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Modern Museum Opens In Brooklyn's Historic Weeksville

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In the late 1960s, archaeologists rediscovered four 19th century houses that were part of the 19th century settlement of Weeksville, one of the first villages settled by free African Americans. Today, the site, located in the middle of Crown Heights near Buffalo Avenue, is a portal to the past, surrounded by a NYCHA project and modern developments on all sides. The 1.5-acre cultural site itself recently got a modern upgrade with a new Heritage Center by Caples Jefferson Architects. The two-story 23,000-square-foot building holds exhibition and event space, while a 41,000-square-foot "interpretive landscape" redefines the site's context within the neighborhood. "Based on the concept of modern African riffs," writes Designboom, "the simple forms, strip windows, and glass passageways are enriched by natural light adding shadows, varying moods, and ever-changing perspectives."

The new building is designed to achieve LEED Gold certification, and the design incorporates sustainably harvested wood, recycled steel, and a geothermal well heats and cools the building. Architect Magazine describes how the designers "embedded" the African heritage in the design:

Despite the rejection of large-scale references to West African design, Jefferson "refused to give up on references to African origins," he says. Into the building's otherwise crisply geometrical volumes, the firm introduced patterns adapted from those sources. He was determined that none of these patterns were to be literal copies or superficially applied, but rather "embedded in the construction process." Examples of such treatment are seen in the layout of slate slabs on the exterior walls, the woven bronze security screen at the entrance, and the cast-iron fencing around much of the property. Frit designs on the glazing over circulation spaces project their patterns—which change with light conditions—onto other surfaces. The subtlety of these patterns is proven "when visitors don't notice them till they're pointed out," says Jefferson with pleasure.

· Caples Jefferson Architects PC Design Weeksville Heritage Center [designboom]
· Weeksville Heritage Center [Architect Magazine]
· Caples Jefferson Architects [official]