Locked Up in the Art Studio
What Do You Think You're Looking At? #51
Today we’re in Lorton, Virginia, south of Washington, D.C. and almost at the southern edge of Fairfax County. This is our building, or rather our complex of buildings. It’s a center for arts and education, with artists’ studios, performances, and classes.
It actually looks like a college, doesn’t it? And that would fit thematically with its current use. But it’s not.
What else might resemble a college? (It was built in the early 1900s, by the way.)
Well, an old-fashioned prison. That’s how this complex of buildings began life. It’s called the Workhouse Arts Center, which nods to its origin as both a prison and a workhouse (it began as a farm where prisoners were required to work.) Here’s the satellite view of the whole complex:
Here’s the Wikipedia page on the building’s term as a prison, when it was known as the Lorton Reformatory, and later as the Lorton Correctional Complex. And here’s the page on its current use as the arts center. (Google Maps describes it as “classes & culture in a former prison.” Doesn’t that sound like the subtitle of a book?)
The prison was known for its terrible conditions, but it’s kind of amazing how the actual buildings carry very little of a prison vibe with them. It reminds me of this piece of infrastructure in Richmond, Virginia that I had this reaction to:
Believe it or not, the Workhouse Arts Center is not the only outdated, unusual building to become an arts center. In Old Town Alexandria, there’s a similar spot hosting artists’ studios, called the Torpedo Factory. It did, in fact, used to be a torpedo factory! I featured it here.
Do you know of any such dramatic adaptive reuse projects wherever you live?
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