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Meet The Young Brooklyn Architect With Designs On Making Opera Hip

Peter Zuspan and his design firm Bureau V started out as a group of twenty-somethings with a dream. Now they’ve built creativity a home in the heart of Brooklyn.

Taken in 2013, in just a few months the above space will be transformed into one of the country's largest, and most unique, music spaces.

The emergence of the “Williamsburg scene” as we understand it was something of an electrical lightning storm. From the point of view of a native New Yorker, meaning myself, it seemed to come from nowhere—crackling and illuminating the darkness of the post-Giuliani, post-fun NYC—then disintegrating into an opaque smog of gentrification, rent hikes, and artisanal hat and ice cream stores, the kind that now crowd Bedford Avenue. As “Brooklyn” became a commoditized product, sold at Urban Outfitters and recreated everywhere from industrial East Berlin to the repurposed Woodstock Foundries of Cape Town, South Africa, what originally made the area so special seems to have disappeared. Music venue National Sawdust, formerly OMW workshop, slated to open this fall, hopes to revive, even temporarily, the thrill of ‘90s and early 2000’s Williamsburg, a time when anything felt possible and artistic collaboration ruled supreme. The space will offer a rare outlet for musicians of lesser appreciated art forms, from opera to experimental jazz, the opportunity to study, practice, perform, and receive mentorship through an in-venue, non-profit program. Unlike the gritty DIY rock venues that made Williamsburg possible, and were recently displaced from their long-time homes along Kent Avenue, National Sawdust hopes to find an appropriate balance between “new” and “old” Brooklyn that’s sustainable. One of the driving forces behind the space is upstart architect Peter Zuspan, a young, Atlanta-raised NYC transplant, classically trained opera singer, and founding principal of experimental architecture firm Bureau V.

The new space is expected to bring experimental, opera, classical, jazz (and everything in between) to Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

“To be a part of this project from its early conception through its forthcoming completion has truly been a dream,” Zuspan recently told GOOD. “For Kevin Dolan (Sawdust’s seminal founder) to have trusted a bunch of twenty-somethings, who had never built a building [with the scale] of a project like this one, is a testament to his vision,” he continues. “I know no other institution that takes risks on young artists with this level of commitment.” Zuspan is being modest about his experience. Bureau V, led with fellow partners Stella Lee and Laura Trevino, isn’t just a few fresh-faced design grads tossed straight from university into the mix. Since forming the group, he has also designed clothing, performance installations, and masterminded events, creating collaborative works exhibited (or performed) at illustrious institutions like the Guggenheim Museum, the Venice Biennale, Inhotim, Performa, and REDCAT. In the past, the team’s clients and collaborators have included the Montello Foundation, as well as artists and designers such as Brazilian art-phenoms Assume Vivid Astro Focus, Early Morning Opera, popster Arto Lindsay, and fashion queen Mary Ping of downtown label Slow and Steady Wins the Race.

Peter Zuspan of Bureau V.

Zuspan, in addition to co-designing National Sawdust, also helped raise funds and bring local artists into the mix. He also sits on the non-profit’s board of directors as its secretary, and, with the help of composer Paola Prestini, has helped to develop the non-profit’s mission and program. Prestini, the venue’s Creative and Executive Director, has made National Sawdust one of the most highly anticipated venue openings of the year, and has been called by The New York Times a “human resources alchemist” with a “gift for bringing together disparate artists, technicians and other creative professionals.” According to its creators, a wide range of composers, musicians, vocalists, multimedia artists, and others will serve as curators, “fostering new talent and sharing it with audiences,” while scouting and and securing emerging creatives for the venue.

Popular cross-genre Danish singer/songwriter Oh Land at the "National Sawdust Experience" in May.

Tim Fain and Philip Glass at the OMW/ National Sawdust fundraiser gala.

The 13,000 square foot space sits inside an historic Williamsburg building that formerly housed a sawdust factory (hence the name) and has an expected unveil date of mid-October. Its creators hope for a modern incarnation of the 18th century chamber hall model and “an egalitarian incubator for new music.” This, mixed with a dash of “barebones blackbox theater,” will provide a unique incubator for musicians and composers of all genres to live, create, experiment, rehearse, record, and premiere new work. Bureau V has also devised an internal, dynamic “custom skin system” from perforated metal and fabric composite panels, supported by a series of recessed channels, to provide superior sound. According to the team, the system will “remain visually translucent, but acoustically transparent, allowing sound to travel through it freely, while creating a wrap-around sculptural enclosure.”

A teaser image of what we can expect in October.

Once National Sawdust officially opens, the polyglot creative team will also be working on a menswear capsule collection in collaboration with label Byco that’s loosely based on writings by the 19th century German architect Gottfried Semper (among other projects). For now, those interested in catching a show at National Sawdust should stay tuned: the non-profit will announce programming in August, when tickets—at very egalitarian prices—will be available to the general public.

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