Rio Grande

Rio Grande

Detail of ABC No Rio’s design for Rivington Street.
Courtesy Castrucci Architect

The Lower East Side artist/activist collective ABC No Rio is getting a long-awaited new home thanks to an infusion of city funds.

Founded in 1980, ABC No Rio was formed by artists “committed to political and social engagement” as “a venue for oppositional culture,” according to the organization’s website. Currently located at 156 Rivington Street, the facility includes a print shop, dark room, computer center, library, and galleries.

The organization has raised $1.5 million in private funds and received two city commitments totaling nearly $2.5 million. In early September, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation committed an additional $275,000 toward a new facility at the same site through a program supporting cultural organizations located below Houston Street.

Paul Castrucci’s facade is covered in mesh (right) to provide an armature for a leafy vines (right).

Designed by the architect Paul Castrucci, who works just down the block from ABC No Rio, the new facility will include a planted facade, a row of photovoltaic panels along the cornice line, a projecting window framed by screens and plantings, and a series of green roofs and roof decks on the rear of the building. Castrucci insists the design is driven by “utility,” but the project also reveals a set of ideas about building. It’s distinctive facade is both somewhat inscrutable and intriguing. “The plantings are our form of contextual design,” he said. “It’s simple industrial zinc with glass windows and metal grating over the facade.”

The project is designed using Passive House standards, a highly regimented and decidedly low-tech method of low-energy design. Castrucci appreciates the limitations and tight performance parameters mandated by Passive House standards. “It’s a very good goal,” he said. “Everything is calculated. So many things are taken into consideration.” The project will use extra thick insulation, triple-pane windows, and an air recovery system, and the design minimizes thermal breaks in the building envelope. Castrucci estimates the building will be 75 percent more efficient than code and 90 percent more efficient than most existing building stock on the Lower East Side.

Left to right: A section of ABC No Rio’s new home; a sectional detail of the gallery; a rendering of the gallery.

Rather than using complicated green wall technology with an imbedded irrigation system, Castrucci opted for a similarly low-tech approach for the facade and roof gardens. Deep built-in planters and simple mesh screening will be filled in with plants chosen by the organization and watered by hand. “It should be a bit wild,” he said. The old building had a rear garden, so Castrucci felt it was important to preserve the amount of green and accessible outdoor space by transferring it onto the roof.

The 9,000-square-foot project will include all the existing uses, while adding a considerable amount of additional gallery and performance space. A food pantry will also operate out of the building. Castrucci is himself an artist and has shown work at ABC No Rio over the years, so he has a personal attachment to the organization. “I’ve attended openings and events here for over 25 years,” he said. “After a previous plan fell through, we put together a budget for how to achieve a new building.” With such success at below-the-radar fund-raising, the project expects to break ground in spring 2012.