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Potential Museum Building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

  • 1.  Potential Museum Building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

    Posted 11-26-2018 11:48 AM
    Edited by Steven Ancona 11-26-2018 11:49 AM
    Hi, I am seeking advice on whether a vacant building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn has good potential to become a museum. The building is located at 186 N 6th Street, just a block from the 3rd busiest subway station in NYC. It is a beautiful old brick school building in very good condition, ~43,500 square feet, gets lots of light on all sides, has some outdoor space, with panoramic city views from the roof. Williamsburg has a long history of art and culture, gets both local and foreign visitors, but amazingly and sadly has no museums. 

    Can anyone tell me if seeking out a museum looking to open or expand at this location makes sense?

    Thanks very much.
    thumbnail image

    Steven Ancona
    212-675-3699 x201
    New York NY

  • 2.  RE: Potential Museum Building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

    Posted 11-27-2018 09:15 AM
    Hello Steven!

    I would like to commend you on your efforts to bring a museum to your community. However, I would caution you about the use of a former school building. It will likely require a good deal of renovation to adapt it to museum use. My museum is currently housed in a former school building and it has not always been the best fit. We recently participated in the FAIC funded Collections Assessment for Preservation (CAP) program. We had the benefit of architectural and collections experts help us to succinctly articulate the issues we face in our current building: 

    " presents several challenges for the Museum. The building was designed to provide ample daylight and natural ventilation in all interior spaces and to provide discrete classroom spaces of similar dimensions. These qualities make historic school buildings particularly adaptable for contemporary use as apartments, condominiums, offices, community centers, business incubators, and artists' studios. These same qualities make the building less suited to the Museum's needs, where daylight [and air] must be filtered or excluded to protect collections items and where different types of spaces have different needs."

    Buildings of that age usually present mobility issues as well for both visitors and staff. If you or the organization looking to move in has the funds to retrofit the building it might be a good idea but it will likely take a lot of work. 

    Hopefully, this is helpful and best of luck whatever you decide!

    Michelle Nash
    Elkhart County Historical Museum
    Bristol IN

  • 3.  RE: Potential Museum Building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

    Posted 11-27-2018 11:11 AM
    You pose an interesting question, and I look forward to various opinions.

    Since we have been exploring similar options, can you provide a bit more on how you would use a 45,000-square-foot building?

    Greg Moss
    International Society of Antique Scale Collectors
    c: 248-338-4496


  • 4.  RE: Potential Museum Building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

    Posted 11-30-2018 04:13 PM
    I find it surprising that no one has referred you down the block to the case of P.S.1 in Long Island City. This school building was converted to a museum in the mid -70s and is now owned by MOMA. The building you are looking at is probably of the same vintage. PS1 is considered a success story. You can get there on the 7 or E train.
    --Andrew Gurian

  • 5.  RE: Potential Museum Building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

    Posted 12-03-2018 02:17 PM
    Hello Steven - 
    Per Andrew G's recommendation that you check out MoMA PS1 for how a similar building can be adapted into a relevant museum space, I just wanted to make sure you had my contact info if you need any help, advice, or guidance. We are the architect who completed that adaptive renovation in the 1990's for MoMA PS1 and do similar projects across the nation.

    Please don't hesitate to reach out if you have any questions about the process, potential hurdles/limitations, opportunities, etc.

    Michelle N is correct in letting you know that renovations with historical buildings can be more substantial than originally thought, but they can also end up being much more extraordinary than originally thought.

    my email:

    Larisa Forester, Assoc. AIA, CPSM
    Frederick Fisher and Partners
    Los Angeles, New York

  • 6.  RE: Potential Museum Building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

    Posted 11-27-2018 12:12 PM
    Hi Steven,

    As Ms. Nash wrote, you will need a substantial renovation. But as a realtor I'm sure you know this. There have been great results for museums (or large galleries) that have used similar spaces in which ample daylight has been an asset, not a hindrance. But that depends on what you want to use the space for -- preserving historical artifacts that require specific humidity and lighting control -- or displaying more contemporary work where that is not so necessary.

    Depending on how you move forward, you will need the services of an architect who will advise you on how best to renovate the space, whether it is traditional museum compartments or taking a more innovative approach with a former educational building. ADA retrofitting shouldn't be too much of an issue; if need be you can always add an elevator if there isn't a freight elevator already existing. You will also need a plan on how to facilitate deliveries and whether or not your neighbors will accommodate you or try to litigate you. You will need to talk with a structural engineer to see if you can add a roof garden for gallery/museum openings. You will also need a plan on how vehicular visitors will try to visit and how to accommodate them. Also what hours you're open; if you're going to be a noise & traffic nuisance and how to mitigate those things, etc., etc.

    So these are some things to think about when planning or deciding if that building will be a great fit for you. I noticed there was a permit filed for that building to convert it to market rate housing; I would check what happened to that application and if there's anything you need to be concerned about.

    In conclusion, converting that building to a museum will work but you need to put the time and effort into it. It's also a great "museum-looking" building already, so while you need to redesign the interior, the exterior looks great from what little I've seen.

    Best wishes,

    Prof. Jeremi Bigosinski
    Department of Art, Architecture + Design
    Norwalk Community College
    Norwalk CT

  • 7.  RE: Potential Museum Building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

    Posted 11-27-2018 02:29 PM

    It isn't likely that you will find a museum looking for this kind of space. 

    School buildings can make relatively good museum spaces.  Older ones often have high ceilings and relatively large rooms which can be repurposed as gallery spaces. However, relatively good is not great. A museum looking for space would want more flexibility in its spaces, the option for advanced HVAC, a significant lobby/public indoor space, and on and on.Transforming the building would likely cost as much or more than demoing it and building new. An old warehouse is a better option and there are plenty of this around, too. 

    Even then, there simply aren't that many museums out looking for space, especially as much space as seems to be on offer.


    Guy Hermann
    Museum Insights
    Master Planning for Museums

  • 8.  RE: Potential Museum Building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

    Posted 11-27-2018 03:55 PM
    ​Hello, I was just thinking that there are types of historic exhibits that don't require being kept away from natural air, light, etc. One type of exhibit I was thinking of is one showing historic industries and antique machines. I thought of this because I had gone into a clothing shop in Manhattan that has a great collection of antique industrial sewing machines, some, probably for leather, that are very large, and all of them very interesting looking. As I looked at them, I was thinking that the industries that used to be so common in New York and are now largely gone would make a very interesting subject for a historical museum collection, with explanations of how these industries worked and who worked in them. Williamsburg having been an industrial area in the past, I think would make it a great place for a museum about industrial trades and their history.

    Valeria Kondratiev
    The Frick Collection
    New York NY

  • 9.  RE: Potential Museum Building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

    Posted 11-27-2018 05:30 PM
    Dear Steven:

    I agree with Michelle.  The renovation of a heritage building for museum purposes often sounds like a wonderful idea, BUT, . . . there are many "buts."

    One key consideration for a museun locate in northern climaates is that you need to protect the heritage structure as well as your collections.  Quite often the requirements for these two goals are in conflict.

    Apart from floor spaces chopped up into small rooms that are difficult to use for museum purposes, the need to control the internal climate in a re-purposed heritage building is more difficult & expensive than project planners would hope.

    For example, humidification of interior spaces for optimal climate control for collections does put a brick building at risk from vapour pressure in the winter.

    I have posted an overview of one such an adaptive reuse capital project on-line, but the download time is rather long & it deals with extensive local historic considerations.  I attach images of 3 of my slides to illustrate one of the elements of the complexity regarding forcing interior humidity into your brick walls that would cause ice to form inside your bricks unless extensive precautions are taken:

    The solution to this problem is rather complicated & expensive as can be seen in the following architectural drawings showing the necessary double walls with dry air circulated between them:

    A simpler diagramme:

    The adaptive re-use project to house a community museum in a provincially designated brick heritage structure that I planned & supervised has been judged to be a series of compromises that do work to preserve the heritage brick building & properly care for the collections.  Again, this is not easy or inexpensive.

    Best wishes in the planning for the museum spaces you need & can afford.

    Respectfully yours

    Paul C. Thistle

  • 10.  RE: Potential Museum Building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

    Posted 12-04-2018 09:15 AM
    A couple of thoughts: in addition to PS1 there's another old school building being used as a gallery/museum in the NY area a bit upstate: it's called The School, in Kinderhook, NY not far from Hudson. They've done a nice job of keeping the bones of the building but not renovating every single inch of it such that some of the upper floor galleries are clearly very old rooms with new art in them, which makes it an exciting visual experience.

    I'm not an architect but I've been working with architects for 30 years and know of many people who can assess a building, organize space and/or who manage institutional RFPs for cultural organizations; I'm based in Park Slope.  Good luck in any case!

    Iva Kravitz
    Principal, The Iva Agency
    Twitter: @IvaReport
    Facebook: The Iva Agency
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    Iva Kravitz AIA
    Brooklyn NY

  • 11.  RE: Potential Museum Building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

    Posted 12-05-2018 11:33 AM
    You've gotten really good advice here so far. To piggyback on Jeremy's comment, I would advise you to really look at how you'll accept deliveries. Things like a dedicated freight drive, a loading dock, and a freight elevator (separate from the one the public will use) make a huge difference, particularly for hosting traveling exhibits.

    Lisa Coleman
    Traveling Exhibits Coordinator
    The Children's Museum of Indianapolis
    Indianapolis IN