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DA Journal 2012 Volume XXII $4.00


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DesignAlabama Volume XXII

Cover: Located directly across Commerce Street from the Renaissance Montgomery hotel and convention center, The Alley entertainment district has been developed in careful sequence. This welcoming entrance was cut through an existing building with street frontage given as much attention as the alley itself. Photography by Lewis Kennedy

Board of Directors Elizabeth Ann Brown, Chair Alabama Historical Commission Montgomery Nancy Mims Hartsfield, Vice Chair of Publications Auburn University, Professor Emerita Montgomery Bo Grisham, Vice Chair of Operations Brookmont Realty Birmingham Chip DeShields, Secretary/Treasurer Sherlock, Smith & Adams Montgomery HB Brantley Bravis Building Solutions Inc. Birmingham Jim Byard Jr. ADECA Prattville Janet Driscoll Driscoll Design Montgomery Scott Finn Auburn University Auburn David Fleming Main Street Birmingham Inc. Birmingham Cathryn Campbell Gerachis Goodwyn, Mills & Cawood Inc. Montgomery Darrell Meyer KPS Group Birmingham Jeffrey A. Pruitt, AICP Top of Alabama Regional Council of Governments Huntsville Debbie Quinn Fairhope City Council Fairhope L. Craig Roberts L. Craig Roberts Architect Mobile Merrill Stewart Stewart Perry Birmingham Linda Swann Alabama Development Office Montgomery Robin White Alabama Power Co. Birmingham

This publication is made possible through funding by the following contributors:

Submission Information

DesignAlabama encourages submissions from its readers. Articles about work from all design disciplines are requested, as well as copy related to historic preservation. Please submit copy along with visuals (photos, slides, drawings, etc.) to DesignAlabama Inc., P.O. Box 241263, Montgomery, AL 36124. Items for DA online newsletter or our annual journal should include a paragraph summary detailing the nature of the project, the design firm, principals and associates involved and any other details that may be of interest such as unusual or special design features, completion date, approximate cost, square footage, etc. Also include the name, address and phone and fax number of the client and an individual whom we may contact for further information. Direct inquiries to

The Daniel Foundation of Alabama Williams Blackstock Architects

(334) 549-4672 or mail to: designalabama1@bellsouth.net. www.designalabama.org Past journal issues are available for $6.00 including postage and handling. Contact DesignAlabama at the above numbers for availability information and to order.

Gina Glaze Clifford Tomie Dugas Nancy Hartsfield Wei Wang June Corley Bruce Dupree Samantha Lawrie Contributing Writers: Jessica Armstrong Stacey Browning Shelley Hildebrand K. Faith Morgan Philip Morris

Editor: Managing Editor: Art Director: Associate Art Director: Assistant Art Directors:

A special thanks to Philip Morris for his ongoing assistance and advice with this publication.

Š 2012 DesignAlabama Inc.

ISSN# 1090-0918 This issue of DesignAlabama was designed and produced on Macintosh Computers utilizing InDesign CS5. Proofs were printed on a HP 4000N and final output on a Compugraphic 9400.

Gina Glaze Clifford, Executive Director Philip A. Morris, Director Emeritus

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DesignAlabama CONTENTS

Increasing Downtown Montgomery’s urban walkable appeal. p.6

Using detail and craftsmanship to tailor a building to new tenants’ needs. p.12

Combining cultural, natural and recreational green spaces to unify a campus. p.18

Picking up the pieces after a disaster in Tuscaloosa’s historic districts. p.29

FEATURE MOVING TOWARD WALKABLE MONTGOMERY New Urbanist Moves Create Inviting Pedestrian Zones


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ARTICLES SUNRISE DERMATOLOGY, MOBILE Showcase for Detail and Craftsmanship DesignAlabama is a publication of DesignAlabama Inc. Reader comments and submission of articles and ideas for future issues are encouraged.




SHELBY BAPTIST SOUTH TOWER Patient Rooms More Family-Friendly


UNA MASTER PLAN Blueprint for Walkability and Growth



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Appleseed Workshop


UAB Chemistry Sees the Light


Decatur: Grand City on a Charming Scale


When Disaster Strikes Historic Districts


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To subscribe to DesignAlabama’s digital newsletter, DA Online, please visit the DesignAlabama website at www.designalabama.org and sign up under “Subscribe to Journal.” It’s easy to sign up and it’s free!

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Montgomery W

Moving Toward








One of the most versatile and productive tools to come out of the new urbanism movement over the past 20 years is something called the walk circle. With their annual meetings and active committees, the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) has constantly developed methods to achieve their primary goal: walkable mixed-use neighborhoods. The City of Montgomery has become a state and national leader in applying CNU principles at the local level. And the results are beginning to show. Look at the city’s downtown master plan created in 2006, and you will find quarter-mile (1,320 feet) walking circles superimposed on the street grid. It indicates how far most people will walk – about five minutes – before choosing instead to get into their cars.

The contrast between this kind of sophisticated planning and the auto-centric planning of the 1960s that dropped the BirminghamJefferson Convention Center (BJCC) on the opposite side of an elevated I-20/59 could not be more telling. Because of its isolation from the rest of downtown, the City of Birmingham now is having to fund a $20 million entertainment district because the BJCC can’t compete.

When the city set up a development department to start implemen- The principles presented in the following feature, “Walkable tation, the decision was made to be rigorous about concentrating Montgomery,” make perfect sense for any town or city across efforts in a first walkable zone between downtown’s two newest the state. attractions: the Riverwalk Stadium, home of the city’s new profes– Philip Morris sional baseball team, and the Renaissance Montgomery, a new anchor hotel with attached convention center. The Alley, a small entertainment district threaded amid historic warehouses, has been carefully put into place between them. 5 Volume XXII

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A crowd heads toward a summer movie at Montgomery’s Riverfront Park with the city’s anchor hotel, the Renaissance Montgomery, on the right and the historic warehouses that line The Alley entertainment district in view at the corner of Commerce and Tallapoosa streets. The city’s downtown ballpark is a block away, past the antique water tower that marks the entrance to The Alley.

Montgomery t by Philip Morris Photography by Lewis Kennedy While The Alley offers an appealing character of its own, it is important that restaurants have good visibility from the bordering streets like this Commerce Street frontage, says Chad Emerson, the city’s development director. A generous passage was cut through the existing building just across the street from the


eople attending a conference at the Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Spa can walk across the street to The Alley, downtown’s developing entertainment district, or to the Biscuit’s AA ballpark a block away. Groups can book an Alabama River cruise on the Harriott II, also a block away, or take in an event at the Riverwalk Amphitheater. And none of this is by accident. The city has worked hard over the past decade to improve its walkable urban appeal.

Renaissance and its connected convention center.

The italics denote a national movement to reinforce or create truly inviting pedestrian zones, not using the failed mall model but a traditional urban one: attractive streets lined with appealing building fronts and major destinations no further than three or four blocks away. The benefits can be powerful. “It’s absolutely been a gamechanger for us when we are selling our convention center,” says Dawn Hathcock of the Montgomery Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Everybody likes the convenience of restaurants and bars close by so you don’t have to get in your car.”

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Historic brick warehouses lining The Alley have mainly restaurants and bars on the ground level with residential lofts and other uses above. This view looks toward Tallapoosa Street, where a restored water tower marks the entry.

The detailed block-by-block, building-by-building master plan by Dover Kohl & Partners created

The City of Montgomery started a more proactive approach to urban design issues in the late 1990s, but the real watershed was the 2006 Downtown Master Plan prepared by Dover Kohl & Partners, a leading new urbanist firm based in Miami. (DA, Fall/Winter 2007). A detailed block-by-block, building-by-building plan, it breaks Montgomery’s historic urban core into 10 neighborhoods using the five-minute walk radius that measures how far people will walk before they decide, instead, to use their cars. Among other recommendations, the plan called for establishment of a development department to lead public/private implementation of the plan.

the base for the city’s form-based code that guides development efforts. This part of the plan shows the walkable zone focus in the blocks south and west of the new ballpark. The circle is the fountain at Court Square.

Completed in 2008, the Renaissance Montgomery has 346 rooms. Designed by Goodwyn, Mills & Cawood, it incorporated and expanded the city’s convention center next door. Another hotel, an Embassy Suites, has been built nearby.

While the development department covers the whole city, the first focus has been downtown, and even more focused on the blocks between the new Renaissance hotel (2008), the new ballpark (2004) and the Riverwalk. “The whole downtown covers several hundred acres, but we started by linking new attractions with The Alley,” says Chad Emerson, the city’s director of development. “We’ve looked at many other places and found you have to be very strategic – to avoid a haphazard approach. We are seeing success with our efforts, all within a few blocks, and now we will grow out from there.” Developer Kyle Kyser, who has renovated 101 Tallapoosa Street with Dreamland Bar-BQue on the ground floor and 10 loft apartments on the upper three floors, fully subscribes to the concentrated five-minute-circle approach. “The Market Street consultants recommended a five-year strategy to pick an area, make it successful and grow from there,” he says. “If you are too scattered with pieces, you never create a concentration that’s significant.”

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Developer Kyle Kyser’s projects include 101 Tallapoosa Street, which lured Dreamland Bar-B-Que to the ground floor next to the water tower sign for The Alley. Ten loft apartments occupy the upper three floors.

The complex process of revitalizing a city also argues for tight focus, The sort of complex urban process to get things right pervades the city’s Kyser says. “The city had to work on public/private partnerships to make recent efforts. With the ballpark and new convention hotel open, openThe Alley work. About five years ago all the owners agreed to make cering access to an existing alley lined with historic brick buildings as an tain upgrades if the city did the public improvements. It’s not like doing inviting urban place seemed a good move. But it had to be finessed. a building in the suburbs. Even with tax credits and other tax breaks from the redevelopment authority, you have to work through codes with “It was important that there be visibility from adjacent streets,” says a lot of grey areas to renovate these structures for new uses. The city has Emerson, a land-use attorney who specialized in the new form-based worked very well with all of us on this.” codes developed under the new urbanist movement. “So SaZa’s and Dreamland face both the alley and the street. Now a second phase has At the other end of the recently extended alley improvements, Kyser has extended to Coosa Street, so it extends two-and-a-half blocks. Early on the new Central restaurant on the ground floor of 129 Coosa Street and that would have been too remote. Pedestrians are fickle. It has to be hopes to see a bar developed on the basement level of the 101 Tallapoosa simple and interesting for them.” project. “It’s exciting just as a citizen to see what’s been going on the last seven or eight years, starting with the ballpark.” The same public/private partnership approach now is being brought to Lower Dexter, which is a block away. This is the downtown end of the singular street that leads from Court Square up to the Capitol. The city acquired 11 buildings in a long-abandoned retail zone and is finding buyers who will agree to renovate them for new uses within a restricted time frame. Several are underway currently. DesignAlabama 8

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[left] Fans approach Riverwalk Stadium, home of the Montgomery Biscuits AA baseball team. It incorporates an historic railroad freight depot (left) and is just a block from The Alley and Renaissance hotel on Tallapoosa Street.

This page from the Downtown Montgomery Master Plan includes the five-minute walking circles that create a disciplined approach to phased development.

Streetscape improvements to make walking a pleasure include a system of way-

One such circle encompasses the city’s tightly focused development efforts. Others will build from that core.

finding graphics that point out destinations for both pedestrians and drivers.

Crowds head toward a summer evening movie to be shown on the Riverwalk. The passage leads under the railroad line that skirts the Alabama River waterfront. This is just a block south of the Renaissance hotel and The Alley.

Court Square with its historic fountain was restored some years ago, and now plans are underway to re-face and renovate the large, modern, boxlike building overlooking the square for a mix of uses including a new city/county library, children’s museum and both office and retail spaces for lease. The form-based code used throughout downtown and elsewhere in the city mandates a pedestrian-friendly architecture, so when renovated it will have much the same scale and character of historic buildings nearby. Still downtown but farther away near the Capitol another focused effort is underway: the Madison Avenue Gateway. This is a downtown approach mainly for local neighborhoods, and the area includes Cramton Bowl with its new multi-purpose sports facility. “We have a Doubletree Hotel

coming into the old Madison Hotel building,” says Emerson. “There are a lot of daytime employees there near the Capitol, so we hope to give that area a good, stable, mixed-use core.” To enhance another gateway, from I-65, and create a better link to Maxwell Air Force Base further west, the city re-engaged Dover Kohl in 2011 to develop the Maxwell Boulevard Neighborhood Plan. This longrange initiative would eventually create an attractive link from I-65 into downtown along the river bluff and west of I-65 toward the base with both commercial and residential infill along the corridor. The fiveminute walking circle also shapes this plan.

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This view of Court Square shows Commerce Street, which leads to The Alley and Renaissance hotel anchor of activity a block away. The fountain and its surrounding pavement were restored in an earlier project.

The City of Montgomery will continue with additional phased development downtown, but it also has commissioned a Maxwell Boulevard Neighborhood Plan from Dover Kohl & Partners for an area leading west from downtown, past I-65 to Maxwell Air Force Base. Both five-minute and 10-minute walking circles are employed.

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New residential is also a high priority under the downtown plan implementation. “We have approximately 1,000 residents throughout downtown now, but we have a job-base of about 35,000, and our consultants tell us there is an unmet demand,” says Emerson. “This would be primarily market-rate rental since there are many people who come to Montgomery for a year or two and would prefer to rent.” Loft conversions are continuing, but the city has some well-located, empty sites that are being marketed to developers for mixed-use with rental apartments. This would help accomplish two goals: moving downtown toward the desired 24/7 living neighborhood and filling gaps in the urban fabric. Over the past few years the City of Montgomery bought 11 long-empty retail buildings on Lower Dexter to protect them and find developers to renovate them for new uses. These

Developer TJ Williford’s Partners Realty restored a warehouse on The Alley as The Alley Station with 16 loft apartments above ground-floor commercial and is about to incorporate an adjoining 40,000-square-foot building into the mix. He is working now with an out-of-town developer on a bid for one of the city’s open sites, a surface parking lot that, with adjacent property he owns, would see 60 new apartments on upper floors and a commercial ground floor.

include the neo-Classical Kress Building (top) and a smaller two-story brick building shown here near completion as the home for a new pub.

“There is a growing demand for residential in pedestrian-friendly locations,” says Williford. He sees residential as a natural extension of what the city has accomplished with its walkable urban initiatives. “Downtown is a convenient location access from the interstates, and now it has become a charming, family-friendly entertainment district that the consumer has embraced whole-heartedly. The slow, sustainable approach has been just right. We are just staying ahead of the curve, restoring our historic buildings as authentic, appealing places and adding just the right new pieces.” ■ 11 Volume XXII

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SUNRISE . . DERMATOLOGY by Philip Morris

Photography by Treasure Toliver


The architects on a new 9,200-square-foot building in Mobile encountered an unusual opportunity: designing it for one client and then redesigning it for others when it was still a shell. Sunrise Dermatology, located in the Spring Hill neighborhood, gained a finely detailed and patient-friendly environment.

Designed originally for multiple tenants, Sunrise Dermatology’s building has three gabled forms that serve as entrances. WHLC Architecture used cypress cladding on those components to provide contrasting texture with stucco-over-brick walls that wrap the balance.

“The initial intent was an office for a contractor-owner who planned to lease out the rest of the building to two tenants, hence the three

A closer view of the exterior shows the contrast in texture between wood and masonry. Louvered panels over the upper parts of the tall windows moderate light and heat gain and extend the warmth of the cypress to the whole building.

cypress-clad entrance forms to define the different occupants,” says Ben Coate, project architect for WHLC Architecture’s Fairhope office. “Not long after completion of the shell, he was approached about selling the building for use by physicians with two dermatology practices. With our health-care experience, we were able to tailor the building to their needs.” Under the name Sunrise Dermatology, the building houses the general practice of Dr. Ryan Ramagosa and the Mohs surgery practice of Dr. Scott Freeman. The two dermatologists desired a shared skin retail/esthetician’s space with its own entrance. Each practice has its own entrance/waiting room, but both share a cafe, restrooms and staff break space (see floor plan).

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The gabled entrance/waiting rooms have vaulted ceilings clad in butt-joined cypress boards with a white transparent stain. This one for Dr. Freeman’s practice leads directly into the shared cafe space.

“The Mohs surgery Dr. Freeman uses for skin cancer called for a comfortable place for patients to take a break as the incremental surgery and analysis

The cafe with refreshments and comfortable seating is located adjacent to the Mohs surgery suites so patients may take breaks between surgery phases. Floor-to-ceiling windows bring light and views inside.

proceeds,” says Coate. Thus the cafe is located near his operating rooms but is accessible via a corridor to the rest of the building. Since the building was originally intended as a showcase for construction, the architects had the opportunity to use detail and craftsmanship. Indigenous cypress siding with a medium brown stain contrasts with stucco-over-brick on the exterior. And when the interiors were designed, cypress also was used with a transparent white stain on ceilings, selected walls and other surfaces. Vance McCown Construction, the original owner, built both the building and the interior spaces. ■

A typical examination room has the white-stained cypress wrapping the changing alcove.

(Below) This is the Mohs surgery lab, which allows immediate pathology analysis to be done for the adjacent surgery rooms. The vinyl flooring used here and in examination rooms looks like wood.

The floor plan shows the entrance/waiting rooms for the two practices at the upper and lower right corners. The cafe (darker shade on the right) is next to Dr. Freeman’s space (lighter shade) with a corridor connecting to Dr. Ramagosa’s (top). The upper left corner (darker shade) shows the retail space and the shared employee break space. 13 Volume XXII

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Designing Individuality and Creating Relationships by K. Faith Morgan

Photography by Chris Luker Photography Birmingham design team Dungan Nequette succeeds in achieving the delicate balance between unique personality and cohesive community.

From Craftsman to Colonial Revival, a mix of architectural styles gives a sense of heritage to the streetscapes of Ross Bridge.


inning numerous industry awards, including being voted “Best Community in America” by the National Association of Homebuilders in 2010, Ross Bridge in

Hoover has quickly become the benchmark for well-appointed

community living in Alabama. Although it’s less than 10 years old, a visit to the Ross Bridge development has the feeling of walking though an eclectic neighborhood that has evolved organically over many years. That experience is by design, and one of the most influential design forces behind this structurally diverse community is the Birmingham architectural firm of Dungan Nequette. Guided by principal designers Louis Nequette and Jeff Dungan, the firm was tapped by the developers at Daniel Corp. and USS Real Estate to work in conjunction with the builders of Signature Homes to establish a highly personal front-porch com-

Spacious front porches and outdoor living spaces set close to the sidewalk are a hallmark of many of the homes at Ross Bridge.

munity that feels both individual and interconnected. “Many of the partners that we work with today bought in significantly to that initial vision at the very beginning and have helped to make Ross Bridge the community that it is today,” says Daniel Corp. Vice President Jeff Boyd. Ross Bridge’s tag line, “A Classic American Resort Town,” exemplifies how an entire team of designers, developers and builders has expanded the popular idea of a ‘staycation’ to the feeling of everyday, resort-style vacation living. “The initial concept for Ross Bridge was to pattern it after many of the classic American resort towns from our nation’s past, with the goal of making it the premier neighborhood of choice in the Greater Birmingham area,” says Boyd. “People who live there were looking for just this type of community, and they are proud of it,” adds architect Nequette. The lifestyle choice predicated by the Ross Bridge ideology and community plan has resonated with buyers in the area, and occupancy demands are matching the pace of builders and additional community developments even in a depressed economic

market. “Ross Bridge has reached maturity as a community much more quickly than probably any other community in Birmingham,” notes Boyd. Where most planned developments have homeowners choose from a predetermined set of plans, architects Dungan and Nequette work in close cooperation with the builders and each homeowner to make sure that the homes fit not only their needs but also their aesthetic taste. “Signature takes our designs and customizes them for each homeowner as they walk through the sales process. They listen and adapt constantly to their customer feedback,” says Nequette. “The information gets passed to us as we work on each phase of the community.”

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“You make something beautiful, and people cherish it, protect it, invest in it and pass it down. We hope to design communities and homes that are here in 90 years – loved and adapted the way the old historical neighborhoods have been. What's more sustainable than that?” A conveniently located village center with its adjoining greenspace becomes the heart of the community, and retail and commercial space ensures that residents are only steps away from whatever they need. Unique architectural styling is enhanced by detailed and lush landscaping and plantings throughout the neighborhood.

As a result, instead of showcasing the style of the architect, each home design is an expression of the personality of the homeowner. Every design decision says something about the inhabitants. Consequently, the neighborhoods present a more accurate reflection of the people who comprise the community itself.

designs. “Yes, we design homes – homes that must be buildable and sellable in a very tight market – but more than homes, we design streetscapes,” says Nequette. “If the streetscape is inviting and energized, people will use it. If people use it, they get to know one another. And before you know it, you have a thriving community.”

Disparate designs chosen by clients don’t preclude the development of a visually harmonious community, but it does require a skilled designer and developer to take these varied styles and meld them together into cohesive neighborhoods. “Our overarching role has been to help create a beautiful neighborhood and village center – an inspiring place to live. In this quest, we adhere to the age-old adage of ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,’” says Nequette.

Nequette also notes that it’s this balance of personal and community focus, as well as strong business partnerships, that have contributed to Ross Bridge’s success during the current economic downturn. “Ross Bridge has sustained growth for two reasons. One, it’s a beautiful place to live, and people choose community. We used to say they pick location first, but really they are choosing HOW they want to live. And most want a thriving, connected, walkable community – something rare in new home communities because it takes a lot of land to really pull it off,” he says. “Second, and most important to the sustained growth, Signature Homes has been ruthless in their pursuit of adapting to the new market conditions. They have found innovative ways to keep their prices competitive while offering more space and amenities than the competition. That seems to work every time, right?”

Inspired by the history of Birmingham’s thriving walkable communities (Forest Park, Highland Avenue area and Homewood), Dungan and Nequette along with the land-planning experts at Environmental Design Studio were conscious of how their designs affected the way that each neighborhood functioned and helped residents connect. They worked to balance the large space of walkable community with the correct density of homes to encourage the human interaction that is often lost in new developments. Sidewalk-lined streets and spacious front porches facilitate connections. Greenspaces where residents can gather for fresh markets and movies in the park encourage a sense of community. “The homes have to be inviting and attractive while offering porches and outdoor community spaces that foster gatherings. And, of course, everything has to be close enough that your paths cross. So we keep the houses close together and build useful and functional sidewalks, so people can get out on foot and meet.” The sense of community in some ways supersedes individual

When asked about the sustainability of their designs, Nequette says it goes beyond using stereotypically ‘green’ materials. “Yes, we use materials that are durable and friendly,” he says, “but who cares about those alone, especially if they get torn down after their fad has ended – thrown away like an old pair of lightning-washed jeans!” A long-range focus is the true backbone of their sustainable efforts. “Sustainability is easy,” says Nequette. “You make something beautiful, and people cherish it, protect it, invest in it and pass it down. We hope to design communities and homes that are here in 90 years – loved and adapted the way the old historical neighborhoods have been. What's more sustainable than that?” ■ 15 Volume XXII

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The essential facts of Shelby Baptist Medical Center’s South Tower are straight forward: a $92 million tower that replaces 101 older patient rooms, the latest phase in a master plan for its campus in Alabaster, a south Birmingham suburb. But dig deeper into the design, and you see a revolution that has transformed hospital design. “While these rooms must meet all inpatient hospital requirements, the design works to make it feel less like a hospital – more hospitable,” says Joe Bynum, managing principal with TRO Jung/Brannen’s Birmingham office, architects on the project. “Family members are accommodated as partial caregivers, something you see throughout the field of health care.” Built atop a new emergency department finished earlier, the fourstory tower with 167,712 square feet has all private rooms, 16 of which are intensive care. The second floor holds a clinical laboratory, central sterilization and processing to support newly expanded operating rooms nearby, an admitting/registration area, chapel and public space, all served by a covered patient pick-up and drop-off area. The third floor consists of 50 medical/surgical private rooms while the fourth floor has 35 private rooms plus those for intensive care. (The fifth floor is shelled in for future expansion).

Shelby Baptist South Tower by Philip Morris Photography by Gary Kessell

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A typical room with much of the usual hospital clutter minimized and hotel-like amenities for both patients and visitors.

Wood in contrasting finishes used on the floor and reception desk, plus natural light and views, make the second-level lobby a welcoming space.

Above: The red brick of the existing hospital campus was repeated, but a lighter, more open glass-and-metal cladding was used for most of the new tower.

Previous page: This dusk view shows the new South Tower at Shelby Baptist Medical Center in Alabaster. Architect TRO Jung/Brannen designed the addition with natural light, views and patient/visitor amenities in mind. The enclosed pedestrian bridge leads from the parking deck to the reception lobby.

Right: This isometric drawing shows two private patient rooms with extra space and furnishings for family and other visitors.

The exterior is partly clad in the same red brick found in older buildings, but the south-facing facade features a lighter, glass-and-metal exposure that contributes to the controllable natural light found throughout the addition. On the interior, emphasis was placed on creating efficient, clearly comprehensible spaces for both staff and visitors. In addition to larger size, the patient rooms feature natural light, warm materials and concealment of the visual clutter pervasive in health care to reduce anxiety and promote healing. â–

The site plan shows the new tower’s relation to the existing hospital and the new parking deck. Covered patient pick up and drop off is under the tower.

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University of North Alabama Master Plan Another fountain and circular brick walkway through the main area of campus were part of the recent renovation project funded through federal grants and donations to make UNA a more walkable and bikeable campus. Harrison Plaza with its large white fountain creates an impressive entry into the campus.

A Blueprint for

One of the main walkways on campus looking across to the University Center with its row of tall, arched windows. The fountain is one of several installed a few years ago when this section of campus was redesigned to be all-pedestrian.

Walkability and Growth by Jessica Armstrong

Photography by Shannon Wells, University of North Alabama

What attracts prospective students to a university?

Key issues in the 2012 UNA master plan:

Quality of education and tuition costs might come

• Open-Space System. To physically unify the campus, provide recreational opportunities and promote social, cultural and intellectual interactions. A campus-wide open-space network will increase walkablity and expand the natural beauty of the campus.

to mind before walkability. Yet students recognize the value of campuses easily navigated on foot within walking distance of downtown shops,

• Transition to a Residential Campus. UNA envisions an environment in which most students will choose to live on campus. Historically, UNA has been primarily a commuter campus.

cafes, art galleries, banks and other destinations.

• Walkable Campus. UNA began as a pedestrian-oriented campus, but like many campuses and communities, the car became a function of everyday life.

The University of North Alabama’s campus master plan provides a blueprint to bolster the connection between the university and adjacent downtown Florence. The 2012 master plan evolved from previous plans as a way to address the rapid growth and projected expansion of the state’s oldest public four-year university.

• Activity Centers. In support of its evolution to a more walkable, residential campus, a variety of student life amenities will be incorporated into a system of activity centers. • Enhancing the Beauty of the Campus. New buildings and open spaces will harmonize with the historic campus core, in keeping with the traditions of UNA’s historic landscape and architecture.

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Plan by KPS Group

This illustrative plan shows a projected 20-year build-out of the entire campus with sidewalks, trees, buildings and parking. The darkest gray buildings are opportunities to infill or replace existing buildings. Medium gray indicates existing campus buildings, and those in lightest gray are existing buildings off campus. All these building sites are compatible with the planned campus-wide open-space system, which combines new and existing cultural, natural and recreational green spaces in a manner that will unify the expanded campus on some challenging topography. Left: Walkways now replace roads in the center of campus. The recent renovation project not only made this area more accessible to walkers and bicyclers, the space was enhanced with urns, street lamps, pillars and plantings. Improvements are reflective of UNA’s early landscaping, developed in 1929 by the renowned design firm of the Olmsted Brothers. Right: WPA-built Willingham Hall was named for longtime UNA President Henry J. Willingham. Formerly a women’s dormitory, the stately three-story building now houses the department of English and the department of history and political science. The Pride of Lions statue was installed in 2004 and donated by UNA Vice President Dan Howard. Photo by: Bruce Dupree

Also planned is a new academic complex in the campus core, new science and engineering facilities, three residential villages, along with well-landscaped campus edges with welcoming entrances and simple pathways to convenient parking. To the south and southeast of the campus is the center of the city. Historic residential neighborhoods border the remaining edges of campus. And the historic districts bounding it are important elements in planning the campus perimeters. Bicycle and pedestrian improvements will make it easier to move about campus and the adjoining city. Vehicular access, parking facilities and a better way-finding system make entering and leaving easier and encourage safe non-vehicular travel. The strategic arrangement of buildings and improved bicycle and pedestrian systems are designed to help establish expansion of the campus transit system. UNA presents an excellent response to its physical setting, and its close proximity to downtown Florence benefits both the university and the city, notes Darrell Meyer, senior vice president of KPS Group, a planning and design firm with offices in Birmingham, Huntsville and Atlanta. Meyer describes the campus as a “very high quality physical environment.”

equivalent to one-fifth of a mile or slightly less due to the hilly topography. As proposed in the master plan, all academic buildings will be under a 10-minute walk from the farthest edges of campus. “Because the campus is not flat, the topography was a challenge, but the campus is small and compact making it easier to ensure walkability and easy access to buildings,” Meyer explains. “We made sure that with every new building, you won’t have to cross a major street or climb stairs.” Getting around campus by bicycle will be improved in much the same way as for walking. Locating a mix of destinations close together allows the cyclist the same convenience as pedestrians. A built environment designed for pedestrian accessibility also supports bicycle access. Most campus destinations are placed at or near the same elevation to reduce the impact of UNA’s topography. Vehicular and circulation improvements within and surrounding campus include the creation of a connection between the center of campus and the future housing location. Portions of several streets will be redesigned for traffic calming and pedestrian safety. These “road diets” will recapture excess right-of-way to be used for streetscape enhancements. Overly wide lanes on a campus thoroughfare will be narrowed to reduce the street cross-section while adding or modifying on-street parking in specific locations. Narrowing the roadway will allow sidewalks to be widened and farther away from vehicular traffic.

Given its rolling topography, providing an accessible, safe and efficient system for getting pedestrians across campus created a challenge. A five-minute walk, or about one-quarter of a mile, is commonly accepted as an average distance most people are willing to walk to their destinations. At UNA, a five-minute walk is

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Founded in 1830, the University of North Alabama in 1873 became one of the first co-educational colleges in the United States. In the 1920s the firm of acclaimed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted prepared a pivotal master plan for the campus. The scenic arrangement of buildings, abundant open spaces, shaded walkways, manicured gardens, fountains and sculptures for which the campus is known originated from the designs proposed in the Olmsted plan. UNA also is noted for its many historic buildings and has three pre-Civil War structures, each listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“The master plan is created to look into the future as much as 20 years, and in so doing retain the best features of the existing campus while accommodating growth and change,” explains UNA President William G. Cale. “Thus, the master plan will site new buildings in a way that enhances the pedestrian nature of UNA and recommend ways to centralize functions in order to best serve student needs.” Cale says immediate priority is to complete four new buildings. The new Facilities Building has been constructed on the east campus, clearing the way to locate a new Science and Technology Building within the campus core. A new theater has been added adjacent to the main auditorium and has created a pleasing new entry to campus. Construction was begun in September on the Academic and Student Commons Building to be located along the southern perimeter of campus. A parking lot is being created across the street from the building. The next phase to be addressed will be housing, says Michael B. Gautney, director of facilities administration and planning. “We are currently planning for approximately 20 to 25 percent growth over the next 10 to 20 years, and on-campus housing is a key element in meeting the needs of this growth.” An increase in student housing requires increased parking. Much of UNA’s parking will be located toward the edges of campus, allowing the campus core to be a calmer and safer environment for walkers and bikers. A proposed parking deck southwest of the campus core will absorb parking demand in that area and provide additional capacity to support growth. Another deck is planned on the west side to provide parking for athletes, events and nearby student housing. Along with KPS Group, a number of other firms have been involved in the creation of the 2012 Master Plan including Lambert Ezell Durham Architecture and Interior Design in Florence. “They know the campus from the inside and outside, having worked on it for years and have wonderful relationships with the university community,” explains Meyer, “so were able to provide very helpful information about the place and the culture that we may not have otherwise known fully.” Skipper Consulting, a Birmingham-based engineering firm, developed the transportation and parking component of the plan. This included vehicular circulation, bike and pedestrian circulation, as well as transit and parking. The plan reduces vehicle and pedestrian conflicts and eliminates parking in the heart of campus, therefore making the campus more pedestrian friendly, explains Mickey Hall of Skipper Consulting. The bike and pedestrian circulation plan creates well-defined connectors between campus and the downtown.

“The most significant challenge was to maintain delivery and service access to the buildings while promoting a pedestrian campus,” Hall notes. “The only parking issue was to make sure that enough parking was maintained to support the campus master plan.” Comprehensive Facilities Planning in Columbus, Ohio, assessed the space requirements of UNA’s academic and administrative departments for both the current conditions and a projected space need according to the university’s long-term enrollment growth plan. As such, their work occurred early in the planning process to provide the space data to the architects and planners who used this information to develop various scenarios for the campus master plan.

Also in the central area of campus is a pedestrian-only bridge built recently to provide handicap access. The bridge connects to a large student building that includes an activities center, food court and bookstore. It also provides an ideal spot to view the campus’ rich foliage, which includes dogwoods, cherry trees and Japanese maples.

From the beginning of the planning process “UNA made a place at the table for the City of Florence,” says Melissa Bailey, director of the city’s planning and community development department. Bailey says the city’s involvement in the creation of the plan ensures continuity and allows for open communication concerning the direction of the city and the university. Bailey points out that a key component of the plan is to reduce dependence on the automobile. “I think it is important to cities to provide alternative modes of transportation, and we will always find areas to improve upon in terms of bike and pedestrian connections,” she says. “The university’s location in downtown Florence provides bike and pedestrian opportunities and increasing those connections into neighborhoods and other commercial offerings is important.” Cale describes UNA as “a beautiful college campus that focuses on creating an unparalleled learning environment for our students.” The campus master plan is in place to provide present and future students the most conducive environment for learning – by giving them a walkable and livable campus with easy access to the businesses and cultural amenities of downtown Florence. ■ Jessica Armstrong is a freelance writer based in Auburn.

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Appleseed Workshop’s design-build team consists of (left to right) Ben Strout, Mike Gibson and Josh Dean.

Appleseed Workshop

by Shelley Hildebrand Photography Courtesy of Appleseed Workshop

Three Men and a Mission: Breathing new life into the heart of downtown Birmingham one building at a time.


n budget and on time is what the guys from Appleseed Workshop jokingly say the motto for their company should be. A design-build firm headquartered in Birmingham, Appleseed Workshop is a band of three – an architect, a contractor and a craftsman – brought together at a small church in Auburn seven years ago. In the last couple of years the firm has blossomed from its initial base of home and kitchen renovations to designing and building what might one day be known as some of Birmingham’s most iconic structures. As the brains and brawn behind both The Creamery in the heart of downtown Homewood and Dog Days in the heart of downtown Birmingham, Appleseed Workshop also recently revamped the building that is home to El Barrio, a Mexican-inspired restaurant on Second Avenue North. Additionally, the firm has had an ongoing relationship with a gym called Iron Tribe Fitness. The gym’s popularity has exploded in recent years, and Appleseed has designed and built all of its locations and is almost finished renovating a 6,000-square-foot steel barn into a conference and fitness center for a company called Integrated Medical Systems International. The firm will begin its first from-the-ground-up design project for Iron Tribe soon, although it does not have the necessary licensing to do new commercial construction. Other projects completed include several residential lofts in the downtown area. According to Mike Gibson, the architect of the group, the firm was born from a pact between college buddies. He and Ben Strout, Appleseed’s general contractor, both have degrees in architecture from Auburn University. At graduation the two agreed they would each pursue internships and jobs that would allow them to gain the necessary licenses to later launch Appleseed Workshop as their own company. The firm’s craftsman, Josh Dean, says he met Ben and Mike at church while at Auburn. “I was going to school, but I didn’t really have a plan,” Dean admits. At Auburn on a scholarship for poultry science, he says he may have had the strangest double major ever when he paired that with English. “He [Dean] was going to school for like a second, but we convinced him to quit school and go to work for us, and we paid him with room and board,” Gibson explains.

Appleseed took an existing 6,000-square-foot building and remodeled it for Iron Tribe Fitness. The exterior photos show the condition of the building before (top) and at the completion of the project (bottom). The firm is in the process of designing a new facility for Iron Tribe, which will be Appleseed Workshop’s first from-theground-up design project.

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W “Very rarely do we build anything that we don’t design, and very rarely do we design anything that we don’t build.”

The firm revamped the interior to create an open and functional gym facility for Iron Tribe.

Gibson says that each project the firm undertakes includes an “Appleseed element,” like this staircase, that is a hallmark of their work.

hat may sound like a stretch for some was a logical decision for Dean. “One thing I knew from the beginning was that they were really talented guys,” Dean says. “So I didn’t mind taking what some may say was a giant leap of faith. I left my scholarship and just said I’m going to work for these guys. I didn’t think it was that crazy, because I knew how talented they were.” Over the years they have hit several rough spots, but their novel approach to building has helped them grow and succeed even during a tough economy. The first thing they look at when working with a client is budget. “Very rarely do we build anything that we don’t design, and very rarely do we design anything that we don’t build,” Gibson states. “When I talk to a client, I tell them we have to start with budget. A lot of people in the profession like to draw pretty pictures but then people can’t afford it. We are able to start with budget because we know how much it’s going to cost to build.” Dean echoes those comments and adds that starting with the budget allows the homeowner to have a positive experience when undergoing a renovation project. “We don’t like the fact that some people build houses, and at the end they realize it’s been a miserable experience because it took too long and cost too much,” he says. Another tactic that has enabled Appleseed to survive through this economy is the ability to squeeze every last drop out of a project. “We are getting paid to design it, and we are getting paid to build it as a contractor. But we are also acting as a subcontractor to ourselves in many of the things that are done on a project. So we don’t have to do 30 projects a year to be where we need to be. We can focus,” Gibson explains. A current trend in the construction industry, “design-build” can mean a couple of different things, Gibson says. And while not design-build in the sense of a huge corporate company, he explains, they are a true design-build firm in that under one umbrella they blend architecture and construction seamlessly together. Add the craftsman element to the mix and that rounds out this trio, who complete every aspect of a project including details such as handcrafted staircases, furniture and cabinetry. Dean says that while Gibson and Strout were trained in architecture, he has developed his own design philosophy by observing them and seeing how to make decisions. Even though Strout is the contractor of the group, he also is an integral part of the design process. “We don’t agree with the traditional model of separating the contractor and the architect – that distinguishes us,” he comments. Rarely does one see an architect swinging a hammer, but Gibson says that’s exactly what he did early on. In fact, he adds, there were times Strout would literally build and install entire kitchens all by himself. What they do best, according to Gibson, is rehabilitate buildings using what they find in the original structures. The building that houses El Barrio is a perfect example. After seeing what the team had done with Dog Days of Birmingham, the owner of the building approached the firm wanting to recreate the building with four different uses. The project called for a residence on one floor, a climate-controlled self-storage facility, a split-level parking deck and on the first floor and in the front, the restaurant El Barrio. “The way we do projects – we don’t necessarily draw as much as other architects because we are building it,” Gibson says. “There are high levels of detail such as reclaimed wood and compound miter joints coming together. The floors are the original heart pine that we sanded. All the benches were made from reclaimed bead board from the project or heart pine. And then there’s a lot of steelwork in the project, which we fabricate all ourselves.” For the restaurant, Appleseed collaborated with architect Kyle D’Agostino to bring it to life. “What we brought to the table was the expertise from a pricing standpoint, and the details in the project were where we were able to flex our muscles a little bit,” Gibson says.

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Projects like Dog Days of Birmingham catapulted Appleseed toward other high-profile commercial projects including El Barrio.

Appleseed uses as much existing materials as possible in its projects. At El Barrio the original floors of heart pine were sanded and refreshed for the new space.

A Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford fan, Gibson went to see Cowboys and Aliens. He explains Appleseed’s aesthetic as being a lot like what he saw in the movie. “There are scenes in that movie where there are these very modern, steel-welded machines sitting in this country setting – country just meaning old. A lot of our projects have that same feel to them. The steelwork looks very modern, but it’s hand done,” he says. “And every time we cut an opening, what we remove are these beautiful beams, so we build doors and tables out of those. They all have a similar feel. It’s heart pine, it’s steel, it’s glass and it’s open spaces and good space planning.” Gibson remarks that over the last year their work has shifted from being about 90 percent residential to almost 70 percent commercial. Here recently they have made a unilateral decision not to advertise. “We’d rather invest the money we would put in that toward being more efficient, more concise and more intentional with our time and being a better company and letting our work speak for itself,” Dean says. In their short existence Appleseed’s work has won many awards including three from the Birmingham AIA and one from the Alabama AIA.

At times the word “developer” has been linked to Appleseed Workshop when describing what they do. And while Gibson says that is not a word he uses to describe his firm, their business philosophy and concept comes down to a simple and small thing – a seed. “What starts out as just an apple seed has the potential to produce something exponentially amazing,” Gibson says. “An apple is a euphemism for the city. Every one of our projects has the ability to change someone’s mind about how to do a project and how to breathe new life into an old building.” The three credit their success thus far and in the future to their faith. “The Lord has really blessed us, and that is something we never want to go without saying,” Gibson states. “We believe everything we have has come from the Lord. All of the hard times were there and just what we needed to learn, and we are still trying to learn and just thankful for where we are at.” ✎ Shelley Hildebrand is a freelance writer and graphic designer based in Montgomery.

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Design■Makes A Difference

All new labs and supporting spaces on the renovated third floor of the UAB Chemistry Building now have access to light and views out to the campus – here onto the new UAB Campus Green. Before the redesign, they were all interior rooms. Doors between the labs provide secondary circulation along the window walls.


UAB Chemistry Sees the Light // by Philip Morris / Photography Lewis Kennedy


s one of the original campus buildings from the 1960s, the Chemistry Building at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) was overdue for renovations. Just about everything was worn out, and the third floor with its laboratories was never something to love: The labs were dreary, windowless interior spaces. Not surprising, then, that top of the list for changes during recent renovations was opening up the spaces to light and views. A collaboration between Dr. David Graves, chair of the chemistry department, UAB planning and architecture staff and the design team – Atlanta-based Cooper Carry and Birmingham’s Designform – has turned the third floor into a showcase teaching environment. (The renovations, along with other program initiatives under Graves’ direction, have seen the number of UAB chemistry majors nearly triple.) When it was built, the perimeter circulation of the building was an outside corridor but subsequently enclosed. As the ‘before’

floor plan shows, labs were all interior rooms served by narrow corridors. Under the $5.7 million project with Brasfield & Gorrie as general contractor, the whole third floor (labs and supporting spaces) was rebuilt. But the most powerful change was in the layout: All labs and other spaces extend to glass exterior walls with a wide central corridor linking them internally. That central corridor with its 12-foot width, alcove seating and display walls also invites the sort of collaboration that has become a key part of the teaching process. Within the same square footage, the UAB chemistry program has used design to move from dreary to illuminating. ■

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A generous 12-foot-wide central hall with seating alcove and display panels serves as both circulation and a casual meeting space for students and faculty. Here exposed ceilings are blacked out and fitted with rectangular ‘clouds’ with softer lighting than the labs.

(above) The original 1960s layout had perimeter circulation with labs as isolated, interior rooms.

(left) The new layout features a generous central hall with labs and other rooms given the exterior walls with windows. Doors on the perimeter provide secondary access between spaces.

This before photo shows a windowless lab with clusters of vertical pipes. These are wrapped with columns in the new labs.

In this close view of the exterior the Chemistry Building shows its 1960s Brutalist-style roots.

Ceilings in the renovated labs are exposed loft-style to show all the utilities needed in a chemistry teaching facility. Instead of the more typical ‘blackout,’ these are painted white to enhance light levels. Glass door surrounds provide views from the central corridor. 25 Volume XXII

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Decatur by Jessica Armstrong

Grand City on a Charming Scale Decatur’s official slogan, “A Grand City on a Charming Scale,” is fitting for a community that reflects the best of two worlds. The north Alabama city upholds an important economic, cultural and recreational presence in the region, while at the same time managing to retain its amiable, small-town character.

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Envision Decatur is a massive, long-range comprehensive plan, which includes the development of parks and an amphitheater. Plans are underway for an amphitheater to be built at Founders Park, located at the head of Bank Street.

The Alabama Center for the Arts school opened its doors to its first group of students this fall. A cornerstone of Decatur’s emerging arts-based downtown economy, the new school is located on Second Avenue on the former site of the Robinson building across from the Princess Theatre for the Performing Arts.


movement is under way to enhance these attributes and to carefully redesign Decatur’s downtown – transforming it into a dynamic commercial district with walkable streets, parks, a sizable art district and a lively riverfront. This transformation has been guided by the Decatur Downtown Redevelopment Authority (DDRA) created in 2004 to steer the city’s redevelopment projects and help private developers improve the city’s downtown and riverfront. The Envision Decatur Plan, a long-range comprehensive plan built on a public-private partnership, serves as a guideline for revitalizing downtown Decatur and is being implemented by the DDRA.

The Ingalls Harbor Pavilion is a vital part of the redevelopment that connects the river and downtown. Timber, stone and steel impart industrial characteristics suggestive of the Ingalls shipbuilding facility once on the site. The pavilion can be used open air or enclosed and features an open floor plan with large fireplaces at each end and multiple roof dormers.

The first five-year phase (2010-2014) focuses on four areas of the Envision Decatur Plan:

• City Center Development Fine Arts School: The first priority of the strategic plan is a fine arts school in the city center. The Alabama Center for the Arts – a joint venture between Athens State University and Calhoun Community College – was completed summer 2012 and began its first classes in fall 2012. The school is located on the former site of the old Bailey-Robinson Building on Second Avenue. Public Parking Lots: In 2011 all public parking lots were identified, inventoried and mapped. The plan now is to do the necessary upgrades to the parking lots, post directional signs to them and place identification signs on the lots. Sixth Avenue Retail Development District: A section of Sixth Avenue is the gateway into the city from the River Bridge and contains properties ideal for development and redevelopment. Some of these properties have been refurbished in recent years, and several are no longer in use. Incentive Grants: Improvements also are being made with incentive grants available for infrastructure, new facades on existing buildings and signage. Currently, the most frequently used grant is the Facade Grant. The DDRA will reimburse half of the price of getting facade work done, up to $5,000. Another $2,500 is available for reimbursement if the building is on a corner and there are side windows or doors that have been improved.

• Beautification Streetscape: The Second Avenue Streetscape began in November 2011 and is under construction. The goal is to increase pedestrian traffic, increase use of perimeter parking and bring in more business to the area due to its improved park-like atmosphere. Lower Bank Streetscape drawings are currently under review by ALDOT. Pocket Parks: Several pocket parks are being planned throughout the city center, each one with its own singular characteristics, yet keeping the overall design intact. The Second Avenue Pocket Park is nearing completion. While maintaining the continuity of the elements used in other parks, this park will contain a small pond, waterfall and oak trees planted from the seeds of trees from Walden Pond.

• Riverfront Development and Pedestrian Bridge Downtown Decatur is adjacent to the Tennessee River, and a highway separates the riverfront and downtown. The Gateway Pedestrian Bridge is designed to link the two. The major attributes are the ‘bookends’ of the Tennessee River waterfront at the north end and Delano Park on the south end with the city center in between. Connecting the river and downtown area to the west is Ingalls Harbor, a major events venue that includes a 25,000-square-foot enclosed public pavilion and a riverboat offering tours and dinner cruises. Wood beams and columns from the demolished Bailey-Robinson Building downtown were reused in the post-and-beam construction for the pavilion arches.

• Decatur Commons In March 2012 the city acquired the Archer Daniels Midland Co. warehouse properties, a 7.4-acre site that will launch the revitalization of the area with the intent to increase its appeal to potential developers. This proposed public commons or central park is located in an area that runs south along the Tennessee River. The upland portions of Decatur Commons present an opportunity to develop an “in-town business and mixed-use park” to help attract new businesses downtown. “First and foremost, our strategic plan is an economic development plan,” explains Rick Paler, the authority’s first director. “The beautification part (streetscape, pocket parks, etc.) is there to make the environment desirable from an aesthetic standpoint to draw people and business in. The goal is to develop an arts-based economy downtown.” A new fine arts college is the primary economic catalyst, increasing traffic downtown with students, faculty and attendant services, bringing art shows, performances and other cultural activities downtown. Another arts-oriented venue is an amphitheater being constructed in Founders Park. “This will drive tourism from a regional standpoint and bring the local populace to the downtown to participate in these events,” Paler adds. “This major driver, along with our existing arts venues, the Princess Theatre and the Carnegie Visual Arts Center, gave a strong base to build on that could naturally grow into a full-blown arts district spanning from the riverfront to Delano Park and encompassing all of the downtown.”

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This pedestrian bridge improves the connection between the river and downtown, creating an entry into the downtown area. Highway 20 separates the riverfront and downtown, and the bridge provides a walkable link. It references some of Decatur’s early bridges, says its designer, Scott Schoel of Schoel Architects in Decatur. Elevators make it handicapped accessible. Graphics by Scott Schoel

Way-finding sign systems for the downtown are underway, along with the enhancement of public parking with maps, directional finding and identifying signs. New public events are being developed, which include a Mardi Gras and art events. A bike trail throughout the city also is in development in keeping with the plan’s overall walkable and bikeable urban-design approach. Loft development is being explored to encourage downtown living in order to invigorate the existing economic climate and attract new businesses. A redevelopment plan of this magnitude involves extensive teamwork. PH&J Architects of Montgomery designed the new Alabama Center for the Arts school. Fite Building Co. in Decatur is the contractor on the school project and also is working on the Ingalls Pavilion. The Gateway Pedestrian Bridge was designed by Scott Schoel of Schoel Architects in Decatur. Jeff Hillman of Hargrove Engineers and Constructors in Mobile also was involved with the pedestrian bridge project. Decatur-based Pugh Wright McAnally provided civil engineering on the Second Avenue Streetscape project, the Ingalls Pavilion, the pedestrian bridge and the upcoming Lower Bank Streetscape project. GBW Architects of Decatur designed the Ingalls Pavilion and Second Avenue Streetscape and will design the Lower Bank Streetscape project. KMAC Greenworks in Birmingham disassembled the wooden beams in the downtown Robinson Building and refurbished them for reuse in the Ingalls Pavilion. Graphic design and marketing services are provided by McWhorter Communications and Red Sage Communications, both based in Decatur. Few communities can boast having two historic districts that were once two separate cities. Decatur’s singular character and sense of place are personified in its two early districts, Old Decatur and Albany, which merged in 1925, notes Melinda Dunn of the Decatur Historic Preservation Commission. The two early neighborhoods connect to the downtown and riverfront, and all benefit from the Envision Decatur Plan, she adds. The tree-canopied streets of Old Decatur invite walking and offer a pleasant stroll to the riverfront or commercial district. Bike trails also are easily accessed. Originally called New Decatur, the Albany area is reflective of the City Beautiful movement in the late 19th century urban planning, Dunn explains. Sidewalks along its broad boulevards and tree-lined streets encourage walking to nearby parks (including the WPA-era, FDR-dedicated Delano Park), schools, churches and the Second Avenue downtown district.

A good example of the how the master plan’s streetscape is dramatically improving the appearance of buildings and their surroundings. Streetlights with hanging baskets and plantings between the curb and sidewalk create a more aesthetically pleasing outdoor space. Beautification is one of the plan’s primary components.

“The charm of the historic residential districts is a unique calling card not only for potential buyers and residents of the district, but also to the visitors who come to the area seeking to find those elements that define what is real and true in a community,” says Dunn. Along with its historic districts, Decatur is known for its recreational opportunities. Being situated on the Tennessee River offers activities in and near the water including a wildlife refuge and a birding trail. Decatur has long been important economically as well, being at the center of railroad and boating routes between Nashville and Chattanooga and Mobile and New Orleans. Today a number of industrial giants have a presence in Decatur, the seat of Morgan County.

City of Decatur Planner Karen J. Smith says the first phase of the Envision Decatur Plan was started in the Second Avenue and Bank Street areas because these were the two original downtown districts. “It was then fast-tracked because of the decision of Calhoun and Athens State to locate the school of fine arts in that area,” she explains, “which gave impetus to the redevelopment efforts.” Finding creative ways to mesh the development practices of bygone days with the needs of a growing downtown has been one of the city’s redevelopment challenges, says Smith. Planning challenges include providing space for sidewalk cafes in front of buildings that are built up to the right-of-way. Having a parking problem is a ‘good thing,’ she says, but finding ways to help the public adapt to parking in the many public parking lots and then walking a short distance to merchants and restaurants is also a challenge. Way-finding systems and signage have helped alleviate the problem. Paler says within the next five to 10 years a significant portion of the Envision Decatur Plan will be in place, making Decatur a major destination for tourism, shopping, education and residential living. And as the plan progresses, it will undoubtedly strengthen Decatur’s image as a “Grand City on a Charming Scale.” ●

A pocket park seems to magically transform an empty space into an inviting small green oasis that provides a welcome respite from the bustle of streets. Casa Grande Gardens Park (shown before and after above), features arbors with stone columns, seating areas and newly planted foliage. These small green spaces are being developed throughout the city by Sam Barnett of GBW Architects as part of the beautification portion of the 2010-2012 strategic plan.

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Historical Perspectives

by Stacey Browning


ON APRIL 26, 2011, three of Tuscaloosa’s historic districts, The Downs, Glendale Gardens and Hillcrest, were typical picturesque early suburbs with large shady trees, a variety of architectural styles and cul-de-sacs known for their sense of community and safety. Developed primarily in the mid- to late-1940s, the three districts were among Tuscaloosa’s earliest automobile-oriented suburbs. Located approximately 2 miles from the University of Alabama campus, the neighborhoods are paradigms of post-World War II suburbs. In 1962 Glendale Gardens was referred to as “the most wonderful neighborhood in the whole world” by the Birmingham News. The Downs became a locally designated historic district in 2005; Glendale Gardens and Hillcrest followed in 2007. The residents sought historic designation because they wanted to preserve the character of their unique neighborhoods and protect the enclaves from encroachment by landlords seeking student rental properties.

Photo by Stacey Browning, City of Tuscaloosa

This Colonial Revival house was built in 1942, but did not survive the storm. It was featured in a story on Glendale Gardens and the tornado in Southern Living magazine.

At an emergency meeting on April 29, the HPC gave city staff heightened approval authority so specific changes could be made without the need for a Certificate of Appropriateness. The HPC and That day, an EF-4 tornado ravaged the city, leaving a mile-wide

city staff realized that many property owners would want to alter

path of destruction in its wake. These three districts lay directly in its

damaged features, for example, replacing original wood windows

path. In the storm’s aftermath, city staff and the Tuscaloosa Historic

with aluminum-clad wood windows for greater energy efficiency

Preservation Commission (HPC) sought the best and most efficient

and cost savings or upgrading from vinyl siding to more appropriate

way to assess damage in the districts and ensure that structures were

fiber cement. The HPC approved these kinds of changes for the

repaired in accordance with the Design Guidelines while allowing

tornado-affected districts, which allowed many homeowners to avoid

homeowners to return to their homes as quickly as possible. The day

the more time-consuming process of petitioning the HPC. While

after the tornado, city staff contacted the Alabama Historical Com-

demolitions are ordinarily not approvable through the expedited

mission (AHC) for advice and for names of other communities that

review process, the HPC authorized city staff to approve demolitions if

had suffered devastating destruction in historic districts.

the chief building official agreed that the structure was condemnable.

At the emergency meeting, the HPC discussed the need for significant documentation of each structure in the districts. This documentation was tasked to city staff, as was the creation of a one-page informational sheet to be distributed to property owners. The flyer provided homeowners with contact information for city staff and information about the newly authorized expedited review process for repairs and demolitions. 29 Volume XXII

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Photo by Cecil Lancaster, City of Tuscaloosa

This house was one of only seven in The Downs to be completely destroyed. The Downs fared better than the other two districts, as only 11 percent of the houses were lost.


The owners of 55 The Downs chose to rebuild their house in a similar style to the previous house.

City staff began photographing the structures on the Monday following the storm. When possible to do so safely, they photographed all four sides of each structure. These photographs proved to be invaluable by providing essential documentation when homeowners and contractors applied for building permits. This extensive documentation allowed city staff to ensure that all needed Photo by Stacey Browning, City of Tuscaloosa

work was permitted and that the proper materials would be utilized. Photographing each of the 132 structures in the three districts occupied the better part of five days, as much of the time was spent handing out flyers and talking to homeowners about historic district regulations and building permits. Rumors abounded. One was that all historic district regulations had been lifted and developers were buying up destroyed homes in order to build student housing. By speaking to so many homeowners and distributing flyers with accurate information, city staff was able to quickly debunk most of the rumors.

according to the Design Guidelines. In anticipation of an increased

historic surveys was critical. Through a generous grant from the

On May 4, representatives from the AHC came to Tuscaloosa to aid

volume in applications, the HPC voted to hold an additional

AHC, the city contracted with the University of Alabama’s Office

in damage assessments. City staff and the AHC envoy conducted

meeting each month so that homeowners could obtain approval

of Archaeological Research (OAR) to prepare updated surveys.

windshield and walking surveys of each district, documenting

and begin work faster. The HPC was the first of Tuscaloosa’s

The primary focus of the original surveys had been each district’s

likely losses on a map. The AHC sent a report to the city with an

three municipal commissions to meet twice a month in an attempt

collection of historic structures. The updated surveys would need

assessment of damage and recommendations for a process to better

to aid affected residents. During the summer of 2011, the HPC

to demonstrate the historic value and significance of the neigh-

solidify the districts’ historic designations including an update

heard 49 cases, 37 of which were related to storm damage. The

borhood as a whole. Gene Ford from OAR researched the history

of each district’s historic survey emphasizing the history of the

HPC returned to the normal schedule of one meeting per month in

of subdivision planning in Tuscaloosa and found that the three

neighborhoods’ development and their significance as some of

September, as the volume of applications slowed significantly.

districts were among the earliest in Tuscaloosa to utilize cul-de-sac designs. His research was completed in March 2012,

Tuscaloosa’s earliest suburbs. The report also included a funding One of the most pressing post-storm questions concerned the

offer for the recommended updates.

and the historic status of each district was reaffirmed.

implications arising from the loss of significant numbers of historic At the HPC’s regularly scheduled May meeting, which was attended

structures. As of July 2012, 10 percent of homes were demolished in

All new construction and alterations are in compliance with the

by many homeowners in the affected districts, commissioners

The Downs and 33 percent in Glendale Gardens. Hillcrest suffered

Design Guidelines. Four new houses have been constructed in

assured residents that their historic district status was intact and

the greatest loss. Approximately 36 percent of its homes were

The Downs, and the neighborhood association purchased one

that all alterations and new construction would be regulated

destroyed. In light of such significant losses, an update to the

of the newly vacant lots for use as a neighborhood park. In Glendale Gardens four houses are under construction. Five new construction projects are underway or completed in Hillcrest. The rebuilt neighborhoods can never look the same as before the

The implementation of the Design Guidelines has ensured that new structures are compatible with the remaining houses in the neighborhoods. This photo shows a new house (third from the left) amidst historic houses.

storm, but implementation of the Design Guidelines has ensured that the new will complement the historic. The HPC has been diligent in approving only structures that are compatible with the existing historic houses while at the same time allowing for creativity and diversity in style.

Photo by Stacey Browning, City of Tuscaloosa DesignAlabama 30

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Photo by Cecil Lancaster, City of Tuscaloosa

The best thing city staff did immediately after the tornado was to go to each historic district and talk to homeowners, reassuring them that the city and HPC wanted to help them get repairs started as quickly as possible and informing them of the approval process for repairs and reconstruction. Many residents later said how grateful they were that city staff had visited the districts and spoken with them in person. This personal interaction benefited both homeowners and the city, allowing permits to be issued quickly in many cases because discussions had already taken place. The city also benefited from the advice and expertise of officials who had been in similar circumstances. The AHC provided guidance and information, as did representatives from Mobile, North Carolina and other areas that had been affected by natural disasters.

The April 27 tornado forever altered these historic districts, but the pace of recovery is extremely encouraging. The historic districts

Surveys made when each district had applied for historic

seem to have been repaired and rebuilt more quickly than other

designation listed the materials, style, date of construction and

residential areas in the tornado’s path. Residents’ love for these

other valuable information for each property. Photographs ex-

unique but scarred neighborhoods coupled with their confidence

isted of every structure in its pre-tornado condition. Many home-

in the historic district regulations to maintain their property values

owners requested copies of these images to use while undertaking

prompted them to return to their communities as quickly as

repairs. City staff was able to guarantee that repairs conformed

possible. It will take another 50 to 100 years before the newly

to previously existing conditions, thus preserving the character of

planted trees provide the shade and privacy to which the residents

each structure. While the surveys and other documentation were

were accustomed. The new houses are not the same as the old

extremely valuable, things change very rapidly in storm-damaged

houses. New neighbors will move in; some old ones have moved

neighborhoods. More documentation and closer supervision of

out. But the neighborhoods’ resilience demonstrates how historic

repairs would help prevent violations. Weekly documentation and

district regulations can protect neighborhoods and how a much-

reconnaissance three to five times a week would aid both the city

loved place can impact the lives of its residents, even in the face

and residents, ensuring that unapproved changes are halted early.

of great adversity.

While documenting the damage in the historic districts, city staff met with many homeowners to discuss building permits and historic district regulations. This homeowner found original wood siding under the asbestos and restored the siding to its original condition.

Stacey Browning is a planner for the City of Tuscaloosa, working primarily with the city’s 24 locally designated historic districts.

Photo by Stacey Browning, City of Tuscaloosa

The south end of Glendale Gardens looked much the same a week after the storm as it did the day after. All of the houses pictured have been demolished.

31 Volume XXII

05310 Design AL pg 29-31 3

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DesignAlabama Volume XXII

PUBLIC DESIGN AWARENESS AND EDUCATION DesignAlabama Inc. works to increase awareness and value of the design disciplines that influence our environment. We believe that the quality of life and economic growth of this state are enhanced through attention to and investment in good design. W A L K A B L E


“In a quality city, a person “A city that outdistances should be able to live their man’s walking powers is a entire life without a car and trap for man” – Arnold J. Toynbee not feel deprived.” – Paul Bedford “Planning of the automobile “We are not running out of city focuses on saving time. land. We are running out of Planning for the accessible urban places.” – Andres Duany city, on the other hand, focuses on time well spent.”

P.O. Box 241263 Montgomery, AL 36124

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