In 2005 Empire Properties, a company known best for its thoughtful reconstruction of many downtown buildings including the Raleigh Times Bar, bought Raleigh’s E.B. Bain Waterworks, a relic of the Public Works Administration on southern Fayetteville Street, and launched an elaborate project to renovate the building and reintroduce it to the community.
Four years later, what was once a crumbling industrial leftover from the Great Depression is a cavernous Art Deco feast of engineering and architecture from the era – exciting to say the least. Bain Waterworks’ massive scale and ornate details feel magical, and the craftsmanship and quality of construction are apparent even as the building fights entropy.
No mere shell, Bain is a celebration of Raleigh water, as the hulking brick structure was originally designed to channel water off of Walnut Creek, treat it, and distribute it to each part of the city.
Daniel Kelly and Tracy Spencer began work on the Bain Project a year ago with the idea of an art opening in the space. Since then, the two have formed a group of 12 artists representing a diverse cross section of their many applicants. Currently, the artists are collaborating on pieces within, manipulating the scale, repetition and acoustics of the 30,000 square foot space to comment on urban evolution and water.
Upon entering the building and gazing upon such intricate and ornate spaces, one begins to realize how this all came together. The first room is encircled in a mezzanine with cascading stairs rising up the back of the lobby. Oak handrails top wrought-iron lattice work and decorate each room with a border of pattern. The floors are mostly red quarry tile and many of the walls have tile wainscotting.
Such a spectacle leaves the visitor wondering why all public works buildings couldn’t have the same kind of intense detailing and beauty.
The operations room is massive in scale, well lit all day by Clerestory windows on both sides, bright tile and plaster walls with elevated arches and columns suspending the ceiling. A long line of thirteen filtration tanks to the right and the left drops off to a lower level filled with giant pipes bolted together and painted bright hues. Oversized clock- like dials line the space alongside pneumatic and hydromatic gauges and tubes for monitoring. The feeling is more Dick Tracy meets mad scientist than local government utility.
To use a more obscure allusion, those who are familiar with the game will wonder if 2007’s BioShock drew its inspiration from the building, right down to the Art Deco lettering above the door as you enter.
Bain is exciting because of the space but also because of the artists involved. The group is diverse, talented and engaged in the project – from new media artists Tim Kiernan, Stacey Kirby, and Dana Raymond to mixed media artists Lee Moore, Jen Coon, Lia Newman, Sarah Powers, Marty Baird and Luke Buchanan. The documentation team consists of three talented artists: Critter, KC Ramsay, and Natasha Johnson. By May when the show opens, the artists will have worked for 9 months within the space.
The Bain Project will open for two weekends in May:
Weekend 1 - May 9th, 10th
Weekend 2 - May 16th,17th