Over the weekend, AN joined Open House New York on a tour of the under-construction Empire Stores warehouse in Dumbo, Brooklyn. The old coffee bean warehouse was built in the 1870s, but has been sitting empty along the East River for decades. By next fall, though, the Empire Stores will have been transformed with all the Brooklyn-type fixings you’d expect. Yes, there is an artisanal Brooklyn market featuring local purveyors. And office space for tech and creative companies. And cafes, restaurants, and beer gardens. Included in the mix is also a rooftop public park and a museum focused on New York City‘s waterfront.
“What we’re looking at creating is something that is not only unique to the history of these remarkable buildings, but also speaks to the culture of the neighborhood and this community,” said Jay Valgora, the founder of Studio V Architecture, the firm that is overseeing the transformation. With this type of project, the first task was to secure the building and bring it up to code. That meant laying a new floor, creating a new foundation, and repointing the massive nearly three-foot-thick masonry walls.
There is also the issue of resiliency. The complex, which is actually seven buildings, sits right next to the East River and took in about seven feet of water during Sandy. Since the building couldn’t be lifted or moved, the most practical solution, explained Valgora, was to fabricate an “aqua fence” that could be stored in a nearby warehouse and deployed before of a storm. The idea is that there will be enough lead time to get everything in place.
Valgora said the main challenge of this project was to bring light and air into a structure that was built to block out both—the warehouse doesn’t even have windows, but rather arched openings and shutters. The firm wanted to create that type of sleek, airy space, while preserving the building’s history. Along with new glass stairways, and a glass and steel rooftop addition, the firm is preserving much of the Empire Stores’ masonry, yellow pine beams, and schist walls.
Studio V’s plan to cut an open-air courtyard into the center of the structure is designed to meet both needs of the project: create a light-filled, modern space while showing-off the structure’s original details. “We’re going to create a public passage throughthe entire building that reveals and shows the nature of how it was made, as well that brings you into the 21st Century as you go to this rooftop park,” said Valgora.
As for the windows, the firm is installing large square panels that sit behind the arched frames to preserve the feel of the original facade. No additional openings are being cut into the structure and shutters are either being restored or replicated. The Empire Stores is one of the development sites along the Brooklyn Bridge Park that has been leased to fund its maintenance costs.