STREB dance studio commences renovation

CTA Architects directs renovation of STREB Dance HeadquartersSTREB Lab for Action Mechanics (SLAM), a dance and theater performance venue and an open-access education and rehearsal space in Brooklyn, is undergoing the first phase of a multi-phased major renovation. CTA Architects, P.C. is serving as architect for the renovation of the 5,000-square foot, one-story building located in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn at 51 North First Street.


SLAM is the brainchild of Elizabeth Streb, a choreographer, performer, and teacher of contemporary dance, as well as an author, speaker and MacArthur “Genius” Award-winner. SLAM is also the base of the STREB EXTREME ACTION COMPANY, which she founded in 1985. When Streb first founded SLAM in early 2003, the building, a former loading facility built in 1920 and once used by the adjacent Old Dutch Mustard Company, was vacant. After move-in, Streb kept the raw elements of the structure, such as the exposed concrete block walls and steel I-beams, as well as the street-level loading gate.


In 2007, Streb had the opportunity to purchase the building. She did so with assistance from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA), City Council, Mayor’s Office, and Brooklyn Borough President’s Office. More recently, the City again stepped in to provide a total of $4,886,000 in capital funding to renovate the building: over the last six years, the Mayor’s Office gave a total of $2,404,000, including support from Mayor Bill de Blasio; New York City Council allocated $1,732,000 with support from Councilman Stephen Levin; and Eric L. Adams, Brooklyn Borough President, allocated $750,000 for the project. These funds will be administered by DCLA, which, through its capital program, supports construction and renovation projects at cultural organizations throughout the five boroughs of New York City.


“We wanted to collaborate with an architect who would understand and appreciate both the historic character of our building and the need to create an inviting threshold to our performance and dance space. A place where there is a permanent open invitation embedded in the fabric of its outside skin. Craig Tooman, along with his CTA Architects team, has devised a creative approach that allowed us to proceed with the renovations within a limited budget, while preserving and building upon the history of our facility,” said SLAM founder Elizabeth Streb.


“CTA even encouraged the design and construction team members to donate many of the materials – the garage door, the windows, the glass blocks, even the bricks and mortar. I want to extend my deepest thanks to Craig – we would never have been able to renovate our studio without him,” she added.


NYC Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl said, “The Department of Cultural Affairs is committed to supporting arts organizations like STREB Lab for Action Mechanics in building arts spaces that invigorate neighborhoods all around the city through creative activity and social engagement. This renovation of SLAM’s Brooklyn home exemplifies the type of inclusive, sustainable projects that can create a vibrant community hub in North Brooklyn, engaging thousands of students, families, artists and audience members each year.”


New York City Councilman Stephen T. Levin commented, “North Brooklyn plays a crucial role in maintaining New York City’s position as the cultural epicenter of the world. The Brooklyn arts scene is also one of the engines of the City’s economic development by attracting millions of tourists and investors to the borough. It is vital to support our art community and I am proud to support the renovation of the STREB Lab by securing the New York City Council’s financing for the renovation.”


The CTA principal in charge of the project, Craig Tooman, AIA, LEED-AP, has been on the SLAM Board of Directors for the past decade. “The structure’s 24-foot-high ceilings and 50’x100′ clear-span provide an excellent space for the dance company’s rehearsals and classes. SLAM’s ability to accommodate up to 150 people at a time in the performance space has made it an integral part of the community. My family has been taking advantage of SLAM classes and performances for years. We at CTA wanted to do all we could to restore the facility, so it could continue to provide its services to the people of this city for years to come,” he said.


Beginning repair work with the New York City grants requires a great deal of coordination to ensure that work is done in accordance with stipulations put forth by the grantees, the oversight agencies, and the Building Code. The façade, however, has been in dire need of repair for some time; work needed to begin as soon as possible. The existing brick is cracking, bowing and bulging; the steel-framed factory-type single-pane casement windows are in a state of disrepair and are far from being energy efficient.


Thus, the SLAM Board of Directors decided to break the work into two distinct phases. Phase I, just beginning, will repair the façade. Phase II, to be fully funded by the nearly $4.9 million in City grants, will include the installation of an interior mezzanine and elevator, which will provide additional space for dancers and administration, as well as offices and a conference room. This phase also includes the redesigning of the lobby, the creation of a dancer dressing room/green room, and energy-efficient upgrades, such as replacing the existing garage door with a custom aluminum and glass insulated door, the installation of wall and ceiling insulation, new ceiling fans to circulate air within the space and energy-efficient light fixtures.


SLAM is open seven days a week, year-round. Thus, over the course of a year, is serves nearly 10,000 people: 5,000 audience members at nearly 40 shows; 800 students weekly at nearly 60 weekly classes; 3,000 city school children and community organization constituents including marginalized and at-risk youth; 200 artists who rent SLAM to create and present work, teach and take classes; 600 tweens and teens who attend monthly SLAM ACTION CLUBs; and 250 children who attend SLAM summer camp. All of SLAM’s activities – rehearsals, demonstrations, workshops, and classes – are open to the public. The building also accommodates SLAM’s renowned trapeze rig.


One of the biggest challenges of this renovation will involve safety and logistics, as SLAM – open seven days per week – will at no time close for any of the work. “Even when we demolish the parapet and we have the wall open to the sky above the level of the window lintels, the facility will remain open,” said Chelsea Brandt, CTA’s project designer.


For more information on SLAM or STREB EXTREME ACTION COMPANY, visit


Photo: CTA Architects has begun an exterior renovation of the headquarters of SLAM in Brooklyn, NY. Photo courtesy of CTA Architects.