The Brooklyn College Barry R. Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema, a 450-student graduate program, is the first film school at a public college in New York City. The building is owned by Steiner Studios, a major Navy Yard business with over 18,000 employees.
The 300-foot-long-by-100-foot-wide building, which sits on the National Register of Historic Places, used to be a U.S. Navy building. New York–based Dattner Architects renovated the core and shell prior to constructing the film school, design principal Daniel Heuberger explained. The build-out of the film school, which occupies the fifth and sixth floors, took advantage of the structure’s open spaces created by the industrial-sized spans of its column bays.
Brooklyn College wanted the space to feel like a “genuine vertical campus,” said Heuberger, with blended academic and social facilities to facilitate interaction among students and industry professionals. The nucleus of the program is a sixth-floor forum with a study space and cafeteria anchored by a wide-set stairway that can be used for lounging and reading. A screening room off of the forum dialogues with production spaces on that floor, while classrooms and offices occupy the floor below.
Designing a film school was a big learning curve, and the architects consulted industry experts to insure that a bountiful number of programs could be accommodated. “There’s absolutely no film left in film, it’s all digital. It gives gigantic creative leverage to all students, who before would have had a hard—and costly—time putting together incredibly sophisticated films,” said Heuberger.
Making a film is a labor-intensive, almost industrial process that requires many people and specialized equipment. Consequently, the building’s design discourages the auteur model of filmmaking in favor of heavy student-to-student collaboration: A column-free, 120-foot-by-60-foot hybrid production and sound stage facilitates the making process, as does the motion capture studio, equipment room, a construction shop, and foley room. Digital production produces a substantial amount of data, so the school is outfitted with two internal networks—one for email, one for film—to keep projects flowing smoothly.