildings "float" inside the centre, isolated from the supporting structure and from each other by rubber isolation pads, which prevent the transmission of any musical vibrations.

But it is the folded plate-glass roof, rising up to 150 ft above street level, that is the project's most spectacular, and technically challenging, feature. This was the work of Dewhurst Macfarlane, who worked with US firm Goldreich Engineering PC. According to Damian Murphy, project manager and senior associate at Dewhurst Macfarlane, "with Viñoly, structure is architecture, and everything must be kept to its purest form". Glass panels of about 1 m × 2 m sit on steel-sectioned lattice-truss arches to create a self-supporting transparent structure, allowing daylight to fill the centre. The sense of light and space is maintained in the roof's unique glass-end facades, fulfilling Viñoly's specification that the transparent end walls should appear to be "without thickness".

The centre, which opens to the public next month, is one of several concert halls designed by Viñoly, and the architect is looking to bring his musical expertise to the UK. The firm recently opened an office in London, and has been shortlisted for the South Bank's Jubilee Gardens competition, which includes a concert hall and new premises for the British Film Institute.