John Cronin and the Beacon Institute

For 35 years, John Cronin has safeguarded New York’s waterways, investigating dozens of pollution cases and authoring three laws to protect the Hudson River and its communities. So when Cronin, director and CEO of the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries, began planning the institute’s first research facility, the Center for Environmental Innovation and Education, he knew its physical form should embody its ecological ideals. Instead of just building green, he went one better: Working with international architecture and design firm Gensler, he transformed an abandoned 19th-century brick factory into a state-of-the-art structure packed with sustainable technologies.

Cronin found the dilapidated 4,000-square-foot building in Beacon, New York, on a former industrial section of Denning’s Point State Park. “It was covered with vines, all the windows were gone, there were big holes in the roof, and its cement slabs were cracked and heaved,” he says. Physical limitations determined what interventions could—and could not—be made.

Gensler’s solution was to restore the building’s envelope and reengineer its interior. The team shored up the structure’s walls, then added a mezzanine to its main room, and an extension to its western facade. They introduced sustainable features—like geothermal heating and composting toilets—wherever the building could support them. “We couldn’t use as much solar as we wanted to because the roof has a pretty steep pitch, and there are a lot of trees,” Cronin says. Instead, three wind towers straddle the roof and passively cool the interiors via computer-operated vents.

During the two-year construction phase, Cronin received firsthand lessons in the challenges of adaptive restoration, from replacing rotten trusses to repairing a broken sewage main. The perseverance paid off, and the center opened last December. Vying for LEED Platinum certification, it shows that when done right, our built environment can not only respect but also preserve nature—a point Cronin hopes we all take to heart.

To see photos of the Center for Environmental Innovation and Education--as well as before shots and design plans--view our slideshow.

Originally published

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