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Greetings from Gowanus

The Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn is considered one of the most polluted sites in the country. It is said that residents and businesses along the canal historically dumped anything from trash to carcasses into the waterway, and a simple whiff of the surrounding area proves this to be true. Tasked with creating a cultural center that embraced material reuse, the project opted to extract the abundant amount of sludge from the canal to be used as a material to form bricks. These ‘sludge bricks’ would then be fired and used to assemble a self-supporting Catalan brick vault structure that beckons back to the canal’s industrial past of brick factories while ushering in a new future of sustainability. Intended to house three different cultural institutions focused on different mediums (art, theater, and fabrication), the structure uses the necessary structural drop downs of the brick vaults as permanently occupied rooms while leaving the remaining space as semi-programmed flex areas meant to promote collaboration between mediums. These transformable spaces are flanked by optional curtains that can be deployed when further privacy is needed. Special variations of the sludge brick are incorporated into the structure when necessary, such as glass bricks that allow light within the space, acoustic bricks that insulate sound-sensitive areas, and grass bricks that allow the roof to grow wild with vegetation. Along the interior is a brick production line that is constantly operating, as canal-faring robots extract and process sludge for the creation of bricks to be sold as a means of funding for the cultural institutions the building serves.