Amherst College Powerhouse, Cambridge, Mass.

Once a brick steam plant, this 6,500-square-foot, $3 million project transformed the building into a contemporary student event space. The historic 1952 building incorporates design elements that were integrated within a robust framework of historic preservation to create the new facility. Now the “it” place to be on campus, a single structure with a concrete addition completed the restoration project last summer.

“Additions like this are often necessary to support existing buildings, and without undermining their spatial qualities,” explains Aoife Morris, architect with Bruner/Cott & Associates.

Because the steam plant structure has such a large presence, the firm made the addition appear like a garden wall — a non-building — with two offset concrete walls that conceal the door to the terrace. It was built from board-formed concrete, tinted with warm pigment to match the existing concrete water table banding. The contractor built the formwork out of rough-sawn lumber of varying widths so it would feel authentic and connected to the original building.

The concrete is insulated on the interior with spray foam and a course of concrete brick. The addition roof has a gutter that will spill water down the face of the concrete to stain and further patinate the wall.

The courtyard is also concrete, largely for ease of maintenance and affordability, and it complements the new addition.

Amherst College brought on architect firm Bruner/Cott to create a student gathering and event space in a reworking of its historic 1925 McKim Mead & White steam plant. Located on the east side of campus, the Powerhouse is adjacent to a new residential quadrangle now in the planning stages. Shaped with input from the student body, the new facility fills a pressing need on the campus, which had little space devoted to its uses before. Reconfigured, the Powerhouse accommodates performances, dances, parties, coffee houses, dinners, speakers, farmers’ markets, and food truck nights. Lighting and sound systems with flexible furniture concepts support this broad range of activities.

“The Powerhouse project is an example of the value of reimagining buildings to give them second lives,” says principal-in-charge Simeon Bruner. “It actively demonstrates how historic preservation and new construction can work hand in hand.”