Archtober Building of the Day #31
SculptureCenter Renovation and Expansion
44-19 Purves Street
Andrew Berman, Architect
An enthusiastic group of Archtoberites came out today to bid adieu to this year’s Building of the Day series. Cloistered away on a dead-end street in Long Island City, SculptureCenter offers underrepresented and emerging artists an opportunity to develop site-specific works in this former trolley repair shop.
This is, of course, a neighborhood that has gone through a tremendous amount of change in recent years. When the project began, the surrounding block held a chop shop and not much else. Now, brand new apartment buildings line the street.
In this renovation of the SculptureCenter, Andrew Berman, FAIA, strove to honor the character of the original building and neighborhood without competing with it. The addition is “sympathetic to the original, not vying for attention,” he explained.
The project was born from an RFP for a new stairwell, but Berman decided to take it a step further, with Executive Director Mary Ceruti’s go-ahead. His goal was to make a space that was flexible, not in the sense of moving parts, but one that would create exhibition spaces with just the right feel for all of the artists who would come to inhabit the building.
Between exhibitions, the solid door to the forecourt swings shut, presenting a wall of weathered steel to passersby. According to Ben Whine, associate director of the ScultpureCenter, it is always quite a show when the building reopens. It is during the weeks of installation that the institution returns to its roots as a studio space for artists who create site-specific pieces to show in the industrial space.
Downstairs, we entered what appeared to be a functional hallway. A low, whirring sound could be heard in the background as Berman and Whine spoke, but it wasn’t until an “exit sign” had wended its way halfway down the hall that I realized it was part of a show. Gabriel Sierra, an artist interested in architecture, design, institutional critique, and structural interventions, had installed this simulacrum of an exit sign that was slowly making its way across the space. Because of the nature of Sierra’s work, I found myself constantly searching for additional interventions, to the point that I no longer trusted my ability to discern the functional elements of the building from the installation within.
Berman seemed most proud of the masonry wall that had been cut with a circular saw to reveal its cross-section, marking the transition between the original building and the addition. This cut is “all but invisible, but here to be discovered,” he explained. Also true of the SculptureCenter, a gem of an organization tucked away on a narrow street, but just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Manhattan.