Generally, I am delighted by repurposed old buildings, especially when their new use is wildly unrelated to what the builders had in mind (see: The Surratt House, now a Wok and Roll; The Pension Building, now the National Building Museum, etc). My all-time favorite of these is probably The Torpedo Factory Art Center in Old Town Alexandria.
The Torpedo Factory is full of surprises. They first get you with the name: who would expect a building full of artists’ studios and an Archaeology Museum from a factory? Yet this former factory is packed to the brim with creativity and fun things to explore.
The first floor is mostly taken up by a long hall with little artists’ studios on each side. The front part of their studios has art for sale, but usually the artists themselves are working away in the back. Most of them are happy to stop and chat with you, which is the best part about going to The Torpedo Factory instead of an art museum or gallery.
You can see everything from giant metal sculptures (see below–that one’s on the first floor, in the back. A definite must-see.) to photography, jewelry, ceramics, clothing, and paintings in the studios. There are three floors full of art, so plan to spend at least an hour browsing and chatting (and possibly buying, if you have a bigger budget than I do!).
I always make time to check out my two favorite artists’ work at The Torpedo Factory: one artist at the top of the stairs whose pieces don’t look like much until you peer into little peepholes in clay eggs or spheres. Then, voila! A whole intricate world is revealed to you. Love it. Then I always turn the corner and chat with a photographer who works exclusively in black and white. That guy can keep me there for at least a half an hour telling me about his new giant printer, which is awesome.
Then, before I leave, I like to revel at the view from the riverside studios and check out what classes are being offered. I have yet to sign up for one, but an old co-worker of mine took jewelry making and her pieces were always amazing.
The Torpedo Factory
105 N. Union St.