Civic Community, Sustainability

The Mercury Store

Adaptive Reuse Transforms Metal Foundry into Theatre Space

With the rising urgency for the AEC sector to move the needle in the fight against climate change comes a demand for low carbon solutions—bold cuts to operational emissions, more specification of bio-based materials that store carbon, and reuse of existing building stock. 

CO Adaptive Architecture’s recent transformation of a 12,700 square-foot former metal foundry into a low-carbon, light-filled theater incubator in Brooklyn achieves all three in a restorative yet contemporary design. 

The Mercury Store project showcases an exposed mass timber structure and is the first use of CLT for a fully commercial building in New York City. The result is an eco-friendly developmental space for performance artists that is efficient, flexible, sustainable, and visually appealing.

Adaptive Reuse Delivers Understated Drama

Brooklyn-based CO Adaptive has carved a niche working on adaptive reuse projects, with a specific focus on retrofitting existing urban building stock into energy-efficient, climate-resilient, and beautiful new environments.

Adaptive reuse projects come with their own unique challenges and solutions—as was the case with the Mercury Store, a project for which the design team disassembled and reassembled components of the building to give the neglected historic timber structure an entirely new use while repurposing removed elements as the basis for new architectural features.

“When the client purchased the building it was on to its third life, incredibly deteriorated. It’s to the developer’s huge credit that he was able to see the potential there,” said Ruth Mandl, co-principal at CO Adaptive. 

Dating to 1902 and located in Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal district, the Mercury Store had three previous lives: first, as the Royal Metal Furniture Company foundry; next, as a warehouse and storage facility; and, prior to this renovation, as highly compartmentalized art studios and office space.

Photo Credit: CO Adaptive

CO Adaptive’s renovation eliminates one-half of the existing ground floor to create a lofty, double-height theatrical and performance space flanked by exposed brick bookends. Substantial floor-to-ceiling accordion doors fold unobtrusively to expand or divide the space.

Unique to a theatre project of this kind is CO Adaptive’s intentional inclusion of abundant natural light, which floods the double-height spaces used for rehearsals and performances. Across the interior, previously subdivided spaces were opened up and existing windows, skylights, and clerestory were replaced or restored, allowing sunlight to penetrate all corners of the large square footprint. 

“Authenticity was a central goal for our client—to achieve this we exposed the inherent qualities and natural materials. The renovation showcases the existing brick along with new and repurposed timber elements in a very honest, understated way. The design is transparent and allows occupants to appreciate and understand the building’s history and architectural systems at play,” said Bobby Johnston, co-principal at CO Adaptive.

Blending In to Stand Out

Aluminum exterior cladding was added to complement the neighborhood’s industrial aesthetic, while a new, unobtrusive entrance was carved in from the side alley, rather than the street-facing front. 

“We set out to make this a respectful, restrained renovation—a design that complements and does not challenge the architecture of the neighborhood, blending in with the surrounding urban fabric,” notes Mandl.

New exterior insulation was applied to allow interior exposure of existing brick walls, heavy timber trusses, and roof joists—all rich with decades of industrial patina.

“Insulating the building from the exterior allowed us to expose the existing materials’ warmth, texture, and history of use; we even left intact the construction spray paint annotations on the exposed brick walls,” says Mandl.  This decision nearly eliminated the need for additional interior finishes—like drywall and paint—that a project of this scale would typically require.

“The new space has really fired people’s imaginations. It’s a beautiful, practical, intentional space and it inspires, I hope, the artists to respond in the exact same way,” says Will Frears, director of the Mercury Store.

The Mercury Store
Photo Credit: Naho Kubota

Wood Takes Center Stage

Wood, old and new, is central to the project’s design. To transform the space, CO Adaptive set out to restore the character of the old longleaf pine timber structure, exposing and honoring its substantial wood trusses and reinforcing the double A-frame while also adapting the building to meet its rejuvenated use.

A new cross-laminated timber (CLT) floor structure with glulam columns and girders replaced existing joists and subfloor, allowing for large column spans, an open layout, and the existing heavy timber trusses to remain unaltered and exposed. Removed wood joists were reinserted as railing posts framing the bleacher opening. Because the original building was heavy timber, keeping the existing wood structure meant the project could retain the heavy timber classification under the building code.

“Mass timber really helped to achieve so many of our core requirements. It’s a low-carbon alternative to other materials, reducing the project’s overall embodied energy. The thick mass of the CLT offered acoustic benefits—critical to the theater’s need to attenuate sound between spaces—along with thermal, insulative advantages for added operational energy efficiency,” said Mandl.  

The Mercury Store
Photo Credit: Naho Kubota

Nimble and Quick: Leveraging the Benefits of Prefab

Prefabricated, light-weight, mass timber elements also made for easier transport and nimble assembly—and meant that the components could be unloaded by way of a side alley using a simple gantry system, then freely slid in place and locked down.

Responding to the project’s low-lying site and potential flood events, new demountable, sprung-wood flooring was installed across the main performance space, which lies a story below grade. 

The system can be disassembled and relocated to higher ground by lifting the finish layer to access a puzzle of removable 3-by-6-foot panels—a novel solution for a region prone to flash flooding, which is exacerbated by climate change.

The Mercury Store
Photo Credit: Naho Kubota

Coming Full Circle

With a focus on circular, low carbon design, CO Adaptive is keen to explore how more modularized and prefabricated mass timber assemblies, increasingly common in new builds, can be used in the adaptive reuse of aging building stocks. 

“Care is taken to reappropriate, rather than erase, the building’s historic materials and character,” said Johnston. “The project not only reuses the building but reduces demolition waste by reclaiming integral materials throughout the design, minimizing its carbon footprint.”

“Our passion is retrofitting older buildings, and this is where things need to go to cut embodied carbon. We must continuously adapt to the planet we live on and reduce our impact as the people who use it.”

The Mercury Store
Photo Credit: Naho Kubota

Project Details

  • Architect
    CO Adaptive Architecture
  • Client
    The Mercury Store
  • Location
    New York City
  • Building Size
    12,700 sq.ft.
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