John Cronin and the Beacon Institute
By Julie Taraska / Published by Dwell
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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.

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. <br><br>Instead of just building green, Cronin 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.<br><br>Photo by <br><br>Bilyana Dimitrova, Courtesy of the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries

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, Cronin 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.

Photo by

Bilyana Dimitrova, Courtesy of the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries

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.

They introduced sustainable features—like geothermal heating and composting toilets—wherever the building could support them.

They introduced sustainable features—like geothermal heating and composting toilets—wherever the building could support them.

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.

Cronin found the dilapidated 4,000-square-foot building in Beacon, New York, on a former industrial section of Denning’s Point State Park.

Cronin found the dilapidated 4,000-square-foot building in Beacon, New York, on a former industrial section of Denning’s Point State Park.

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

“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.

“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 re-engineer 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.

Gensler’s solution was to restore the building’s envelope and re-engineer 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.

“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.

“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.

The Center for Environmental Innovation and Education is the first facility on the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries Denning's Point campus.<br><br>Photo by <br><br>Bilyana Dimitrova, Courtesy of the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries

The Center for Environmental Innovation and Education is the first facility on the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries Denning's Point campus.

Photo by

Bilyana Dimitrova, Courtesy of the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries

The center is the Beacon Institute's primary education and outreach facility and the first home to the River and Estuary Observatory Network (REON), which uses technologies such as sensor arrays and robots to monitor rivers and estuaries from the Hudson and St. Lawrence rivers.<br><br>Photo by <br><br>Bilyana Dimitrova, Courtesy of the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries

The center is the Beacon Institute's primary education and outreach facility and the first home to the River and Estuary Observatory Network (REON), which uses technologies such as sensor arrays and robots to monitor rivers and estuaries from the Hudson and St. Lawrence rivers.

Photo by

Bilyana Dimitrova, Courtesy of the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries

Inside, the team from Gensler redesigned the building's existing layout to allow for flexible spaces that can be reconfigured for varied uses, like seminars, workshops, exhibits, public forums, and cultural and social events.<br><br>Photo by <br><br>Bilyana Dimitrova, Courtesy of the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries

Inside, the team from Gensler redesigned the building's existing layout to allow for flexible spaces that can be reconfigured for varied uses, like seminars, workshops, exhibits, public forums, and cultural and social events.

Photo by

Bilyana Dimitrova, Courtesy of the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries

The center also acts as the Visitor Center for Denning's Point.<br><br>Photo by <br><br>Bilyana Dimitrova, Courtesy of the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries

The center also acts as the Visitor Center for Denning's Point.

Photo by

Bilyana Dimitrova, Courtesy of the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries

The building has no sewage connection but instead relies on an advanced composting system.s<br><br>Photo by <br><br>Bilyana Dimitrova, Courtesy of the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries

The building has no sewage connection but instead relies on an advanced composting system.s

Photo by

Bilyana Dimitrova, Courtesy of the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries

The roof of the  Center for Environmental Innovation and Education is planted with species indigenous to the area to reduce run-off water and reduce heat absorption.<br><br>Photo by <br><br>Bilyana Dimitrova, Courtesy of the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries

The roof of the Center for Environmental Innovation and Education is planted with species indigenous to the area to reduce run-off water and reduce heat absorption.

Photo by

Bilyana Dimitrova, Courtesy of the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries

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.<br><br>Photo by <br><br>Bilyana Dimitrova, Courtesy of the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries.

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.

Photo by

Bilyana Dimitrova, Courtesy of the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries.

Vying for LEED Platinum certification, the center 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.<br><br>Photo by <br><br>Bilyana Dimitrova, Courtesy of the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries

Vying for LEED Platinum certification, the center 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.

Photo by

Bilyana Dimitrova, Courtesy of the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries

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