Amherst College engaged Bruner/Cott to rework their historic 1925 McKim, Mead & White coal-power plant into a 6,500 square foot student event space, the Powerhouse. Located adjacent to planned residential quadrangle, the newly renovated facility emphasizes contemporary design elements within a robust framework of historic preservation that highlights the existing classical form. The industrial interior was reconfigured to support a wide-range of student activities, including performances, parties, farmer’s markets, speakers, dancers, and concerts. By using flexible furniture concepts, lighting, and sound systems, the architects ensured that the Powerhouse is as mixed-use and multi-functional as the student events it houses.
Amherst’s program includes provisions for accessibility, as well as a new pergola wing for restrooms and food service support. The strong landscaping concept marries the interior to a paved exterior terrace with natural amphitheater seating to accommodate both outdoor events and spill over from indoor social activities, while connecting the building to the rest of campus. Students’ responses to the Powerhouse has been overwhelming positive, praising the versatility, informality, and vibrancy of the design, along with its responsiveness to the needs of the student experience.
As part of the renovation, Bruner/Cott made several structural alterations to the Powerhouse, including the removal of columns and a series of seismic upgrades. The architects utilized novel approaches to natural ventilation and waste heart recovery systems from existing utilities, a process that is now being studied in the hopes of replicating the results in future adaptive reuse projects. Principal-in-Charge Simeon Bruner stated that “the Powerhouse project is an example of the value of reimagining building to give them second lives. It actively demonstrates how historic preservation and new construction can work hand in hand.”