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Imagining A New Artsy Life For Decrepit Gowanus Bat Cave

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Welcome back to Architecture 101, a new Curbed column in which writer Henry Melcher shares architecture students' coolest ideas for New York City. Have a project we should see? Drop us a line.

One block north of the brand new Gowanus Whole Foods and across the canal from Lightstone's future housing complex, is the shell of the former Brooklyn Rapid Transit Powerhouse. Opened around the turn of the 20th Century as a coal-fired plant that powered Brooklyn's trolley system, the derelict building was largely abandoned by the start of the 21st. In recent years, the heavily-graffitied site—known as the Bat Cave—has been home to teenage runaways, squatters, some raves, some concerts, an urban explorer or two, and seemingly any photographer working the ruin porn beat. Thanks to Joshua Rechnitz, the eccentric philanthropist who wanted to build a $50M velodrome at Brooklyn Bridge Park, the building won't be razed and turned into some bland apartments. He bought the building in 2012 and plans to turn the space into an arts and education facility.

Just last week, the state put forth a remediation plan for the site, hopefully setting the stage for the ambitious conversion. While an architect for the massive undertaking has not yet been selected, some architecture students at Syracuse University spent the semester imagining plans of their own. They worked autonomously from Rechnitz, but within the framework of what he envisions for the site. While all of the students' plans included galleries and work-space for artists, their visions for the building's future were as varied as its past.


Harking back to the building's industrial origins, one student drew up plans for a crane system on the lot that would transport cargo to waiting ships on the canal. Another student focused on the building's more recent history and preserved the Bat Cave as a space for parties and concerts, at least at night. During the day, of course, it would be a fabrication and gallery space.


There was a proposal based on what one student called "The Artist's Hierarchy of Needs" - essentially a rejiggered version of Maslow's famous pyramid. The building would include space to accommodate all of those needs, which were, in this order, "a financial advising center," "a laundromat," and ... "a shower."


Perhaps knowing Rechnitz's penchant for cycling, a student imagined a winding bike path cutting in and out of the structure. It's not quite a full velodrome, but close enough. There was also a plan that depicted happy people picking fruits and veggies alongside what is currently an EPA Superfund Site. In the meantime, those folks might just want to swing by Whole Foods for their kale and chia seeds.


And then there was a student who wanted to honor the building's current state of decay by letting it decay some more. He proposed artist studios in the basement, but left the building open to the elements to pretty much just let nature do its thing. When asked by a critic what would happen if, say, someone was killed in the building by a collapsing wall, the confident student stood by his proposal. Hey, it's just college. YOLO.

While it's safe to assume that these students plans won't be built, it could be quite some time before we know what will. Maureen Connelly, a spokesperson for Rechnitz tells Curbed, "The Powerhouse is definitely a work in progress. It is a huge undertaking."
· Gowanus Bat Cave Needs Decontamination Before Development [Curbed]
· Architecture 101 archives [Curbed]
· All Bat Cave coverage [Curbed]
· Joshua Rechnitz coverage [Curbed]