Meet James Palace, Urban Atelier Group

On May 18, the 2023 Open City Benefit will bring together hundreds of New Yorkers for a festive evening at Powerhouse Arts—a 117-year-old power plant that has been transformed into a contemporary art center and fabrication space on the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn. At the event, we will confer the Open City Award to the design and development team behind Powerhouse Arts led by Herzog & de Meuron, PBDW Architects, Urban Atelier Group, Buro Happold Engineering, Silman, and Ken Smith Workshop.

James Palace, Co-Founding Executive Vice President at Urban Atelier Group, shares about his team’s role as General Contractor, favorite features of the building, and vision for how Powerhouse Arts will benefit New York City’s art community.

Tell us what role you played and what it was like to work on this transformative project. 

Urban Atelier Group (UAG) worked with Gemini Arts Initiative and Powerhouse Arts to renovate the existing Turbine Hall and construct the adjacent Boiler House, performing preconstruction and construction management services for the not-for-profit organization. 

To bring Herzog & de Meuron and PBDW Architects’ vision to life, UAG transformed the building into a modern production facility that will house fabrication and production workshops in wood, metal, ceramics, textile, and print, as well as multi-use facilities, including spaces for educational events, public engagement, and a 1,200-person event space. 

UAG preserved, restored, and reconstructed architectural elements of the former Brooklyn Rapid Transit Power Station (Turbine Hall), aiming to strengthen the building’s industrial character and relationship with the surrounding area. UAG’s meticulous attention to detail brought the industrial arts facility to life while preserving and showcasing the myriad complexities and craftsmanship of the historic 120-year-old structure—including the “Grand Hall,” which required significant structural reworking, including the removal of the existing steel and concrete slabs as well as the cleaning, repair, and reinforcement of historical elements. 

The firm also led the construction of the adjacent building (Boiler House), which seamlessly integrates into the broader 180,000 sq. ft. development. Before construction, the site required environmental remediation through the NYS Brownfield Cleanup Program, and UAG worked closely with the ownership and the environmental remediation team to ensure site safety. Ultimately, the development builds on Brooklyn’s 200-year history as a center for industry, creating a need-responsive platform and a critical new resource for artists in the heart of the borough.

“Powerhouse Arts symbolizes the value of creativity and willingness to invest in the arts, a critical component of the city’s identity and future.”

– James Palace, Co-Founding Executive Vice President, Urban Atelier Group

Tell us about the team effort required to bring this project to life.

At UAG, we strive to balance construction management with design excellence. For this project, it was critical to collaborate with key stakeholders from the onset to understand its existing conditions, design intent, and practical considerations for construction and operations. Our collaboration with the developer, architect, engineers, and trade contractors was critical to balancing design excellence with the realities of the adaptive reuse of the existing site and the construction of the new addition while adhering to budgetary and schedule requirements.

Throughout the process, our team worked diligently to ensure parties were aligned, which required a high degree of communication and agility to adapt to ever-changing circumstances. As a result, we’re proud to deliver a thoughtfully designed and constructed space that celebrates arts and community in New York!

Credit: Albert Vecerka/ESTO

What is your favorite feature of Powerhouse Arts? 

There are several elements we admire about the building. For example, the building’s original site was a unique red concrete. UAG color-matched the concrete on the new addition to achieve Herzog and De Meuron’s vision of creating one cohesive structure. 

Within the interiors, the Grand Hall is remarkable! Our team sensitively restored the site to create an entertainment space accommodating 1000 people. UAG managed extensive structural work to preserve its architectural integrity, rehabilitated the skylights, and delicately restored the existing “Batcave” era graffiti to honor the space’s character and identity.  

How do you hope this facility will benefit local artists and the surrounding community?

While other facilities in the city have similar equipment, Powerhouse Arts is a unique space thoughtfully designed to bring artists together to foster creative energy and inspire new ideas and approaches to art. 

The building elevates art production – local artists can access state-of-the-art equipment and a supportive, like-minded community to create innovative work. Additionally, Powerhouse Arts will serve as a cultural hub, providing space for exhibitions, performances, and various events for the community.

Credit: Albert Vecerka/ESTO

What statement do you think Powerhouse Arts makes about New York and the city’s future?

Powerhouse Arts is an endorsement of the art community in New York and the city’s future. The once abandoned site could have been vacant for much longer or transformed into another typology, such as residential or retail. The project gives back to the community while supporting small businesses and local artists. It represents a commitment to the future of New York as a vibrant and diverse cultural center. Powerhouse Arts symbolizes the value of creativity and willingness to invest in the arts, a critical component of the city’s identity and future. From the moment we walked the site, we saw its potential. UAG is honored and incredibly proud to have helped bring this cultural legacy project to fruition. 

About James

James Palace is the Co-Founding Executive Vice President and Operations Manager at UAG. With over 30 years of experience in construction management, James leads the atelier alongside Andy D’Amico, President and CEO. James oversees the operational success of the firm’s portfolio, manages team and client expectations to achieve project milestones and contractual goals, ensures projects are met on time and within budget, and cultivates client relationships.

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