Weeksville Heritage Center is a sustainable, LEED Gold two-story, 23,000 sq ft new building and 41,000 sq ft interpretive landscape, located at the intersection of Buffalo Avenue and Bergen Street in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY.
Project Concept: Modern Syntax/African Riffs: Weeksville Heritage Center is a unique urban design project in which a modern architectural syntax of simple forms, strip windows, and glass passageways is impacted by repeated African riffs. The riffs are variations that provide a visual counterpoint. The riffs are embedded in construction, in structural elements, such as the joints in paving and stone, in the choice of colors and materials, and in the details like the fence posts and the frit in the sunshading glass. The modern syntax and African riffs, although independent from each other, harmonize when experienced as an entirety. The subliminal perceptual stimuli—decoration and sculpture unique to Africa, the architectural ideas of repetition, movement, rhythm, and proportion—are revealed by sunlight. Natural light enriches these riffs by adding shadows, moods, and ever-changing perspectives. Placed within the historic site of Weeksville Heritage Center and its evocative landscape, the new work redefines the context of Weeksville at this specific time and place.
Project Brief: The primary purpose of the new structure and landscape is to serve as a gateway to the historic houses on the premises – remnants of the 19th century free African American community of Weeksville – with state-of-the-art exhibition, performance and educational facilities, as well as to provide a green oasis for visitors and the local community. The main lobby will include introductory exhibits, and leads to a gallery for changing shows, a lecture and performance space for 200, classrooms for visiting groups and for community education, and a library resource center for visiting scholars. Administrative offices are to be located on the second floor, and the cellar is to include archival storage space as well as a room for recording oral histories.
Sustainability: The new building project is targeting a Gold rating under LEED 2.1. The new building’s footprint occupies only about one-fifth of the project site, a rarity within the five boroughs of New York City, allowing the major portion of the site to become open green space. Buried under this landscape are seven drywells, providing on-site percolation of storm water, and 48 geothermal wells drilled to a depth of 470 feet. The extensive closed-loop geothermal well field serves eleven water-to-air heat pump air handling units, considerably reducing the new building’s reliance on fossil fuels for heating and cooling. In keeping with the overall design intention to create an open, accessible community space, all interior spaces are flooded with daylight, providing a multiplicity of views of the historic site and the surrounding neighborhood.Thus the new building extends the original community’s frugal earth-aware history in a sustainable construction.