Switching stations, a necessary part of our electrified life, are usually ugly as hell. From a distance, the assemblage may look like a sculpture, all made of painted metal and overhead lines, but up close, the infrastructure in a residential area is harder to appreciate and even harder to accept. In Newark, utility company PSE & G overheard the neighbors demanding that the company’s new switch be a) beautiful and b) a real community good. It took four years to get there, but on a Wednesday a stylish crowd of Newark residents gathered to celebrate the opening of an Adjaye Associates-designed substation in the Fairmount Heights neighborhood.

(Audrey Wachs / AN)

The 177,000-square-foot Fairmont Heights Switching Station covers a good portion of an entire city block but blends in well with its more humble three-story neighbors. To strike a cool balance between the industrial structure and the existing residential structure, the New York office of Adjaye Associates worked with local firm WSM Associates to embed the unsightly components of the substation behind an artificial wall, a 1,790 foot long concrete and aluminum building with permanent works by 14 artists. While two of the works anchor the concrete section of the facade, most of the pieces are mounted high up near the top of the 30-foot walls in niches that interrupt tastefully golden and subtly curved perforated aluminum shades.

(Audrey Wachs / AN)

The most notable feature, however, is an agora with concrete pillars at the front of the building, whose two rows of 34-foot-tall red pillars support geometric canopies that cast intricate shadows on the sidewalk. The arrangement can keep other works of art in suspension, but it also defines an otherwise disposable cutout in scope that can now be used for a market or other community event.

(Audrey Wachs / AN)

In his remarks, Mayor Ras Baraka joked about Newark’s seemingly eternal revival. Alluding to the process that created the building he was standing in front of, Baraka described art and collaboration – between public and private, between community and architect – as the “secret sauce” of a successful revitalization of the neighborhood.

(Audrey Wachs / AN)

Like other new high-design public facilities in the Tristate area, this project was launched by Hurricane Sandy. In the immediate aftermath of the 2012 storm, local utilities were struck and around nine out of ten Newark residents were without power. In response, PSE & G began upgrading its infrastructure to anticipate congestion and planned a switch station in Fairmount Heights to improve its ability to withstand extreme weather events. Adjaye Associates worked with the company, art groups and elected officials to deliver a design that exceeded expectations.

“What I’ve learned in architecture and design is that when the opportunity seems complicated, your creativity must seize that opportunity,” company boss David Adjaye told the crowd. “You get the opportunity to work in amazing places, but it’s actually a lot more rewarding to work in places where people think design won’t get around to. [Here] We wanted to create something that creates a place. “

A rendering of the now complete Fairmont Heights Switching Station. (Courtesy Adjaye Associates)

Outside of Newark, Adjaye’s company has a number of projects in progress or has recently been completed. The architect just released updated designs for a new public library in Winter Park, Florida. Earlier this month, The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) discovered crews working on 130 William, Adjaye Associate’s first New York skyscraper. Though the company is best known for its work on the National Museum of African American History and Culture, its most recent commission, a Manhattan Spy Museum, opened to the public in February.