After 15 years of producing shows in temporary spaces, venerable performance venue St. Ann’s Warehouse gets a permanent home in DUMBO this month. Marvel Architects has converted a 19th-century tobacco warehouse into a 25,000 square foot space for radical theater and music.
Over the years, odd renovations and demolition by neglect reduced the five-story warehouse to a trapezoidal shell: two stories tall, devoid of walls, and roofless. Marvel Architects’ challenge was to preserve the facade (St. Ann’s Warehouse sits on two overlapping historic districts.) while creating a flexible space for St. Ann’s innovative programming.
In the $31.6 million renovation, simple geometries prevail. Marvel divided the warehouse into two interior rectangles and an exterior triangle. Inside, an envelope on three sides protects historic doors and windows, while allowing cross axis views from the main stage to the garden. The larger interior volume is the main stage, a double-height space fitted with movable curtains for a re-arrangeable program that can accommodate 703 theatergoers. The smaller space is for community programing, and can be transformed into a lobby via a sliding acoustic divider when needed. A mezzanine holds the theater’s offices.
The 8,000-square-foot outdoor space, designed by Brooklyn’s Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA), is accessible from the theater and the street. The space softens the gradient between public and private, while complementing MVVA’s Brooklyn Bridge Park, right across the street.
To keep the visual focus on the warehouse, Marvel created an unobtrusive glass brick roof that extends approximately seven feet above the historic facade. Perched almost underneath the Brooklyn Bridge, noise from overhead traffic was a major concern. New York’s BuroHappold Engineering and theater acoustics consultants Charcoalblue designed duct work and air-handling units on the roof to buffer external sound.
The design responds consciously, if not explicitly, to natural threats. Hurricane Sandy flooded the warehouse during the design process, filling the space with three feet of water. To minimize the impact of future floods, the team placed wall outlets higher than normal and moved electrical and mechanical equipment to the glass-bricked roof and mezzanine. Outside, stormwater design will capture and divert 170,000 gallons of rainwater annually to irrigate Brooklyn Bridge Park. MVVA associate Alec Spangler noted that the designers chose salt-tolerant plants and eliminated loose elements that could cause damage in a flood.
St. Ann’s first show in the new space will be Phyllida Lloyd’s production of Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Set in a women’s prison with an all-women cast, Lloyd’s progressive piece should take ample advantage of the flexibility that the warehouse provides.