Completion Date: August 2014


Amherst College Powerhouse, Amherst, Massachusetts, United States

The Powerhouse at Amherst College reimagines an historic steam plant. Designed by McKim Meade & White in 1925, this facility was decommissioned in the 1960s. It re-opened in 2014 as the Powerhouse, a student-run activity centre, host to concerts, lectures, movies, yoga, poetry readings and fashion shows.

The industrial qualities of the power plant – height, light, structure, and materiality – are exploited to create a dramatic and unique space. The design began with editing ‘raw material,’ using the original building and the changes over time to create a new, coherent composition. The main event space is supported by an entry mezzanine, catering space, and storage. A new entry-level platform mitigates the grade difference between the street and the main floor, and includes a platform lift. Existing window openings are extended to the floor, including a glass bi-fold door. New industrial materials are woven through the building at a fine scale. An addition designed as a concrete garden wall frames an outdoor amphitheatre that opens to the event floor, and a once-closed, inward-focused building is turned inside out.

Despite its large interior volume, the building is very energy efficient: heat is by a radiant floor and an overhead infrared heating system, and the roof assembly is heavily insulated. Motorised louvres, operable windows, and the building’s form create a passive stack effect for cooling. Recycled, salvaged, and local materials are used throughout.

A gentle cleaning of the brick facades achieved a beautiful patina, and the roof was replaced with a mix of two different colours of slate to achieve the mottled effect of the original roof.

The observer still reads the McKim Meade & White steam plant design. The building has evolved to be an extroverted part of the campus instead of being an introverted coal-burning steam plant – weaving old with new.

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