Looking to enhance the student experience and help revitalize the local riverfront, Beloit College partnered with Studio Gang to reinvent a former coal-burning power plant as a student union centered on recreation and wellness.
Sited along the Rock River, adjacent to the College’s campus and close to downtown Beloit, the Powerhouse project combines an assemblage of historic buildings that made up the Blackhawk Generating Station (constructed between 1908–1947) along with a new field house addition. A new pedestrian bridge and publicly-accessible elevator connect the Beloit College campus, which sits on a hill, with the Powerhouse and the adjacent riverside paths and parks at ground level. Forming these new links between town, gown, and river, the former power plant is now generating a more energetic and vibrant community life.
Even the new portion of the Powerhouse project – the field house addition – is carefully designed within the historic site, built in the spot of the original building’s Coal Field. Further, the field house builds on the historic qualities of the original building, with its sawtooth structure reflecting the vertical rhythm of openings and continuing the scale of the renovated building beside it.
The project also makes strategic interventions within the existing structure and equipment, using what is already there to create new spaces for recreation, collaboration, and study while celebrating the building’s history. A three-lane track suspended from the original roof structure allows runners and walkers to loop through all eras of the building. Strategic removal of the wall between the southernmost volume and the main building creates new visibility between programs. In several instances, even 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 were refurbished and made occupiable.
Transforming the hundred-year-old structure presented significant challenges, especially to efficient energy use. New insulation regulates heat flow in the historic portions of the building, while the polycarbonate façade of the new field house provides advanced thermal insulation and abundant, diffuse natural light throughout the day. In addition, a 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.
Altogether, the Beloit Powerhouse creates a central gathering space that has been missing from campus for more than 30 years. The first-of-its-kind facility in the country, it interlaces student life spaces with recreational facilities to create a space that holistically addresses the health and wellbeing of students. The uniquely integrated student union, recreation center, and athletics facility will benefit generations of not just students, but the wider community as well.
A suspended, three-lane track runs through all portions of the building, which houses a fitness center and recreational gym, eight-lane competition swimming pool, and the indoor turf field house, as well as spaces for conversation, collaboration, and study. Additional amenities include a coffee shop, student lounges, club rooms, conference center, and a 164-seat auditorium.