Gowanus Brooklyn Batcave Set For Herzog & de Meuron Transformation To Support Creative Economy

Powerhouse Workshop. Courtesy of the Powerhouse Environmental Arts Foundation

Powerhouse Workshop. Courtesy of the Powerhouse Environmental Arts Foundation

Architects Herzog & de Meuron, the design vision behind the transformation of London's Bankside power station into the Tate Modern museum in 2000 and the 2016 opening of a new wing called the Switch House is taking on an exciting new project in Brooklyn. 

The Pritzker Prize-winning Herzog & de Meuron will transform the Gowanus Batcave into a manufacturing center for the arts. Commissioned by the non-profit Powerhouse Environmental Arts Foundation, which acquired the building in 2012 for $7 million, the property will support Brooklyn's expanding creative economy, with facilities for metal and woodwork, ceramics, textiles and printing. Other spaces will support exhibitions and events at the Powerhouse Workshop. 

That need has been growing more acute, as gentrification pushes out artists, artisans and the small manufacturers who work with them in this highly-specialized boutique sector. The foundation anticipates that the project will create more than 100 jobs and open in 2020.

Herzog & Meuron will refurbish the large turbine hall, writes ArtNet, and reconstruct the boiler house that was demolished previously. Standing on the Third Street Bridge over Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal, on one side of Gowanus Batcave resides a three-year-old Whole Foods with wind-turbines spinning in the parking lost. On the other side a cluster of loft-style apartment towers moves skyward. 

The Gowanus Canal itself remains a murky Superfund site, the New York Times reminds us

“By preserving, restoring and reconstructing essential elements of the original Power Station, some still intact and some long-ago demolished, this design strengthens its relationship to the immediate urban context,” Ascan Mergenthaler, senior partner at the firm said in a statement. “The aim is to demonstrate sensitivity to the program by integrating existing layers seamlessly into a functional, modern manufacturing facility.”

Rendering of the completed Powerhouse Workshop. Courtesy Herzog & de Meuron and the Powerhouse Environmental Arts Foundation.

Rendering of the completed Powerhouse Workshop. Courtesy Herzog & de Meuron and the Powerhouse Environmental Arts Foundation.

Rendering of the completed Powerhouse Workshop. Courtesy Herzog & de Meuron and the Powerhouse Environmental Arts Foundation.

Rendering of the completed Powerhouse Workshop. Courtesy Herzog & de Meuron and the Powerhouse Environmental Arts Foundation.

The NYT also provides a positive footnote about what will remain from the Batcave, long considered a graffiti landmark in New York.

While the building needs considerable structural work, and a portion of the bricks will have to be removed to make repairs, any old surfaces that can be preserved will be. “It’s an incredible legacy for us to build on,” Katie Dixon, the foundation's executive director explained. “There are so many layers here, we don’t want to take any away. We simply want to add our own.”

Though few individual pieces in the Batcave are particularly notable, Henry Chalfant, a graffiti expert, remarked on a recent tour how the totality of the art is what makes it special, a reminder of the “outlaw spaces” that once populated much more of the city.

When Joshua Rechnitz funded the Powerhouse Environmental Arts Foundation's purchase of the former Batcave, it was his second major philanthropic endeavor in New York. Rechnitz made a $40 million bequest to the city in April 2012, for the construction of a bicycling velodrome in Brooklyn Bridge Park.  

Subsequently, Rechnitz raised his velodrome bequest to $50 million, but the project was abandoned eight months later, due to complications around the design and concerns about flooding in a post-Hurricane Sandy New York. 

“You can’t build a facility of this nature, at this site, at this budget,” said Greg J. Brooks, the executive director of N.Y.C. Fieldhouse, the nonprofit group behind the project. “We’re very excited and eager to find a new home for this recreation center and velodrome. The funding remains intact.”

It's an understatement to say that Rechnitz is media-shy and keeps a low profile, writes the New York Times. Learn more about this philanthropist still in search of a home for his velodrome.