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Powerhouse Arts

Herzog & de Meuron

Brooklyn, New York, United States

June 2023


Ascan Mergenthaler (Senior Partner), Jacques Herzog, Pierre de Meuron (Founding Partners)


Platt Byard Dovell White Architects (Executive Architect), obert Silman Associates Structural Engineers (Structural Engineer), Buro Happold Engineering (MEP Engineer), Tillotson Design Associates (Lighting Consultant), Ken Smith Workshop (Landscape Architect (Waterfront)


Powerhouse Arts


Iwan Baan


The design reimagined a 117-year-old power plant as a vibrant, innovative arts production hub in Brooklyn. Spanning 170,000 square feet of program, it offered workshop facilities for wood, metal, ceramics, textile, and print fabrication. The aim was to avoid erasing the industrial legacy of the site during the intensive remediation necessary to revitalize the derelict structures and contaminated ground.
By carefully restoring and reconstructing essential elements of the original powerplant, the goal was to strengthen its' industrial character, integrating it with the urban context. Re-interpreting the demolished Boiler House led to re-establishing its mass and relationship with the Turbine Hall, which itself was to be stabilized and strategically repaired.
Within, fabrication shops are stacked vertically to optimize space, with metal and wood on the ground floor, and print, textile, and ceramics on higher levels for exhaust needs and orientation to large north facing windows for daylighting materials. High industrial hygienic standards rarely achieved in art workshops were also employed in systems design, to insure the long-term safety of artists working in many - and often experimental - materials.
Inside, visitors encounter a blend of historic details, graffiti remnants, and modern architectural elements. The grand hall in the Turbine Hall offers a multifunctional space for installations and events, complemented by a double-height volume in the Boiler House for public and workshop activities.
The design's mission was to seamlessly integrate historic preservation, modern functionality, and environmental sustainability, revitalizing an industrial icon into a dynamic forum for artistic innovation and creative practices.


The project is located along the Gowanus Canal, nestled between Red Hook, Carroll Gardens, and Park Slope, on a site of civic memory rich with industrial heritage. Originally home to the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Power Station in 1904, this landmark underwent transformation over the decades. While half of the original structure - the Boiler House – was demolished in the 1950s, the iconic Turbine Hall half endured, becoming a canvas for local graffiti artists and earned it the affectionate moniker "The Batcave."
Amidst evolving urban landscapes, characterized by a blend of storage facilities, warehouses, and commercial spaces, the project site stands as a beacon of renewal. Situated strategically between First and Second Streets, with the Gowanus Canal to the west and Third Avenue to the east, the site records the area's industrial story while adapting to contemporary needs of the community.
The Turbine Hall, positioned on elevated terrain, commands attention, symbolizing the neighborhood's industrial past amidst a backdrop of changes. As the area has recently undergone a rezoning towards high-density residential development, recurring questions arise regarding the future coexistence of arts fabrication and the city itself.
Amidst these transitions, Powerhouse Arts celebrates the site's historical significance while embracing its potential for imaginative reuse and sustainable revitalization. As part of New York State's Brownfield cleanup program and in response to the adjacent canal’s Superfund designation by the US Environmental Protection Agency, the design integrates environmental stewardship with architectural innovation, creating a harmonious blend of past and present in a rapidly changing Gowanus.


Environmental conditions both foreseen or discovered only during construction, spurred innovative design and imaginative pathways to maintaining the character of the site with novel and unprecedented solutions to extending the life of the industrial campus beyond its original use.
For instance the rooftop MEP/FP plant, consolidated into two large bulkheads, expresses the primacy of the industrial systems while recalling the historic smokestacks of the original Boilerhouse and symbolizes the facility's resilience with all equipment including the exterior work yard elevated 20’ above sea level in anticipation of future flooding.
Enhancing the found character of the Turbine Hall’s interior architecture - its’ layers of time - was paramount to the design, but posed challenges to meeting energy code. Meeting this challenge, the design incorporated high-performing assemblies in all areas of new construction. The new Boiler House envelope is composed of a thick layer of continuous insulation sandwiched between two layers of cast-in-place concrete. The tinting of the outermost layer with red oxide brought the contemporary rugged Boiler House façade in harmony with the adjacent weathered brick Turbine Hall shell.
Recognizing the site's intrinsic value, the design approach prioritized re-use and history. This commitment was validated when the Turbine Hall and proposed design alterations were retroactively designated as a Historic Landmark by NYC, ensuring its long-term protection.
Since its opening, Powerhouse Arts, has incorporated under its roof other displaced arts workshops of the neighborhood and the city, further realizing the project goals of community engagement and the preservation of urban arts creation.

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