Bruner/Cott Completes Amherst College Powerhouse Student Event Space

Words: Bronzella Cleveland

Amherst College Powerhouse
All photos courtesy of Bruner/Cott and David Lamb.

Former McKim, Mead & White Steam Plant Receives Second Life Through Adaptive Reuse

Bruner/Cott & Associates has completed its renovation/redesign of the Amherst College (Amherst, Mass.) Powerhouse Student Event Space. The 6,500 square-foot, $3-million project represents a reworking of the college’s historic 1925 brick steam plant, designed by McKim Mead & White. Contemporary design elements were integrated within a robust framework of historic preservation to create the new facility, a concept related to Bruner/Cott’s groundbreaking design approach to the Massachusetts Museum for Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) in North Adams.

Located on the east side of campus, the Powerhouse is adjacent to a new residential quadrangle now in the planning stages. A classic building with an industrial interior, the steam plant remained in use until the 1960s, when a modern gas and oil-fired plant was built. Thereafter, it largely served as an underused garage. Shaped with input from the student body, the new facility fills a pressing need on the campus, which had little space devoted to its uses before. Reconfigured, the Powerhouse now accommodates performances, dances, parties, coffee houses, dinners, speakers, farmers’ markets, and food truck nights. Lighting and sound systems with flexible furniture concepts support this broad range of activities.

The program for the building includes accessibility, a new pergola wing for restrooms, and food service support. A strong new landscape concept marries the interior to a paved exterior terrace with natural amphitheater seating accommodating outdoor events and spill-over from indoor social activities. Novel approaches to natural ventilation and waste heat recovery from existing utilities were incorporated. Structural alterations included the removal of columns and a series of seismic upgrades.

“The Powerhouse project is an example of the value of reimagining buildings to give them second lives,” says Principal-in-Charge Simeon Bruner. “It actively demonstrates how historic preservation and new construction can work hand in hand.”

Amherst College Powerhouse
Interior of the redesigned Powerhouse


Amherst College Powerhouse
Side entry to the Powerhouse
Amherst College Powerhouse
Front exterior of the Powerhouse
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