Architecture = Art

Waterfall Arts is a community arts organization in Belfast, whose mission is “to create community in harmony with nature through the transformative power of art.” The nonprofit institution occupies a historic school building originally constructed in the 1930s. Waterfall Arts supports the local arts community by providing educational opportunities for children and adults through renting studio spaces to professional artists and hosting events and performances, and presenting art exhibitions in their permanent gallery spaces. The institution’s program extends beyond the walls of the building with a weekly farmers’ market, seasonal art fairs, and concerts, and other outdoor activities that occupy former playground areas.

OPAL has been tasked with revitalizing the existing building and creating a new public face for the institution that is welcoming, increases awareness of Waterfall’s mission and opportunities, and represents the vibrancy of the community.

One aspect of the project, which draws on OPAL’s experience in creating high-performance buildings, is a deep-energy retrofit of the existing brick building, toward Waterfall Arts’ ultimate goal of net-zero energy consumption. Another primary impulse of the work is to increase accessibility with the addition of an elevator and the renovation of amenities to meet ADA compliance.

The new addition will become the primary entrance for the facility. Located on the southeast side of the building, the addition preserves the traditional relationship of the school facade to the street and neighborhood, while playing on the traditional Maine “back door” entry sequence.

The addition will contain a generous lobby, reception, and new display space. These program elements will be visible across reconfigured parking, a new landscape, and entry plaza through large areas of glazing.

As an expression of the creativity and vitality of the work within the facility, the architect proposes a projected metal scrim that extends beyond the new building facade and wraps the corner of the existing brick volume. This welcoming graphic and spatial gesture will have an outsized impact and be a visible beacon from surrounding streets. The scrim, constructed with a series of aluminum frames and patterned and perforated sheet metal and lit from within, will create a layered transparency to stand in contrast with the mass of the brick behind. Most important, the scrim will become a transformative canvas that can host an evolving series of art installations.

Location: Belfast
Designer: OPAL
Landscape Architect: Michael Boucher Landscape Architecture
Construction start: Fall 2020
Construction complete: Summer 2021

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