A revitalizing new arts center rises out of sawdust in a post-industrial neighborhood

The neighborhood of Williamsburg in the Brooklyn borough of New York City has become a flourishing spot for real estate development in the past decade, partially due to a change in the neighborhood’s zoning that’s allowed for a residential boom.

So when Kevin Dolan, a New York tax lawyer with a passion for musical composition, started conceptualizing a plan for a new concert hall in 2008, he and the creative team he assembled weren’t expecting the ideal space to take the form of an early-20th-century sawdust factory in this formerly industrial part of town.

There is a real kind of tabula rasa model of development there, where a lot of the old buildings are being ripped down, and big, glass, sometimes not-so-well constructed residential buildings were going up,” says Peter Zuspan of Bureau V Architecture, design architects for the renovation and repurposing of the structure. “A lot of the neighborhood kind of looked like a Western movie set in terms of old clapboard houses that were not in good shape.

So when we found this old brick warehouse building that was actually in decent shape and in an area that is surrounded by brand-new developments,” he continues, ”we thought it would be a sort of defiant act of preservation to keep it, actually.

The concert hall, which opened in 2015 after seven years and a $16 million, two-phase construction project, is named National Sawdust, after the factory that preceded it.

Bureau V is a Brooklyn-based design studio led by Stella Lee and Laura Trevino, in additon to the afore-mentioned Peter Zuspan. Its projects range from cultural and commercial buildings to performances, installations, and events. National Sawdust is Bureau V’s first completed building.

The studio’s previous work often falls on the border of architecture. It includes collaborative performances, such as an ongoing series of spatial sound installations with the musician Arto Lindsay, which has included performances at the Venice Biennale of Art and Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; and Eye to Eye, a piece conceived and performed at the Guggenheim Museum over two days with the art collective Assume Vivid Astro Focus. Bureau V has designed and fabricated a series of fashion week installations with the conceptual fashion label SSWTR, as well as a capsule menswear collection.

You can become a part of National Sawdust’s legacy by purchasing a brick in the lobby for $5,000.

Your name will be immortalized, seen year-round by the thousands of artists and audience members who come through our doors.

You may also dedicate a brick in honor of, or in memory of, someone else.

Photographs by Floto + Warner.

See full NTHP article by Katerine Flynn in Saving Places.

See National Sawdust website.

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