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Gowanus Bat Cave will transform into an art space designed by Herzog & de Meuron

The dilapidated, graffiti-covered building will get a second life

Inside the Gowanus Bat Cave
Max Touhey

For years, the former Brooklyn Rapid Transit powerhouse on the banks of the Gowanus Canal—better known to many as the Bat Cave—has sat empty, but for the squatters who once called it home, and the graffiti artists who turned it into a Brooklyn icon.

But its gritty reputation will soon be a thing of the past. The New York Times reports that there’s finally a plan for the Bat Cave, and it has the imprimatur of a starchitect: Herzog & de Meuron will revamp the space, to be called the Powerhouse Workshop, into “a factory of sorts for the production of art”—woodworkers, metalworkers, ceramicists, and more will be just some of the people to use the building as both a work and exhibition space.

The project has been in the works for some time: Back in 2012, philanthropist Joshua Rechnitz bought the Bat Cave for just $7 million, with an eye toward converting it into a gallery and studio for artists. But, according to the Times, the nonprofit now in charge of the project (the Powerhouse Environmental Arts Foundation) found that artists in the area needed space to manufacture their wares more than simple studio space. And thus, the Powerhouse was born.

And while much of Herzog & de Meuron’s New York City work is seemingly the antithesis of the Bat Cave—shiny glass buildings constructed for powerful real estate developers—the Swiss firm does, as the Times notes, have roots in designing for artists. Its design for London’s Tate Modern—another former power station-turned-art space—is classic, and it’s worked on other arts projects, such as the renovation of the Park Avenue Armory and the design for a new Parrish Art Museum on Long Island.

A rendering of the new Powerhouse Workshop
Rendering by Herzog & de Meuron

The architects plan to use the footprint of a third building, a boiler house that was torn down in the 1950s, to build a new, six-story structure that will join the Bat Cave’s existing building. The graffiti-covered structure, meanwhile, will—after an extremely thorough clean-up and a brownfield remediation—remain much the same, with the graffiti that graces its exterior staying largely intact.

“It’s an incredible legacy for us to build on,” Kate Dixon, the executive director of the Powerhouse foundation, told the Times. “There are so many layers here, we don’t want to take any away. We simply want to add our own.”

If all goes according to plan, construction on the new building will begin this year, with the Powerhouse opening in 2020.

The Times also produced a 360-degree video of the Bat Cave, which you can check out below: