An extensive renovation is now underway to convert a former New York City Department of Environmental Protection maintenance building into a Brooklyn Bridge Park environmental education, community, and maintenance facility. Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation, general contractor Stalco Construction, and architect Architecture Research Office are behind the project, at 99 Plymouth Street in the DUMBO section of Brooklyn.
Scheduled for completion in 2015, the facility will include an environmental education classroom, which will be operated by the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy. It will become a part of the northward expansion of the park, which also includes new landscaping designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates.
“The Plymouth Street Building is going to be a fantastic addition to Brooklyn Bridge Park, and I am excited to see it moving along so swiftly to completion,” said Regina Myer, President of BBP, in a press release. “With its flexible community areas and educational facility, this space will provide important year-round programming opportunities for the local community and all park users.”
"Brooklyn Bridge Park is a modern urban marvel, both in design and in creative use of our waterfront. I'm pleased to see progress move forward on this next phase that will advance the educational and community-building aspects of the park," said Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams.
“Upon completion of the $3.6-million renovation, the building will serve the entire 85-acre Brooklyn Bridge Park, one of Brooklyn’s most popular outdoor areas,” said Stalco Principal Kevin G. Harney. “The structure is located on a 10,650-sq.-ft. site situated directly beneath the Manhattan Bridge in Brooklyn’s trendy DUMBO neighborhood,” he added.
“Today, we are announcing the very first permanent location for Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy's environmental educational programs. The building is striking, the facility will serve thousands, and I am proud to give it my support,” said New York City Councilman Stephen Levin.
“The project includes demolition of a portion of the main, one-story building previously used by NYCDEP, and two adjacent storage structures,” explained Stalco Project Manager Keith Ward. “Stalco will construct a new glass curtainwall on the west and south elevations, refurbish the original exterior brick walls, build a new storefront-type entrance and additional window and garage door openings, and completely renovate the interiors in order to create offices and community facilities,” he continued.
The building’s exterior will feature a glass and aluminum curtain wall and main entrance, with a portion of the wall constructed of soundproof glass. Stalco will build a new access door, windows, and a garage-type door in the brick wall of the building to provide access to a new compactor room. The upgrades will include a new reflective EPDM roof and all new mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) systems.
Stalco Assistant Project Manager Jeanette Macleod outlined technical challenges of construction work on a historic waterfront, noting that “the site is located in close proximity to the East River and near 19th century manufacturing and warehouse buildings, many of them converted to residential or commercial use. The project team will employ vibration monitors during construction in order to protect the surrounding historic structures and the landmark neighborhood.”
The project’s challenges will also include incorporating significant changes to the building’s structure. “Construction crews will revise the structural system of the building to support the large new glass walls and a new concrete floor slab,” explained Stalco Superintendent Walter Baird. “The existing partial basement in the east side of the building will be cut back and a section of the concrete floor above it will be open to allow for installation of a new concrete beam to support the new floor and a steal beam that will support the glass curtainwall. A new concrete floor slab will be poured on top of the new beams. In addition, the roof above the glass wall will be revised as well to allow the glass to reach the roof parapet without obstructions. The roof membrane will be cantilevered on new bent steel outrigger plates welded to a series of square posts that will bear down on a new roof beam that will distribute the load to the brick bearing walls,” he explained.
The renovated, 11,300-sq.-ft. building will house a 300-sq.-ft. community room with a display area, an 800-sq.-ft. classroom for environmental education programs, a BBP maintenance space, a kitchen, two public bathrooms, a locker room, and a basement storage area. The interior finishes will include polished and sealed concrete floors, painted gypsum board walls, and porcelain tiles in the bathrooms. The environmental education classroom will feature a large aquarium and a “touch” water tank for interaction with marine animals.
In addition to Stalco Construction and Architecture Research Office, the project team includes owner’s representative Gardiner & Theobald, structural engineer Robert Silman Associates, MEP engineer AltieriSeborWieber, civil engineer Sherwood Design Engineers, lighting designer Lighting Workshop, and landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates. Landscaping and site improvements will be performed under a separate contract.
Architecture and design
The project’s genesis lays in Brooklyn Bridge Park’s northbound expansion into the Main Street site, beneath the Manhattan Bridge. The expansion increased the need for visitor and maintenance facilities and the park decided to utilize a former NYCDEP storage and maintenance building to fulfill these needs.
According to ARO Managing Partner Stephen Cassell, AIA, “During the pre-design phase, the park’s leadership outlined the functional needs to be addressed by the redeveloped building: a community room, public bathrooms, an educational space for the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy, and office and park maintenance facilities.” The Conservancy, which organizes environmental education classes and presentations for students from New York City’s schools and other visitors, does not currently have a permanent location for its programs.
The architectural team focused not only on accommodating the client’s spatial needs and merging the public and the private/park management functions of the facility, but also on seamlessly incorporating the building into the overall context of the park, landscaping, and streetscape. They decided to open the interiors to the site outside.
“We recognized the views of the East River, Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges, and the Manhattan skyline across the river as the most valuable assets of the site. The team decided to open these views to the adjacent Plymouth Street, which is frequented during day and night by local residents, workers from nearby businesses and offices, and tourists alike.
To achieve that, the architects opted for an uncommon solution of reducing the size of the original structure through removal of a corner in the southwest section of the building, thus opening views from the street towards the river, which were previously blocked by the structure. Trimming the envelope will also improve the pedestrian circulation in this section of the park.
The 28-foot-wide opening created by the removal of the corner will be equipped with an expansive glazed curtain wall spanning the height of the building and featuring the main entrance. The glazing will play an important role in opening the interiors to the park and views outside. The same solution, a 41-foot-wide glazed curtainwall, will open the interiors of the environmental workshop classroom in the northern section of the building to views of Manhattan, the river, and the Manhattan Bridge. This curtainwall will feature two entrances.
The remaining original exterior brick walls with a brick veneer will be painted grey to reduce the visual impact of the building on the landscape and highlight the signature two tones of blue color of BBP’s logo utilized extensively in the interiors, which will be visible through the curtain walls.
The site surrounding the building will receive new landscaping designed by landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc., which also developed the entire park’s masterplan.
“The new interiors will feature economical, durable finishes that both accommodate the utilitarian, public function of the building and represent park’ branding through two tones of blue present in the park’s logo,” said ARO Project Designer Ethan Feuer. “The gypsum board walls in the environmental classroom and the public space behind the southwestern curtainwall will be painted blue as will be the long, public hallway alongside the southern side of the building. All spaces will feature 15-foot-high ceilings with exposed, light grey-painted metal decking, structural elements, and infrastructure.
Highlighting the structure’s community role, the hallway will be equipped with a continuous, 130-foot-long Homasote pin board for displaying announcements, park information, and student artwork.
The bathrooms will vary from the blue color scheme and feature grey three-inch-by-six-inch “subway” tiles on three sides, bright yellow tiles on one wall for contrast, and steel sinks and partitions.
The flooring will be polished concrete, with the addition of an epoxy coating in the main classroom/workshop.