A balance between respect for the existing site and creating a remarkable architecture that is able to engage a wide community is what characterizes the Weeksville Heritage Centre in Brooklyn. Built to enhance the 19th-century houses of an African American freedman’s community and form a coherent community precinct, the new 23,000 sq ft complex includes a new museum and state-of-the-art exhibition, performance and educational facilities. The buildings gravitate around the central landscaped area where past and present face each other and are bound together by the ever-changing farmland vegetation that evokes the agricultural heritage of the community.
The relation of this central area towards the surrounding streets and its delimitation is the idea underlying the project. From the group of heritage houses, a fence with African-inspired patterns wraps around the site, allowing a view of the farmland, until it reaches the new complex that fills the corner between Buffalo Avenue and St. Marks Street. The building is articulated in an elegant L-shaped glass corridor that connects two pleasantly textured volumes, one long, the other squared in plan, which the architects developed partially underground in order to maintain a height relative to the heritage houses. This composition forms a gate, sometimes real and sometimes illusory from the direction of the old Indian trail that arrives from the southeast and crosses the site diagonally to arrive at the old houses.
The patterns and the rich textures offered by the slate, the wood and the frit glass create a rhythm almost of African riffs embedded into a modern syntax. These elements add a playfulness to the civic tone set by the geometrical rigors of the building making the space welcoming to the wide community that enjoys it. The architects’ commitment to community goes further yet with due diligence given to environmental sustainability. The Centre has been awarded a gold rating under LEED 2.1, with the use of a system of wells. Buried under the landscape, seven dry wells provide on-site percolation of storm water, whilst 48 geothermal wells drilled to a depth of 470 ft, provide for heating and cooling.
Material Used :
Tracking of submittals during construction indicated that over 10% of all installed materials consisted of recycled content. Over 20% of all materials were manufactured locally, and 10% was harvested locally. The exterior slate cladding was sourced from Vermont quarry 250 miles from the project site. Zero-or low-VOC materials and finishes were exclusively employed throughout the building interior.