When developer David Walentas began planning a 17-story building for the site of their current location, performing arts center St. Ann’s Warehouse knew it was time for a new home. The indie theater company set its sights on the abandoned Tobacco Warehouse in Brooklyn Bridge Park. And on November 17, they got their wish. With just two proposals to choose from, board members of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation chose St. Ann’s’ design by H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture over a bright yellow pyramid by Lava, the trapeze group. But a hastily convened neighborhood meeting drew calls not to touch the beloved ruin at all. At a follow-up board meeting, several complained the vote appeared to be a mere formality, and the selection of St. Ann’s a forgone conclusion. Board member Paul Nelson said the RFP process lacked transparency; others said they had only learned of the proposals 48 hours before. “The RFP must include a public review,” said Nelson. “We’re being asked to give away a property for free.”
From inside the roofless factory, a series of Roman redbrick arches frame the bridge’s gothic span. Suggestions called for the building to remain frozen in a state of preserved decay, but board member Henry Gutman said several ruins are already preserved in the park, including the piles of one pier and a remnant of a railroad transfer bridge.
The challenge then for St. Ann’s architect Geoff Lynch of H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture was to keep the shell’s stand-alone integrity and maintain an interplay with the bridge while providing shelter for the theater. “The structural approach is critical,” he said. “We’re basically building a free-standing building inside.”
An angled wall of the building’s original four follows the bridge span. The proposal breaks that space into two sections. A new rectangular building sits inside the ruin and meets three of the original corners, leaving a triangular courtyard café open to the sky and bridge views. Park visitors can enter the courtyard through the original arches. Two interior spaces include a large performance space on Water Street and an indoor bar/café facing the riverbank. The bar maintains the large arches and river view, though enclosed in glass. St. Ann’s hopes to occupy the updated space by 2013.