An unassuming landmark on the edge of Brooklyn Bridge Park is currently little more than a roof-less masonry shell, trapezoidal in plan, perforated by large Roman arches: a vestige of Brooklyn’s once-active shipping waterfront. These freestanding walls will soon be home to new life, however. Avant-garde theater group St. Ann’s Warehouse has hired Rogers Marvel Architects (RMA) to transform this onetime tobacco warehouse into a new venue.
Displaced by a condo development at their former Water Street home, St. Ann’s revealed concept plans in 2010 by H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture to convert the Civil War-era warehouse into a theater. Lawsuits over use of the park property put initial plans on hold, but after a deal was brokered to remove the warehouse from the boundary of Brooklyn Bridge Park and add additional parcels elsewhere, the adaptive reuse is moving forward. St. Ann’s has asked RMA to create a performing arts space that offers the flexibility they grew accustomed to in their former home.
“When St. Ann’s moved to Water Street, the warehouse became a part of how they operated,” said Lissa So, project architect at RMA. “The flexibility and open nature of the space became what they were about.” Rogers Marvel’s design maintains that flexibility with an 18,000-square-foot theater with moveable rake seating that can be configured in a variety of layouts. “It’s rare that you go to St. Ann’s and sit in the same arrangement as the last time,” said So. A 1,000-square-foot space inside the theater has been set aside for multi-purpose community use.
So described the addition as a new independent steel structure inserted inside the tobacco warehouse’s exposed masonry walls. RMA emphasized the warehouse’s industrial past in the addition’s materiality. A utilitarian fire-rated plywood wall divides the lobby space from the theater, providing a surface to nail posters without damaging the brick. Opposite, a blackened steel plate wall houses the box office, providing a smooth surface to counter the rough masonry. Steel angles mounted on the new columns support a clerestory of Pittsburgh Corning glass bricks rising from the top of the existing walls.
Since the theater is located beneath the heavily trafficked Manhattan Bridge, So said special attention was paid to acoustically isolating the theater. The roof will be built with acoustic decking topped by two inches of concrete, and archways filled with extra-insulated windows. Additionally, mechanical equipment will be housed within an independent structure to minimize vibrations and noise.
A triangular portion of the tobacco warehouse will remain open and play host to a new landscape designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates. The semi-enclosed area will feature a 7,600-square-foot grove of birch trees, forming a new public space accessible from the park.
The warehouse is currently being converted for private use by the National Park Service and Brooklyn Bridge Park, a process expected to be completed this summer. Construction could begin as early as the fall. St. Ann’s Warehouse will continue to operate in DUMBO while the new space is built.