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  • Writer's pictureJane Davila

Planning new art studios - the start

So here's the task ahead of us - taking a three-story brick factory that has been empty for the last ten years, that has no interior walls (or windows! although the openings are there, phew), and turning it into an updated, energy-efficient building full of vibrant, sun-drenched art studios. If you missed the previous post about the search for a new home for the NEST, go here to get caught up.

When renovating an existing space (especially on a tight budget) there are always things that you need to work around or work into your design. In the case of this building, it is the plethora of columns that exist on each of the three floors. Those columns made natural divisions where walls could go.

The first thing I did was measure everything and create a to-scale floor plan for each floor. Existing structures like the stairwells and freight elevator are included, as are the window openings and the three entrances on the first floor. There's some rudimentary plumbing in place and we need to plan for plumbing in roughly the same location, stacked from floor to floor, to save on costs.

Next I made a list of how many studios we'd like to end up with, including approximate sizes. I measured the widths of the hallways in our current location to help visualize how wide we would like the hallways in the new building. I made another list of what types and sizes of public spaces we'd like to have, researched how many restrooms we need per floor, and then I started sketching.

This is basically what each of the three floors looked like. Lots and lots of columns, two stairwells, some entrance doors, a freight elevator, and lots of window openings. Sadly, there's very little original architectural detail left in the building from 1907, except for the beadboard clad stairwells, and an odd door or two, but we'll be looking for ways to add some character back in.

Here's one of the first drafts for a first floor layout. On the first floor (the more public floor), the hallways are 12' wide, and there's an art gallery/event space. Each floor has to have 3 restrooms and a kitchenette. Actually, we could have put in two restrooms with multiple stalls in each, but I figured out how to fit individual restrooms in the same square footage. Who else hates stall bathrooms and the lack of privacy?

The giant space on the first floor is a 1200 square foot art gallery/event space. It was an interesting puzzle thinking about door placement, where partition/dividing walls should be placed, and the flow of the entire floor. You have to really think in 3D and imagine yourself moving throughout the space. What are the views? How does it feel? What does the scale feel like? Where is there natural light coming from? How will the artists feel in their studios, are the proportions good and useful? Where will artwork be hung? How much light will each studio get? So. Many. Questions. to ask during this conceptual drawing process. I found it helpful to tape off a variety of dimensions in our current studio building to get a sense of scale and proportion. Having the same height ceilings in both buildings helped a lot with conceptualizing.

Partition walls could only be placed between windows (obvs), so that dictated a lot of the available studio sizes. Having the hallway running where it does, closest to the stairs, creates larger studios on one side of the hall and smaller studios on the other.

On the upper two floors, all available space becomes studios, with larger studios created by request on the 3rd floor. This floor has a peaked roof and 18' high ceilings, instead of the 11' of the other floors, so the volume of the space is more grand and the original beams and rafters are stunning! You can see on the floor plan for the second floor that the hallway is slightly narrower than the first floor, going down to 9' wide from 12' wide to accommodate larger studios on the two upper floors, while still maintaining excellent walls for displaying artwork and ample space for walking, viewing, and enjoying the art. There's a wider area in the center of the long hall on the second and third floors so that the 210' long hall doesn't feel like a tunnel. Even with windows and light at either end, having the relief of an area that opens up a bit makes the flow better and the physical feeling in the hallway more comfortable. Plus it can act as a natural gathering area, a space for a refreshment table during open events, or a place for an impromptu dance party.

Once we had tweaked the plans to our liking, with input from many of the current artists at the NEST, it was off to an architect to draw up official building plans for permits. Next time I'll share some of that process and how a decision was made about new windows - all 288 of them!

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