2022

MCHAP

Beloit College Powerhouse

Studio Gang

Beloit, United States

August 2020

PRIMARY AUTHOR

Jeanne Gang

CONTRIBUTING AUTHOR

Angus Young Associates (associate architect, electrical engineer, plumbing engineer, fire protection engineer, structural engineer, LEED consultant, commissioning consultant) / dbHMS (lighting and mechanical/environmental engineer) / R.H. Batterman & Co. (civil engineer) / Applied Ecological Services (landscape architect) / Threshold (acoustics and A/V consultant) / 3st/Span (signage, wayfinding consultant) / Ramaker & Associates (pool consultant) / Hastings+Chivetta Architects (athletic & recreation design consultant) / True North Consulting Group (IT consultant) / Dharam (cost consultant)

CLIENT

Beloit College

PHOTOGRAPHER

Tom Harris

OBJECTIVE

As an ever-increasing amount of the world’s energy infrastructure stands vacant amid widespread transition to cleaner forms of energy, the Beloit College Powerhouse shows how innovative design can transform and renew these derelict spaces into dynamic assets for their communities. In the past 10 years, the US has decommissioned 60% of its coal-burning power plants. While this signals progress in the urgently needed transition to green energy, it also raises the need for new ideas to address aging energy infrastructure and its obsolescence.

By retaining architectural features and industrial equipment from the original structures while incorporating new sustainable practices and lively gathering spaces, the Beloit Powerhouse sets an important precedent for the transformative potential of reusing outdated energy infrastructure. The renovation respects the building’s historic legacy by carefully restoring as many unique, period-specific details as possible while also taking full advantage of the existing structure’s robust shell and industrial features to create space for new programs.

Transforming the hundred-year-old structure presented significant challenges, especially to efficient energy use. An innovative radiant panel and slab system harnesses energy from the Rock River for most of the Powerhouse’s heating and cooling needs, improving comfort within the building and maintaining the highest air quality, while also minimizing total energy use. Ecological disruption was minimized by limiting new construction to the Fieldhouse addition, which sits on the power plant’s former coal field. The polycarbonate façade of the Fieldhouse provides advanced thermal insulation and abundant, diffuse natural light throughout the day.

CONTEXT

For more than three decades, Beloit College lacked a central gathering space on campus. In 2013, the College sought address this through the introduction of two new spaces: a student union and a student recreation center. With a lack of space for two new ground-up buildings on its main campus and seeking a cost-efficient solution, the College identified the decommissioned Blackhawk Generating Station as an opportunity to fully integrate the two programs while also reimagining a symbol of Beloit’s past into a sustainable new community hub.

The new Beloit Powerhouse offers a new home for student life to grow and thrive and, in its public realm design, forges new connections among town, gown, and river. Located along the Rock River, adjacent to the College’s campus and close to downtown Beloit, the project combines an assemblage of landmarked, historic buildings that made up the Station (constructed between 1908–1947) along with a new field house addition. The design retains architectural features and industrial equipment from the original structures while incorporating new sustainable practices and lively gathering spaces that encourage students to mix with each other and the larger Beloit community.

For the first time in the College’s history, student recreation and athletics are housed in the same space, breaking barriers between the two formerly siloed groups toward a more unified student body. The project also strategically adapts the existing structure and equipment, using what is already there to create spaces for recreation, collaboration, and study while celebrating the building’s history.

PERFORMANCE

The Powerhouse interlaces student life spaces—student lounges, 164-seat auditorium, coffee shop, club rooms, and a conference center—with a variety of recreational facilities to create a building that holistically addresses the social, mental, and physical health and well-being of students. All spaces, including the pool and fitness spaces, were designed to meet and even exceed accessibility standards, and non-gendered restrooms and changing rooms are located throughout the Powerhouse.

In several instances, the original equipment was refurbished to meet the new needs of the building: coal pulverizers in the basement are converted into seating outside the auditorium; intake pipes from the river become a design feature, painted a pale green; and coal bunkers suspended from the ceiling become vessels for recreational activities like indoor rock climbing.

A suspended, 175-meter track runs through all portions of the Powerhouse, stitching together the historic structures with the new Fieldhouse and allowing runners and walkers to loop through all eras of the building—like traveling through history—and take in many different views. Certain walls were also strategically removed to improve visual connectivity across the many spaces and program areas, resulting in an inviting, light-filled and airy interior that encourages interaction across the building’s many levels and program areas.

A new steel bridge spans 180-ft over the adjacent highway to connect the Powerhouse to the campus, creating an unprecedented, pedestrian-friendly crossing that not only offers safe access to the Powerhouse but also unlocks further recreational opportunities along the Rock River immediately to the west.