The landmarked Brooklyn Historical Society building in Brooklyn Heights is getting a facelift.
Plans for the interior renovation were formally revealed Friday by architects Taryn Christoff and Martin Finio of Christoff:Finio Architecture. The panel discussion included a presentation of the concept, floor plans and vision behind the renovations. At the core of the plans is the desire to preserve the historic qualities of the building while also bringing it up to date.
“We tried to be modern in our sensibility, while allowing the modern and the old to cohabitate,” explained Finio.
The first floor and lower level of the building will be renovated, leaving the foyer and upper level library and exhibition spaces open throughout the process. The renovations are expected to begin in October, and be completed by mid-September, 2012.
The building's old world silhouette has become a physical testament to the borough's cultural history. Dating back to pre-subway Brooklyn, the building has been a part of many a pivotal development, including a conversion of the original performance space into a Red Cross headquarters during the First World War.
“Caring deeply about this building has brought us together, and is much the reason that the Society is continuing on today," said Society president Deborah Schwartz.
The four story Queen Anne style structure has stood on the corner of Pierrepont and Clinton streets since 1881 when it was first being constructed under the vision of George Post, architect of the New York Stock Exchange. Originally designed for the Long Island Historical Society in spite of its downtown Brooklyn location, the building has seen significant renovations over the years, yet still bears its original exterior terracotta moldings and grand arched entranceway. This has been sealed and shut in favor of the lower level ramp walkway since renovations in 1997 – and is one of the features Christoff and Finio plan to bring back to life through their designs.
“We want to bring the building into the 21st Century, so we are looking forward, but also always looking back to the building's history and original intent,” said Finio. “It reminds us what brings us here in the first place.”
The upper library floor is hung from above by iron trusses – “a novel bridge construction borrowed from bridge technology,” points out Schwartz. The floor structure employs a series of iron trusses to support the upper levels from the roof. Additionally, Post's original design included fire proofing technology rarely seen in New York buildings in the 1800s.
The renovation will also restore access to the building's main entrance – “one of the great features of the building,” lauded Finio – with an expanded and updated lobby and retail space. The architects will also extend handicapped access, which currently provides limited access to elevated levels, allowing handicapped visitors full access to the center.
The entranceway lobby and first floor exhibition space will be equipped with updated acoustic technology for performances and events, rotating windows allowing for both full blackout's for screening purposes and day-lit exhibitions. The designs also show full revision of the original performance space, complete with audience seating and stage space. Integrated audio-visual technology will enhance the performance space, creating a state-of-the-art experience for visitors.
An integral part of the renovations is the new lighting system, which will replace the current limited-setting system in place.
“So much cannot be appreciated about this space because of the current lighting,” says Christoff.
Features such as dimmer settings, inset fixtures and lit columns mean that “the lighting will become more architectural” and enhance the function of all the spaces. Measures have been taken to make the lighting system energy efficient.
The lower level basement and storage space will be transformed into a gallery space, dedicated to the Center's ongoing “In Pursuit of Freedom” exhibition, with dark wood floors and columns that mimic the building's original foundation and materials. In addition, a classroom space will be designed in the lower levels, complete with kitchen facilities and equipped for arts and crafts activities for workshop sessions.
The renovations include updated HVAC and ventilation system, security and alarm systems, fire protection technology, security and alarm systems and new flooring.
The designs will make the space more versatile and accessible as well as better equipped to accommodate visitors and attract renters for special events and occasions.
The renovations are projected to cost $2.8 million. Funding was provided by the City of New York through the Brooklyn Delegation of the City Council, the Department of Cultural Affairs, Brooklyn Borough President Marky Markowitz's Office and the Office of the Mayor.
Schwartz emphasized that the Historical Society will not be closing during renovations – both the second floor and third floor libraries will remain open for activities and use, with some activities being held off-site during the process.
“We won't be able to do absolutely everything while we renovate – but we will be open,” said Schwartz.