A nineteenth-century munitions warehouse on Governors Island in New York Harbour has opened its doors as the city’s newest venue for the arts.

The new arts centre used to be a munitions warehouse. Image credit: Nicole Saraniero / Untapped Cities

The new arts centre used to be a munitions warehouse. Image credit: Nicole Saraniero / Untapped Cities

Spearheaded by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC), the project is the latest piece in the ongoing transformation of the island, a former military base, into a vibrant cultural destination. Pei Cobb Freed & Partners led a team that provided pro bono design services to the non-profit LMCC to restore and renovate the nearly-150-year-old structure, situated on the island’s northern edge.

The new arts centre is the first permanent home on the island for LMCC, founded in 1973 to serve local artists and the community with grants, studio space, and public exhibitions and events. To accommodate the organisation’s eclectic programme, the architects opened up the interior of the long and narrow two-storey building – previously a warren of military offices – and exposed and restored the original truss structure, creating 40 000 square feet of flexible, loft-like space.

The facility includes a luminous main gallery on the upper level, with an adjoining reception area behind a clear glass wall that preserves the expansive quality of the space. Smaller rooms for performance, rehearsal, and exhibition as well as art studios arrayed on both levels enjoy abundant natural light. A new stair and elevator allow for integrated, accessible programming, and a café on the lower level, framed by an exposed-brick wall, offers views of Lower Manhattan and the harbour. In addition to retaining steel, wood, and brick from the existing building, the renovation incorporates energy-efficient systems throughout.

The centre’s inaugural season features two exhibitions – The Power of Two Suns by Yto Barrada with guest artist Bettina, and Extinct in New York by Michael Wang – and a special installation by Yoko Ono. This autumn, the seventeen artists selected for LMCC’s first year-round residency programme will participate in an open-studio weekend, giving visitors a glimpse of work in progress in the new spaces.