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2016 MCHAP

National Sawdust

Bureau V

Brooklyn, NY, USA

October 2015


Bureau V


SLAB Architecture PLLC (Architect of Record) Arup New York (Acoustics, Audio-Visual, Theatre, Lighting & Fire Consulting) RSE Associates Inc. (Structural Engineer) Plus Group Consulting Engineering PLLC (MEP Engineer) Carlin Simpson & Associates (Geotechnical Engineer) Alcon Builders Group (General Contractor)


Kevin Dolan / National Sawdust


Floto + Warner Bureau V


Bureau V found and selected the site for the project in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, an area rich in music history, and one that is more central to less affluent, outer-borough residents than Manhattan. Williamsburg also has a growing, arts-interested constituency and is an area of rapidly rising property values. National Sawdust leverages this property value as an insurance policy for philanthropists to support the fledgling nonprofit's capital needs through a differed donation program (giving philanthropists a larger tax write-off). This philanthropic investor model (devised by Dolan) and the building's location channel the economic engines of gentrification, rising property values and growing disposable income, into supporting young artists, many of whom have been pushed out of this very area. The design of National Sawdust is characterized by the insertion of a highly articulated crystalline form into the rough brick envelope of a former sawdust factory. At its core, the project is a retooling of the 18th century chamber hall model as an incubator for new music. The hall interior is wrapped in an acoustically transparent but visually translucent skin, which allows sound to travel through it freely. Creating a seamless, wrap-around enclosure for a wide repertoire of performances, the skin masks the variable sound absorbing, diffusing, and reflecting surfaces, as well as the state-of-the-art performance, recording, broadcast, and box-in-box isolation systems that allow the nonprofit to achieve its mission: to give young composers and musicians a home, a place in which to experiment, to compose, to make mistakes, to catalogue successes, and to premiere new works.


National Sawdust, a new nonprofit founded by Kevin Dolan, aims to support new music composition, across styles, by supporting the musicians and composers who create it. Becoming a musician or composer is a difficult task. Hard work, training, as well as one's outreach and promotional prowess are often equally as important as talent and the quality of one's work. This context, coupled with the tumultuous economic shifts in the recording industry, have made this process overwhelming. New York City has long welcomed new musicians and composers with its large, supportive audience and numerous places to perform. Its economic vitality and population, while contributors to this positive framework, have also forced a crisis, pushing lower and middle income residents further and further away from the city through unsustainably high living expenses. A similar condition has forced the closing of numerous arts nonprofits in recent years. While National Sawdust will not solve these systemic problems, it needed to address and understand this context. National Sawdust's major effort to provide support is the creation of a new space that was to be centrally located in New York City. The space had three major requirements: it was to have superb acoustics, allowing new works to sound extraordinary, it was to be a pleasant space, where music fans would not need to show their interest in supporting new music through their discomfort, and it was to be a memorable space, where the architecture does not disappear as the lights dim.


Seven years in the making, Bureau V's first building, National Sawdust, opened its doors on October 1, 2015. By the end the year, three months later, the space had welcomed nearly 10,000 patrons from across the 5 boroughs and beyond, exhibited 95 performances, including 21 world premieres (all with affordable ticket prices plus many free events), began year-long residencies with 12 music groups and 4 composers, initiated partnerships with arts organizations focused on local youth, and garnered numerous reviews of new performances, including 8 New York Times music reviews. National Sawdust began to make an impact long before its official opening. Starting in 2010, Bureau V worked closely with National Sawdust's Artistic Director, Paola Prestini, to produce a series of periodic events in its construction site. The project had a twofold goal: to track the progress of the building through filmed performance, and to establish an identity for the nonprofit well before opening. Performances in this series included artists from Brooklyn, Queens, Harlem, Syria, Trinidad, Mexico, Italy, and Zimbabwe, creating an archive of the establishment of the nonprofit's identity. Due to safety concerns, only one such performance was open to the public. In attendance that night, the New York Times classical music critic Zachery Woolfe wrote, “surrounded by the factory’s looming brick walls under a clear, starry was easy to feel hopeful and excited that the evening’s richness and range would be a fixture of the city for many years to come.”

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