Launch Slideshow

On the River

The revitalization of a riverside industrial hub continues as a 19th-century building is transformed into the Beacon Institute of Rivers and Estuaries' Center for Environmental Innovation and Education

On the River

The revitalization of a riverside industrial hub continues as a 19th-century building is transformed into the Beacon Institute of Rivers and Estuaries' Center for Environmental Innovation and Education

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     The addition is home to a new, intensive green roof.

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     On the south elevation both provides an arcade for the entry and houses two 30-tube solar evacuated collector panels.

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     The galvanized steel armature.

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    A steel-frame, cedar-clad addition now serves as the institute’s entryway

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    The largest part of the original building was turned into a flexible program space.

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    The largest part of the original building was turned into a flexible program space.

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    The addition features several sustainable initiatives including an intensive green roof and restrooms outfitted with composting toilets whose mechanical system is housed in the basement below.

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    The largest part of the original building was turned into a flexible program space, which now connects to the new addition and an expansive outdoor wood deck through a small vestibule.

Beacon, N.Y., a one-time industrial hub perched on the Hudson River, is hedging its future on the buildings of its past. The slow yet steady revitalization of the city—formerly a major center of brickworks and the hat-making capital of the United States—included the opening of Dia:Beacon in 2003, a conversion of a 300,000-square-foot Nabisco carton-making and printing plant into the home of the Dia Art Foundation’s permanent collection. Meanwhile, Beacon’s namesake former high school has been refashioned into a complex of artist studios, and a group of residents is restoring the 78-year-old Mount Beacon Fire Tower overlooking the Hudson Valley.

The Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries is another linchpin in Beacon’s reinvention. To create a campus on the waterfront peninsula of Denning’s Point, the not-for-profit environmental research organization also engaged in adaptive reuse. Building the institute’s facility, a 4,500-square-foot building known as the Center for Environmental Innovation and Education (CEIE), involved stripping a 19th-century masonry structure to its bare essentials and reconstructing and expanding it to LEED-Platinum standards.

Gensler has overseen the project since then-Gov. George Pataki proposed the creation of the institute in 2000. Shortly thereafter, when the architects began grappling with the renovation of the Denning’s Point building specifically, they ran the risk of ruin.

Oliver Schaper, Gensler senior associate, recalls his first encounter with the building, after using a machete to see past the second-growth forest enshrouding it. “It was a brick shell, and the roof deck had multiple holes in it thanks to fallen branches from a nearby cottonwood tree,” he recalls. Originally it housed a coal-fired generator for Denning’s Point Brick Works, a manufacturing operation that encompassed the northernmost linear mile of the peninsula. Some time after the brickworks was shuttered, a new occupant used the building for light industrial purposes, carving a series of garage doors into the western elevation.

The architects tended to the components of the original structure that could be saved. To rebuild untenable portions of the three-brick-thick walls, Schaper and his colleagues tapped a supplier of recycled brick—whose delivery unwittingly included one pallet of building blocks made at Denning’s Point. Precast concrete matching the original bluestone windowsills were substituted for existing pine lintels. And wherever one of the building’s six original pine trusses showed rot, new timber was inserted. “Old-growth wood is three times stronger than wood today. You couldn’t recreate it, having to use glulam or some composite engineered product,” Schaper says, explaining why the trusses were replaced in sections rather than entirely.

The western elevation proved more resistant to piecework. The timber lintels framing the vehicle-size openings balanced precariously, so that even the slightest change could cause collapse. Therefore the entire wall was constructed from scratch, using concrete masonry units and a single-layer brick curtainwall; all demolition material was recycled.

Gensler recreated the original window openings throughout the building’s vintage volume, and attached aluminum stock to off-the-shelf double-glazed and argon-filled aluminum windows to look like the many-mullioned steel lights of yore. “Like with wood,” Schaper says, “brick from 100 years ago is much denser and harder than brick today.” Even so, upon furring out interior walls, the design team specified 4 inches of mineral wool insulation that exceeds code minimums.

To accommodate CEIE’s mechanical systems, Schaper designed a steel-frame, cedar plank–clad addition topped by an intensive green roof, which meets the old generator building at a right angle. It also serves as the CEIE’s front door. A galvanized steel armature mounted to the southern elevation of this new wing effects an arcade for the entry sequence and holds two 30-tube solar evacuated collector panels that provide all of the center’s domestic hot water during the summer and more moderate weeks of spring and autumn. In winter, the evacuated tubes get a boost from the geothermal system made up of 10 closed loops that reside in the addition’s basement alongside the pair of tanks that services three composting toilets.

These systems enter the generator building via a “pinch point” and occupy an 8-foot-wide mechanical mezzanine whose dropped ceiling demarcates a conference room; the building foundation was reinforced at this point to shoulder the additional weight. Another alteration made to the old building in order to accept new technologies is the trio of natural ventilation towers that pierce the Galvalume standing-seam roof. Schaper points out the ring of thin-tube radiators ringing the interior of each tower: They provide a necessary heat sink for the solar system, and the increased temperature induces a stacking effect that enhances ventilation through the building volumes.

The redesign of the CEIE represents the best of both worlds. Gensler treated a vernacular building much like a landmark, but took liberties to improve building performance that would be excluded by official protections. The result gracefully combines historical sympathy, physical comfort, and energy efficiency, and sets a high bar for the conversion of the nearby Noesting Pin Ticket building into the 27,000-square-foot Center for Advanced Environmental Research by Croxton Collaborative Architects, the institute’s upcoming project and the next milestone in Beacon’s enlightened rebirth.

David Sokol writes about design and architecture from Beacon, N.Y.



Green team

Architect, interior designer: Gensler, www.gensler.com 
Client/owner: The Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries, www.thebeaconinstitute.org
Mechanical engineer: AKF Engineers, www.akf-engineers.com 
Structural engineers: AKF Engineers; Robert Silman Associates, www.rsapc.com
Civil engineer: Morris Associates, www.morrisengineers.com
Geotechnical engineer: URS Corp., www.urscorp.com
Construction manager: New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Taconic Region
General contractor: Aark Interstate Contractors
Landscape architect: Margie Ruddick Landscape, www.margieruddick.com; Wallace Roberts & Todd, www.wrtdesign.com 
Lighting designer: HDLC, www.hdlclighting.com 
Green consultant, LEED consultant, and/or lifecycle performance partner: Gensler, Earth Sensitive Solutions

Materials

Adhesives, coatings, and sealants: Pecora Corp., www.pecora.com 
Appliances: GE Appliances, www.geappliances.com 
Ceilings: Armstrong, www.armstrong.com 
Flooring: Polished concrete
Furniture: Herman Miller, www.hermanmiller.com; Steelcase, www.steelcase.com Gypsum: USG, www.usg.com 
HVAC: Uponor, www.uponor-usa.com 
Insulation: Owens Corning, www.owenscorning.com
Lighting control systems: Lutron Electronics, www.lutron.com
Lighting: Lightolier, www.lightolier.com; Winona Lighting, www.winonalighting.com; Altman Lighting, www.altmanltg.com; Solatube, www.solatube.com 
Masonry: Local brickyards; Cranesville Block Co., www.cranesville.com 
Metal: Gerdau Ameristeel, www.gerdauameristeel.com; Dietrich Metal Framing, www.dietrichindustries.com 
Millwork: Roseburg, www.roseburg.com 
Paints and finishes: Benjamin Moore & Co., benjaminmoore.com; Ecoprocote, www.ecoprocote.com 
Evacuated tube solar collectors: Apricus Solar Co., www.apricus.com
Plumbing and water systems: Chicago Faucets, www.chicagofaucets.com; Symmons, www.symmons.com; Clivus Multrum, www.clivusmultrum.com 
Roofing: American Hydrotech, www.hydrotechusa.com; Oldcastle Glass, www.oldcastleglass.com; Englert, www.englertinc.com
Siding: FSC-certified cedar
Site and landscape products: Erco, www.erco.com; Bega, www.bega-us.com
Windows, curtainwalls, and doors: Efco, www.efcocorp.com; Vistawall, www.vistawall.com