Firing Up Brooklyn

Ryan Muir / Courtesy BRIC

It is no easy feat to retrofit a historic structure to house two arts organizations with vastly different programming and workspace needs. This was the challenge that LEESER Architecture faced, and recently tackled, after winning a commission five years ago to convert the 94-year old Strand Theatre into a robust, community-accessible arts facility in downtown Brooklyn’s emerging Cultural District. The new 60,000 square foot building is the new home to BRIC Arts | Media, a non-profit dedicated to arts and media programming, and UrbanGlass, an organization focused on the art of glass making.

“It is to serve as an anchor of the BAM Cultural District and of the larger vibrant and rapidly evolving areas of Downtown and Fort Greene, Brooklyn,” said Sofia Castricone, senior architectural designer at LEESER Architecture. “The strategy for the exterior of the project was to integrate elements of architecture, signage and exterior lighting to unify the building as an arts center, while maintaining the distinct identities of BRIC and UrbanGlass and to do so within the limited budget.”

Jenna Salvagin / Courtesy BRIC

The building is designed to invite the public through the placement of an “Urban Lobby,” which connects the building’s entrance to the sidewalk “to provide transparency to the vibrant activity going on inside,” said Castricone.

The interior is composed of a myriad of spaces to accommodate a variety of uses from studio work (from media production to glass blowing) and educational programming to art exhibitions and live performances. Emerging and mid-career artists can show their art in a 3,000 square foot gallery or in a smaller space, dubbed “The Project Room,” which is geared more towards video work. Perhaps, paying homage to one of Brooklyn’s iconic architectural features, LEESER created “The Stoop,” a large row of steps designed to function as a gathering and event space.

Jenna Salvagin / Courtesy BRIC

For UrbanGlass, the new building provides ample room for both studio work and exhibitions. Artists have access to 17,000 square feet of studio space, which also includes a state-of-the-art, temperature controlled “Hot Shop.” A gallery and retail shop are located right on the first floor—providing a direct link to the neighborhood to help the organization engage with the public.

“The purpose of the project was to expand BRIC and UrbanGlass to the vacant first and cellar floors of the Strand building, to reimagine the building’s street presence to signify it as an arts center, and to showcase the full diversity of programs and creative energy of the community-based activities that occur within,” said Castricone.

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