95: Brick Restoration | Powerhouse Arts

56m 42s | 2024 May 17
In this episode, Cherise is joined by Victoria “Tory” Cuddy, Associate at PBDW Architects in New York City, New York. They discuss the Powerhouse Arts in Brooklyn, New York.

This project emerged as a revitalization initiative, born from the collaboration of PBDW Architects and Herzog & DeMeuron.

This 170,000 square foot facility serves as a hub for artistic production and community involvement, breathing new life into a historic structure formerly housing the Central Power Station of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit System.
Photo Credit: Albert Vecerka, Esto Photographics, Inc. and PBDW Architects

Project Name and Location: Powerhouse Arts, Brooklyn, New York

Powerhouse Arts, a collaboration between PBDW and Herzog & DeMeuron, is a new 170,000SF art fabrication facility in Gowanus, Brooklyn providing workshops for large scale art production in metal, wood, ceramic, textiles, and printmaking. The project also offers flexible performance and exhibition spaces to support the artists and community.

The not-for-profit owner partners with mission-aligned artists and fabricators from the neighborhood and from New York City to create a collaborative arts hub and to support education and employment in the arts. The project transformed a derelict structure on a contaminated brownfield site along the Gowanus Canal into a vibrant community center for artistic engagement.

Built in 1903, the building served as the former Central Power Station of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit System and remains a prominent building on the Gowanus Canal recalling the neighborhood’s industrial origins. Designed by Thomas E. Murray, the complex comprised a Boiler House (demolished in 1950) and Turbine Hall, which was decommissioned in the 1970s. Since then, the building had progressively deteriorated. In the 2000s, the building became a destination for graffiti artists and was locally nicknamed the “Batcave.” In 2012 Powerhouse Arts acquired the site and retained Herzog & de Meuron and PBDW Architects to restore the Turbine Hall and design an addition to accommodate the needs of this new arts institution.

Following extensive remediation of the EPA Superfund brownfield site on which the structure rests, the project reused the historic foundations to limit excavation. This required a soil load test within the footprint of each structure to confirm the existing mat slab could be reused.

The new complex echoes the original power plant in its massing and site usage, including an addition to the Turbine Hall that matches the proportions of the original Boiler House and re-establishes the relationship between the two structures. New windows were inset in the original masonry openings, informed by the historic window design. The historic steel structure of the Turbine Hall and many of its interior surfaces, including the graffiti, were preserved, and featured in the rehabilitated building.

The project also involved an extensive exterior restoration campaign to stabilize and repair the brick façade while carefully maintaining and celebrating the now historic graffiti and patina on the building’s exterior and interior, all of which are exposed and celebrated in the final design.

The Boiler House addition is a cast-in-place concrete structure that provides a robust and efficient envelope to house most of the fabrication workshops. The red pigmentation of the exterior wythe of concrete responds to the masonry of the Turbine Hall, and the historic punched window openings carry across to the Boiler House to create a unified building enclosure.

Through the preservation and utilization of the historic elements of the existing building, as well as the relationship of the buildings to the site, the design strengthens the building’s industrial character in an evolving neighborhood context.

The Gowanus neighborhood has seen a significant shift in zoning and demographics in recent years, with luxury high-rise residential buildings now flanking the site in every direction. Powerhouse Arts is one of the last historic structures to remain on the canal. Not only is the historic Turbine Hall preserved and the original power plant massing restored, but the facility retains and fosters ongoing manufacturing and industrial activity along Gowanus Canal, which was historically a center of industry in the city.

The team wanted to keep as much of the historic structure visible as possible. In order to expose the steel structure and trusses in the building the design team carefully analyzed the building code and determined that by elevating the final grade around the building and site, we could establish the Turbine Hall as remaining below the height limitations that would otherwise require fireproofing of the steel structure. This allowed the historic steel to be exposed, as it was historically, and remains part of the experience of the industrial building. The elevated grade also aided in designing for future resiliency, as the ground floor level is nine feet above the flood plain design elevation. The cellar level is an open parking deck free of critical infrastructure. Small windows around the perimeter of the cellar that are open to the exterior allow for the occasional incoming of floodwater without interrupting the remainder of the building’s operations.

The team also designed a load test to confirm the viability of reusing the existing 6’ thick concrete mat slab and wood pile foundation. This required shoring and bracing of the Turbine Hall, early demolition processes, and loading and unloading of soil over a period of nine months with vibration and optical monitors to record any movement in the slab. Through this painstaking process, the foundations were found to be structurally stable enough to support both the Turbine Hall renovations and the Boiler House addition.

Tory Cuddy, Associate, PBDW Architects in New York

Victoria Cuddy is an Associate at PBDW Architects where she has worked since 2011 and proven her leadership on increasingly complex projects, finding a special expertise within new design and adaptive reuse. Most recently, she served as project manager for the adaptive reuse of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit power station for Powerhouse Arts, a new facility for the fabrication of large scale works of art along the Gowanus Canal.

Ms. Cuddy has also worked for many years with the Park Avenue Armory on the restoration and adaptive reuse of this city and national landmark to create a cultural and performing arts venue.

She has completed several commercial and hospitality projects including work for The Hotel Beacon and Equinox Fitness Clubs (including their flagship club and spa). Ms. Cuddy received her Bachelor of Arts from Amherst College and her Master of Architecture from Parsons New School for Design.

She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Westchester and Hudson Valley Chapter of the AIA.

Project Team List:


Cherise Lakeside, FCSI, CDT  image
Cherise Lakeside, FCSI, CDT
Senior Spec Writer | RDH Building Science
Tory Cuddy, AIA, LEED AP BD+C image
Tory Cuddy, AIA, LEED AP BD+C
Associate | PBDW Architects