Deep in Beloit, Wisconsin, Chicago’s Studio Gang has completed a monumental transformation at what was once a coal-fired power plant, turning the decommissioned 1913 “peaker plant” on the Rock River into a new student union center for Beloit College.
The 120,000-square-foot adaptive-reuse project repurposed the plant’s original brick outer shell (leaving the towering smokestack intact but nonfunctional) but expanded the complex with a 17,000-square-foot, polycarbonate-clad field house. The wellness-oriented flourishes continue throughout, most notably in the three-lane elevated running track that travels throughout the student center, dips into the field house, and touches the swimming pool area on the opposite side. The student union is thus tripartite, with the centermost section containing a lounge, cafe, theater, gathering areas, lecture hall, and event spaces. The building’s former coal bunker will also be repurposed, eventually becoming a climbing wall, and a roof deck will be added further down the line.
The Blackhawk Generating Station was originally erected in 1913 as a coal power plant, then expanded and repurposed to burn natural gas in the 1940s, and finally shuttered in 2010. However, instead of demolishing the plant and remediating the site, as so many obsolete fossil fuel-burning facilities have done, Beloit College reportedly approached owner Alliant Energy about repurposing the building. After striking an agreement in 2014, Beloit College raised the $38 million needed solely through private donations, and federal and state historic preservation tax credits.
Instead of moving air to facilitate heating and cooling, Studio Gang integrated radiant panels that circulate water from the adjacent river to both warm up and draw heat away from the interior, reducing energy use (the studio center is targeting LEED Silver certification).
For the new steel-framed field house, rather than creating a simple box, Studio Gang cut and rotated sections of the addition and capped them with glass to allow in even more natural light. And, as is common for polycarbonate curtain walls, the structure glows at night and becomes even more prominent given its location in its riverfront facing and low-slung surroundings.
Studio Gang also added a pedestrian bridge to connect the new building back to the main Beloit campus across the adjacent Pleasant Street.