DA Journal 2014 Volume XXIV $4.00
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B L E
A C E S
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DesignAlabama Volume XXIV
Cover: A trim, new mixed-use building has filled a former city-employee parking lot facing Tuscaloosa’s University Boulevard downtown. With retail/ restaurant on the ground floor, apartments above and townhouses behind, it is part of the city’s efforts to make a walkable urban place with lots to see and do. Photography by Chris Luker
Board of Directors Cathy C. Gerachis, Chair Goodwyn, Mills & Cawood Montgomery Nancy Mims Hartsfield, Vice Chair of Publications Auburn University - Retired Montgomery Darrell Meyer, Treasurer & Secretary KPS Group - Retired Mountain Brook Elizabeth Brown Alabama Historical Commission - Retired Montgomery Jim Byard ADECA Prattville Bo Grisham Brookmont Realty Group LLC Birmingham David Hill Auburn University/Hillworks Auburn Simon Hurst Sherlock, Smith & Adams Montgomery Jeffrey Pruitt North Alabama Regional Council of Governments Decatur Debbie Quinn Montrose Randy Shoults Montgomery Merrill Stewart Stewart Perry Construction Birmingham Angela Stiff Copperwing Design Montgomery Steve Stone Dakinstreet Architects Mobile Robin White Alabama Power Company Birmingham
Gina Glaze Clifford, Executive Director Philip A. Morris, Director Emeritus
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This publication is made possible through funding by the following contributors:
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 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 (334) 549-4672 or mail to: firstname.lastname@example.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.
A special thanks to Philip Morris for his ongoing assistance and advice with this publication.
Gina Glaze Clifford Tomie Dugas Nancy Hartsfield Wei Wang June Corley Robert Finkel Samantha Lawrie Courtney Windham Contributing Writers: Jessica Armstrong Susan Braden Cathy Gerachis Samantha Lawrie Philip Morris
Editor: Managing Editor: Art Director: Associate Art Director: Assistant Art Directors:
© 2014 DesignAlabama Inc.
ISSN# 1090-0918 This issue of DesignAlabama was designed and produced on Macintosh Computers utilizing InDesign CS6. Proofs were printed on a HP 4000N and final output on a Compugraphic 9400.
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Energizing a former no-man’s-land with new activity. p.12
Creating a dynamic iconic structure responsive to its site. p.18
Assisting small town downtowns to realize their potential. p.22
Renovating a Classical building’s interior with modern design. p.28
FEATURES WALKABLE URBAN PLACES – WALKUPS Walkable urban is gaining traction in Alabama
TUSCALOOSA IS FINDING ITS LEGS
PARKSIDE & THE RAILROAD CORRIDOR
AUBURN DOWNTOWN MASTER PLAN
ARTICLES DesignAlabama is a publication of DesignAlabama Inc. Reader comments and submission of articles and ideas for future issues are encouraged.
APPROPOS APP DESIGN The what, how and whys of designing apps
AEIVA AT UAB Expressive design, but in context
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Whatley Health Services
Message from the Chair
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It’s easy to sign up and it’s free!
To subscribe to DesignAlabama’s digital newsletter, DA Online, please visit the DesignAlabama website at designalabama.org and sign up under “Subscribe to Journal.”
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W A L K A B L E
U R B A N
P L A C E S
by Philip Morris
When DesignAlabama published “Walkable Montomery” in 2012 – a report on how new downtown hotels, a ballpark, restaurants, riverfront attractions tied together with enhanced streetscapes had been concentrated within a few blocks to enhance the urban experience – a movement in that direction was gaining traction. These additional examples from across the state convey how it continues to grow. Nationally known real estate analyst Christopher Leinberger has posited a ‘walkable urban vs. drivable suburban’ divide that is affecting development patterns in many locations across the country. He’s even come up with a tag – WalkUPs – to identify ‘walkable urban places.’ Given U.S. demographic trends where many retiring baby boomers as well as young millennials prefer to live in districts or neighborhoods where they can walk to dinner, have a drink with friends or shop for necessities, Leinberger believes such places will attract high levels of investment. There are a good number of WalkUPs across Alabama, many of them towns or urban neighborhoods that never lost their inherent walking scale and others, like downtown Homewood, that recently have added denser residential living to an existing mix of uses.
We present here three examples of emerging WalkUPs:
Tuscaloosa, where plans to create a critical mass of downtown housing, hotels, restaurants and cultural attractions, all an attractive walk from each other, are coming to fruition and where the walkable urban concepts are guiding rebuilding in the tornado recovery area.
Birmingham, where the new Parkside District, inspired by the four-year-old Railroad Park and Regions Field, has quickly attracted significant, new market-rate apartment development, a planned downtown grocery store, reuse of an old power plant and other moves toward a walkable urban zone between downtown and the UAB campus.
Auburn, where an already vital downtown next to the Auburn University campus is envisioned as an active, pedestrian-friendly urban place for students, as well as a wide range of Auburn residents and visitors.
Philip Morris has more than 30 years experience in magazine work including tenures as executive editor and editor-at-large at Southern Living , Coastal Living and Southern Accents. Although he retired in 2000, Morris remains active as a freelance writer and respected lecturer on design, as well as a major contributor to DesignAlabama.
As Tuscaloosa Director of Planning John McConnell points out, if you get walkability right in your downtown, everything else falls into place.
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Tuscaloosa’s University Boulevard downtown has landscaping, broad sidewalks, outdoor dining and active uses that welcome both residents and students. A plan is being developed to introduce pedestrian and bike enhancements in the blocks leading west to campus.
Tuscaloosa Is Finding Its Legs Photography by Chris Luker
Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter Maddox (right) and Director of Planning John McConnell with the Embassy Suites Hotel in the background. (Photo courtesy of the City of Tuscaloosa)
There’s a transformation underway in downtown Tuscaloosa coming to a head after many years of planning and work by elected officials and others. It’s called a walkable city, and that means more than nice sidewalks. It means a compact place with many things to get to by walking. That’s a simple concept, but in urban design terms it has legs.
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Since 1986 when it purchased the site, the City of Tuscaloosa has wanted a major anchor on the corner of University Boulevard and Greensboro Avenue. A new Embassy Suites, built under urban design guidelines with the main entry (left) and restaurant establishing a strong pedestrian edge, will open in January. Brick cladding compatible with downtown also was mandated. Rooms to the rear overlook the city’s greensward River Walk and Black Warrior River.
And just below downtown along the Warrior River, the city’s River Walk, which has been under development for 20 years now, sports the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater and Riverfront Village, a new mixed-use development also by Chance Partners soon to be completed. The City of Tuscaloosa has been proactive on all these projects. Mayor Walter Maddox, who served on city council 2001-2005 and as mayor since then, has been a key player in the transformation. “When I was growing up here, there were two places you didn’t go – downtown and the riverfront,” he says. “So it’s especially gratifying to see them becoming vital places now.” This mixed-use infill building with retail fronting University Boulevard, apartments above and townhouses to the rear, animates what previously was a parking lot for city employees. Deft design takes advantage of a grade change to lift outdoor dining above the sidewalk.
On one corner a new three-story building with apartments above draws patrons to a gourmet popsicle shop and a sandwich shop with dining on the sidewalk. This is a mixed-use development by Chance Partners of Atlanta, built to urban overlay standards set by the city and executed with simple but good architectural design. The site was previously a parking lot for city employees, so, in terms of urbanism, the change is profound. A block west, at the main intersection of University Boulevard and Greensboro Avenue, the new eight-story Embassy Suites Hotel is nearing completion, while an historic office tower on another corner is being converted to residential use. It is no accident that the hotel’s restaurant anchors the corner and is not buried inside the building.
The mayor recalls how things evolved. “About 10 years ago we had some good private investments, but not enough to reach a critical mass. So we created a plan and went after federal funding to upgrade sanitary and storm sewers, water lines, knowing we had to have that before we could attract private investment. The plan assured a systematic approach that helped us get federal funds.” Two phases of a four-phase infrastructure plan have been completed. When a new U.S. federal building and courthouse appeared a possibility, the city also was alert to what it could mean. “We wanted to make it a centerpiece of development and to have it fit into the historic context of downtown and the University of Alabama campus,” Maddox says. With strong leadership from U.S. District Judge Scott Coogler, the courthouse emerged as a pure, limestone-clad Greek Revival building by Chicagobased HBRA Architects. Fronting University Boulevard across a green square next to downtown, it serves as a handsome bridge between downtown and the campus.
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The new, limestone-clad Greek Revival U.S. Federal Building and Courthouse fronting University Boulevard within view of downtown serves as a bridge toward the Classical-style University of Alabama campus several blocks to the west. The masonry wall edging the sidewalks wraps a manicured expanse of lawn.
In an earlier urban design project, the city worked to enhance the pedestrian quality of The Strip near campus. This view shows a new infill building that reinforces existing character.
Riverfront Village, a new apartment development with some retail frontage, overlooks the green expanse of the cityâ€™s River Walk just below downtown (up the hill to the right). The site plan includes future phases. Greensboro Avenue extends past and terminates at a bike/kayak rental facility and riverboat landing.
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For Tuscaloosa Director of Planning John McConnell, the best guide for what the city is doing is a book, “The Walkable City,” by Jeff Speck. “He makes a compelling case that if you get walkability right in a downtown, everything else falls in line. As far as our downtown goes, there are a lot of things that contribute like wide walks, storefronts, activity on the street. But in areas where we still have parking lots, no retail or restaurants, no destination, you feel less interested in walking and less safe.”
similar track. “We took the opportunity to reshape parts of the city that didn’t perform well in urban terms,” says Mayor Maddox. “We now have the Shops at Legacy Park underway that will include pedestrian improvements for McFarland Avenue, as well as 13th and 15th streets. And the first segment of City Walk, the 12-foot-wide shared pedestrian and bike pathway, is being built. We felt we should do something extraordinary to help make up for the pain everyone went through.”
Following the early 2000 plan, which included the new courthouse site and an adjacent multi-modal transportation center with a free, 449-space parking deck, the city developed a temporary design standards overlay that set minimum standards for quality of materials, transparency, signage, urban frontage and other factors. Adopted in 2007, these have shaped the new projects described above and others.
Meanwhile, the city’s latest move on the walkability front is a joint project with the University of Alabama to work on an enhanced link between downtown and the expanded, pedestrian-friendly campus. “It’s only about seven or eight blocks along University Boulevard, but it isn’t a comfortable walk,” says McConnell. A local firm, Almon Associates, is working with a committee on a plan. And Jeff Speck, the guru of the walkable city, is on the team.
A Greater Downtown Plan followed with recommendations for streetscape improvements, infill development, historic preservation and other elements for an inviting, walkable urban core. “It was adopted in 2010, and then the tornado happened in 2011,” says McConnell. “We’ve been in recovery the last three years, so now we are working on a permanent code for downtown with rules for good urban form but streamlined to make it a one-step rather than a three-step process.”
Demographic trends are a factor in the remaking of Tuscaloosa, with many baby boomers and young millennials preferring a walkable urban setting. “But we also benefit from good leadership,” says McConnell. “We have a young progressive mayor who thinks holistically and understands the ingredients of a good place along with a city council that understands the same thing.” ■
With its focus on remaking itself as a walkable city, Tuscaloosa Forward, the plan developed for the areas hardest hit by the tornado, followed a 9 Volume XXIV
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Soon after Railroad Park (left) was completed, the City of Birmingham began construction on Regions Field, the new home of the Birmingham Barons team that just completed its second season there. Dallas-based HKS Sports & Entertainment took inspiration from local historic industrial buildings that used brick and straight-forward steel construction. The profile of the cupola roof over the grandstand came from Sloss Furnaces. Birmingham Design Review Committee pushed to have the main home-plate entrance at First Avenue South and 14th Street. First Avenue South fronting the four blocks of Railroad Park was narrowed and given wide sidewalks.
Parkside & the Railroad Corridor
Photography by Chris Luker
roads whose arrival generated the establishment A decade ago a district now named Parkside was of a planned, new industrial city in 1871, the area just a light-industrial no-man’s land between was a remnant of the “Railroad & Mechanical downtown Birmingham and the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Medical Campus to the Reservation” on early maps. Today it is bursting with new civic uses and apartment developments. south. Located just south of the main-line rail-
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“I would describe Parkside as emerging mixed-use moving toward walkable,” says David Fleming, CEO of REVBirmingham, a public/private nonprofit organization charged with revitalization in the city center and other locations across the city. As a longtime staff member of ONB (REV’s former name), he is aware how the idea of a new mixed-use district connecting downtown to UAB was a goal as early as the 1980s. What turned the corner is Railroad Park, first proposed in the late ’90s and opened in 2010. Designed by Tom Leader Studio of Berkeley (DA print annual, 2010), the 19.5-acre, four-block-long park immediately south of the elevated railroad lines was an immediate hit with the public with its greenswards, lake, a variety of trails and a clear, tumbling stream. “It was the big thing that made a place out of a place that wasn’t a place,” says Fleming. Even before it was built, the park showed up on a City Center Master Plan Update (2002) by Urban Design Associates of Pittsburgh as a new ‘address’ that could stimulate dense residential and mixed-use development. Soon added to the mix was the 8,500-seat, $62 million Regions Field built by the City of Birmingham to draw the Birmingham Barons baseball team back to town after 25 years in Hoover.
“People came to the park, and then Regions Field brought people who were experiencing the city in a way that they couldn’t before,” says Fleming. “So, even though it is still largely a light-industrial area, it feels completely different, and we are already seeing what we hoped would come – new residential density around an urban park along with a mix of other uses.” Even before the park was built, Robert Simon of Corporate Real Estate had partnered with Inland American Communities of Dallas to build Cityville (recently renamed Station 121), a $35 million, 255-unit marketrate apartment development fronting 20th Street between First and Second Avenue South. Now coming out of the ground facing Railroad Park between 17th and 18th streets is LIVParkside (DA Online, May 2014) by a development group headed by Robb Crumpton. “Key private sector individuals saw the same vision we had, people like Robert Simon and Robb Crumpton,” says Fleming. “Simon has been involved in downtown for many years, but Crumpton’s group is new. They develop multi-family all over the southeast, so it’s great to have their depth and experience at work in Parkside. They also plan to develop the
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The Parkside District extends from 20th Street to 13th Street (a block beyond Regions Field) and from the elevated railroad to Fourth and Fifth Avenue South. This view looking north on 20th shows the first of the new market-rate rental apartments built as six-story Cityville, now renamed Station 121, on the right. Early downtown skyscrapers, some converted to residential, plus the extensive Loft District lie beyond the Art Deco railroad underpass recently illuminated as part of “Birmingham Lights.”
Cohen Carnaggio Reynolds designed this 36-unit apartment building now under construction at 20th Street and Third Avenue South with Starbucks as anchor retail tenant. RGS Properties plans two additional buildings at that location with a new Publix grocery topped by parking and apartments at the same intersection now in design by Cohen Carnaggio Reynolds.
block facing the park between 17th and 16th, and they are renovating the former Merita Bakery at the west end of the park into office and restaurant uses.” Another apartment project, The Venue at the Ballpark, has started construction on a site overlooking Regions Field. The property was part of the four-block site acquired by the city, and Inland American Communities purchased it for the six-story, 236-unit apartment with views into the ballpark from beyond left field. “Inland really saw the potential for this site,” says project architect John Orfield of Dallas-based BOKA Powell. “They like to develop within walking distance of universities, and we expect medical students, medical residents and those who work at the medical center to live here, rounded out with young professionals.”
Alabama Power Co. has announced plans to convert its decommissioned Powell Avenue Plant just east of Railroad Park into a new community attraction. Plans by Burchfield Penuel & Associates are in the conceptual stage, but the development will include the former full-block parking lot purchased from the city.
The design pays close attention to context. “We pulled some materials and a bit of the industrial styling from the ballpark,” says Orfield. “Even though there wasn’t an existing neighborhood, we wanted to create a sense of an authentic ballpark district. Of course, that scrumptious Railroad Park will be a big draw for residents too.” One of the most satisfying aspects of Parkside and the larger Railroad Corridor extending east to Pepper Place and Sloss Furnaces is the industrial aesthetic brought into play by various design teams. Tom Leader Studio used it to tie Railroad Park to the history of its site, and HKS Sports & Entertainment of Dallas did likewise with Regions Field, even modeling the shed above the first-base grandstand on the historic ones at Sloss. And the nearby renovations of older warehouses designed by
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Rotary Trail, being built along an old, sunken railroad right-of-way, will extend the walk/bike character of First Avenue South east from 20th Street toward Pepper Place and Sloss Furnaces. Goodwyn, Mills & Cawood is the designer.
The Venue at the Ballpark, an apartment development by Inland American Communities of Dallas now under construction, will overlook Regions Field beyond the left outfield. Architects BOKA Powell of Dallas scaled down the mass of the six-story structure to resemble a series of buildings. Materials with an industrial look are picked up from Regions Field, while a variety of semitransparent and operable openings mask ground-level parking. If retail demand develops later it can be retrofitted. The larger Railroad Corridor stretches from Railroad Park east to Sloss Furnaces. Both Pepper Place and nearby Lakeview, where 29/Seven, an infill apartment/retail building is located, are considered likely extensions of the developing mixed-use corridor.
Cohen Carnaggio Reynolds for Shannon-Waltchack real estate incorporate industrial materials. So the latest planning and design work REVBirmingham is overseeing for Parkside to create a singular, welcoming district has a head start. “A little over a year ago the city, Children’s Hospital, UAB and Alabama Power Co. contributed to a fund to put together a plan that covers branding graphics, streetscape improvements and other features,” says Fleming. “Our vision has been a mixed-use, walkable, signature urban neighborhood, but with this we’ll go even further. We want a distinctly Birmingham character, and we want to push walkable, so there’s always something interesting to make you glad you are walking and not in your car.”
Public-private partnerships have driven the many projects that have emerged in the corridor and they continue. Having helped make Railroad Park happen, the Community Foundation applied its Catalyst Fund to animated LED lighting for the four railroad underpasses connecting downtown to the emerging district. Alabama Power Co. has announced plans to renovate its historic Powell Avenue Plant for active new uses. And the Rotary Club of Birmingham is funding the Rotary Trail along a former sunken track extending along First Avenue South toward Pepper Place. Parkside and the whole Railroad Corridor is well on its way to fulfilling what was only imagined in the 2002 City Center Master Plan – a band of residential/mixed-use paralleling the Loft District and historic downtown core to the north. ■
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These before and after “development concept” graphics show how new infill in front of the city parking deck could extend the character of the existing downtown core along North Gay Street. Parking and service access would be via the interior of the block. Streetscape improvements complete the scene.
Auburn Downtown Master Plan Graphics Courtesy of City of Auburn
Earlier this year, the City of Auburn adopted a new Auburn Downtown Master Plan integral to a citywide master plan already in place. While the plan makes clear the college-oriented character of the place, the principles of walkability embodied in the plan offer a model for many towns.
As the context map (next page, top right) shows, Auburn’s downtown wraps around the east and north corner of the Auburn University campus. The campus itself has shifted from auto to pedestrian/transit character over the past decade with the student fee-supported Tiger Transit now handling the majority of trips to and within the campus. As identified in the plan, the urban core covers just two blocks anchored by the celebrated Toomer’s Corner. But the area included in the plan is much larger with the intention of protecting nearby neighborhoods while identifying opportunities for new mixeduse development and enhanced urban amenities. Urban Collage, the urban design practice of Atlanta-based Lord Aeck Sargent, developed the plan via an extended public participation process in 2013-14.
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The area south of the urban core has larger sites where new, mixed-use residential development should be encouraged. This before/after pair on South Gay also shows overhead utilities relocated or put underground to make room for street trees and a more human-scale environment.
This map (colored in the plan document) presents the context of Auburn’s downtown, a 174-acre zone east and north of the campus, which currently has about 46 percent residential and 27 percent commercial use.
A - Minimal front setback B - Parking located in rear C - Amenity zone for trees and furniture D - Curb cut shared with adjacent development
E - Ground floor “storefront” architecture F - Awnings for pedestrian microclimate G - Horizontal cornice lines with varying heights
This bird’s-eye rendering is a conceptual model of guidelines with a key that identifies desired features for new mixed-use buildings.
This map highlights where new infill development is most desired and how it would fill in gaps in the urban fabric.
“The influence of Auburn University in Downtown Auburn is undeniable. The downtown reflects a classic American “main street” town combined with a vibrant college atmosphere,” the plan introduction states. “The vision outlined herein attempts to reconcile and balance the relationship between the university’s impact on downtown and the growing market of families, young professionals and seniors in the City of Auburn as a whole.” (Note: Auburn is no longer a ‘village on the plains.’ Current population within city limits exceeds 53,000 within an Auburn-Opelika MSA of 150,000.) As the graphics shown here make evident, the Auburn Downtown Master Plan is very different from the sort of two-dimensional zoning maps that once dominated planning. Compelling before/after renderings show how marginal blocks could be transformed over time with well-placed and architecturally inviting infill building. Other plans and renderings illustrate how sidewalks and streets should be redesigned to better accommodate people walking or riding bicycles and to encourage street life. While Auburn already has begun to see some urban-quality infill building by both the city and private developers, the plan identifies where weaknesses exist and how much more could be accomplished with a focused, phased approach. ■
For sidewalks on both sides of North College, the plan recommends replacing shrubs with a new furniture zone and removal of several parking spaces in selected areas for outdoor dining. Sidewalk, traffic and parking improvements also are included for the whole downtown.
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Decatur, Ala., Historic Walking Tours | McComm Group Sometimes an app provides a mix of both utility and entertainment as in the case of the apps the McComm Group developed for the Decatur, Ala., Historic Walking Tours. Our goal with the Walking Tour apps was to present the historical information of two Decatur neighborhoods in easy-to-follow tours. There is a simple interface that presents spoken/written history, maps and photos in a logical fashion, and the app works regardless of whether you’re physically walking the tour or simply looking up information. We designed the app for iPhone and also for iPad to take more advantage of the larger screen real estate. —Luke Hamilton
APPropos App Design
by Samantha Lawrie
I was asked to write an article on app design despite knowing next-to-nothing about it. The apps I use on my tablet basically let me do the same things I can do on my computer — watch a movie, check email or the weather, shop. Yet a contributor to Entreprenuer.com says he expects each app he downloads to solve his problems and make his life simpler. Really? Clearly I am missing something. What is an app? An app (short for application software) is a computer program designed to run on a mobile device such as a smart phone or tablet. This seems straight forward, but there are some complexities involved. To the unschooled eye a native app, a web app or a responsive website could be easily confused. Luke Hamilton from Decatur’s McComm Group and Ryan Brown from Birmingham’s BIG Communications explain the differences in the sidebar (next page, far right). How can an app solve my problems or simplify my life? An app “extends our use of modern technology as a tool, both for entertainment and information,” says Hamilton. Accordingly, apps serve a wide variety of purposes, from pure diversion (playing Angry Birds while waiting in the doctor’s office) to genuine problem solving (an app that enables the visually impaired to navigate the city independently) and everything in between. “Often,” say Taylor Peak and Chris Baker from Birmingham’s MotionMobs, “a well-designed app experience starts out as just a convenience or curiosity and surprises you by becoming an essential part of your life or workflow.” How are apps designed? A successful app depends on the skillful integration of form and function. “A well-designed app should provide intuitively just the right information and control at the right time to help the user without getting in her way,” says the MotionMobs team. Striking the balance of form and function is a complex process requiring a range of expertise seldom found in a single individual. A graphic designer schooled in the principles of effective visual communication is needed to design an interface that is easily understandable, consistent with the client’s branding and specifically designed for each device on which it will run. A developer concerned with platform capabilities and functionality is
needed to program the software — and the two must coordinate their efforts. “At McComm we achieve that balance by making sure both the designer and developer understand the overall vision and goal of the app,” says Hamilton. Yet as before, though seemingly straight forward, there are complexities. “Most app and website projects are more involved or complicated than a typical print design project,” says Brown — and the relatively new discipline of user experience design is uniquely suited to such projects. According to both Brown (BIG) and Baker (MotionMobs), user experience design, while inclusive of graphic design and programming concerns, factors several other considerations into the equation — distribution channels, target markets and positioning, brand and pricing constraints all affect how the user experiences an app. Considering all of these factors the team at MotionMobs asks two important questions to focus their design process: “How can we simplify the application as much as possible and make using it feel more natural?” and “How can we make the user feel in control while working within the limits of our strategy and external constraints?” App design is necessarily a collaborative effort. “For us it is more about starting a conversation and joining our clients on a study of possibilities,” says Peake. In what ways can apps cultivate connections? The apps featured here indeed serve a variety of practical and informational purposes. Yet a well-designed app can be more than just a convenient high-tech tool. “An app might enable a business to create closer relationships with customers,” explains Baker and Peake. An app might simplify a routine task leaving more time and attention to focus on what is important — clients or customers, students and projects, friends and family. Wei Wang of Oneway Studio in Auburn goes a step further. “A well-designed app can provide freedom and break the boundaries that limit our relationships.” In short, a welldesigned app can help us become more connected. Wang shared a story that illustrates this perfectly: While traveling by airplane he was seated next to a woman returning from a visit with her young granddaughter. It was a difficult time for her family and the grandmother regretted that she could not “be there” for them. Wang asked if she had a smartphone. She said her granddaughter did, but she herself did not — they were too complicated and hard to use. Wang pulled out his phone and walked her through an app that makes video calls. The woman was surprised by how simple it was and delighted by the prospect of seeing her granddaughter even between visits. When it came to apps, she, like I, was missing something. ■
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IN | BIG Communications As part of the successful IN Campaign for the Birmingham
Convention and Visitors Bureau, we took the incredibly
Native apps are written for a specific platform
popular IN Guide, featuring over 270 of the city’s most
(iOS or Android) using software development
locally loved spots and turned it into an app. Our goal was
languages and technologies. Because they are
to make something that instills pride in our hometown,
custom tailored to a device and its operating
celebrates our locally loved spots and insures visitors will
system, they are more tightly integrated in
enjoy the city as much as we do. When we set out to design
it, we didn’t want to make the app a glorified laundry list,
example, a native app will optimize the smaller
and we also wanted it to do more than just highlight chain
screen and touch sensitivity of the device,
restaurants and department stores. In our process we
as well as be able to more easily access a
studied the best social apps and looked hard at the best
device’s sensors, camera and internal data
travel and destination apps from around the world. The
(contact list, music list, etc.). Native apps are
result turned out to be far beyond a Google map search or
installed directly on the device and delivered to
a user-generated review service: it’s a careful curation
the device via an app store such as iTunes or
of our city’s culture, as defined by the people who live
the Google Play Store. Since they’re delivered
it every day. —Ryan Brown
or sold via an app store, there is an approval process that can be slow, potentially making time sensitivity or frequent updates an issue.
Web Apps Web apps are developed using web languages and technologies and accessed through the device’s web browser, which makes them highly accessible regardless of the platform, be it iOS, Android, Mac OS or Windows. Since they’re delivered via browser, there’s no approval process or upgrade delay. However, the browser can act as an extra layer between the user and the device hampering the app’s ability to utilize device information, sensors, Class Roll | Oneway Studio Class Roll is an iOS app that allows educators to take class attendance on their iPhone or iPad. Being both a teacher and designer, I knew what was needed to make the app effective and how to design an interface that was simple and fun to use. Among many notable features, this app enables users to synchronize data on multiple devices, as well as import contacts from the mobile device via iCloud contacts. Less time taking class rolls means more time for doing what you love! —Wei Wang
etc. Consequently, web apps may not feel as smooth to use as native apps.
Responsive Websites Responsive sites bridge the gap between devices. Instead of having a website, a web app and possibly a native app too, a responsive website “responds” to the device showing content in a layout tailored to the screen-size. Therefore one website, with one set of content, appears as if it was made for the device. Responsive websites are still websites, not apps, and may retain elements of the desktop version of a site such as ads and excess navigation that complicate the user experience.
Samantha Lawrie is an associate professor of graphic design at Auburn University. Featured Firms: McComm Group | Decatur mccommgroup.com MotionMobs | Birmingham motionmobs.com BIG Communications | Birmingham bigcom.com K-Prep | MotionMobs Realizing that a good start to a student’s education leads to a higher likelihood of staying in school and graduating, Leadership Birmingham (Class of 2013) collaborated with the Birmingham Education Foundation and MotionMobs to develop a mobile app for parents and care providers of prekindergarten-aged children.
Oneway Studio | Auburn onewaystudio.com
Educational apps exist aplenty, but MotionMobs found space for an app that assists the caregiver with a full curriculum of short, fun and easy lessons based on the State of Alabama’s standards for kindergarten preparedness. The app, called K-Prep, provides more than 180 activities in art, math, reading, PE and science. The app includes a one-year calendar and allows the user to schedule, or reschedule, specific activities at need. The app also includes an interactive list of required materials that assist a parent or guardian with all the necessary paperwork for a child’s first day of kindergarten in Birmingham. —Taylor Peake and Chris Baker
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17 Volume XXIV
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The Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts (AEIVA) occupies a prominent point facing 10th Avenue
spatial character. The glazed gallery concourse is extended in a dramatic cantilevered canopy
South across from UAB’s Alys Robinson Stephens Performing Arts Center. Architect Randall Stout
leading to the outdoor sculpture garden, adding to the sculptural quality of the building itself.
rotated the upper Education Bar at an angle to the ground-level Gallery Bar to create dynamic
Expressive Design, But In Context AEIVA at UAB By
Fred S. Gerlich Studio
“ The Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts (AEIVA) is envisioned as an iconic two-story building that will support the Department of Art and Art History’s vision to be identified as a site of artistic innovation. Located on a prominent campus corner, the AEIVA will complement UAB’s vision for the arts and create an arts destination for students, faculty, staff and members of the greater Birmingham community.” T H I S P RO J E C T D E S C R I P T I O N from Los Angeles-based Randall Stout Architects, prepared while the building was under construction in 2013, captures the large intent of a relatively small 26,000-square-foot building located across from the Alys Robinson Stephens Performing Arts Center in the western part of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s urban campus. With a bold move – a ground-floor Gallery Bar topped by a second-floor Education Bar rotated at an angle – AEIVA gained the desired iconic sculptural quality. But beyond that the design produced dynamic indoor and outdoor spaces that engage its corner. It manages to be both an ‘object building’ and one with a strong response to context, a seeming paradox. Stout’s career led the Tennessee native to the office of Frank Gehry and then to his own practice in 1996. His most well-known building in this part of the country, the Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga, has the expressive curved forms that the Gehry protege often used. But the major components of AEIVA are orthogonal. This does not surprise Jasper Cornett, the local architect who served on the AEIVA design team.
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Top: Opposite the corner of the triangular site, the effect of the cantilevered upper bar in sheltering the outdoor gallery and circulation space becomes clear. UAB’s mandated red brick is found on some ground-level walls, but patinated zinc shingles make a durable, lightweight cladding for the sculptural forms like the angled light monitor extending above the roof. Bottom: A long brick wall curves and tapers west of the building as a screen between the sculpture garden facing 10th Avenue South and a large parking lot (out of view to the right).
“Randall was always consciously responsive to site conditions,” says Cornett, who was a classmate with Stout in the architecture program of the University of Tennessee. “This project is orthogonal because he recognized the constraints. It’s expressive, but in a more restrained way. Plus, there were cost limitations and a concern by the client that it could be delivered on budget.” Before it attracted major donors and the Abroms-Engle name, the desire for a signature building was the long-time dream of former UAB Arts and Humanities dean Bert Brouwer (now dean emeritus). A national search in 2007 led to a shortlist that, along with Stout, included Antoine Predock, Daly Genik and London-based Zaha Hadid. “When I got a call from Randall to join the team, I was practicing on my own, and that continued through the schematic design phase,” Cornett says. “The project was then set aside until fundraising reached an adequate level, and when it resumed, I had rejoined KPS Group, where I had worked for a decade previously.” After selecting Randall Stout Architects as designer, UAB, concerned about cost control, changed from the normal design/bid/build process to one known as “Design/Build/Bridging.” So it became: Owners Design Consultant: Randall Stout Architects with KPS Group in association; Design/Build/Bridging Team: Hoar Construction with Davis Architects.
After dark, special illumination turns AEIVA into a lantern for passers-by including those attending events like Alabama Symphony concerts at the Alys Stephens Center. That effect is enhanced with lighting emanating from the polycarbonate-clad components.
The Stout/KPS Group team completed the architectural design with the square footage reduced after an early test of the budget. The Hoar/Davis Architects team developed the structural, mechanical and final documents and built to the
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Since the stair serves students rather than gallery visitors, it is located to one side of the lobby and slips up inside a polycarbonate-clad exterior wall.
A two-story atrium extends upward from the lobby to the upper bar and is washed with natural light from the northfacing clerestory roof monitor above. The angled/teardrop shape of the ceiling above the lobby is one of the ‘subjective moves’ by Randall Stout not generated by adjacent forms.
contracted price. The original concept included an earth berm and a green-roof portion of the building that would have linked to the rear sculpture garden, but that also was dropped due to cost. UAB’s signature red brick (with the darker bricks omitted for uniformity) appears on ground-level cladding and in the long, tapering wall that defines the sculpture garden at the west end of the site. “The use of patinated zinc to clad most of the rest of the building created a durable, light-weight structure appropriate to the deep cantilevers,” says Cornett. “Rather than a bright metal, it became part of the more restrained expressiveness. Because of the brick, Randall wanted a subtle pattern and range of variation in the zinc shingles, so I reviewed all of them at the factory for consistency. Along with the glass, aluminum and polycarbonate panels near the entry, the materials are quite simple and suitable for a building of this size.”
South.” With the main parking for the performing arts center located behind AEIVA, the open, sheltered and transparent ground level invites event attendees to walk through the site and see what’s inside. Interior illumination of the polycarbonateclad elements makes it glow like a lantern at night. Key elements of the ground-level Gallery Bar include a lobby that turns into a concourse leading past three galleries. There is also an auditorium space off the lobby that either can be open or closed to it. The lobby and circulation spaces have north-facing glass walls. A two-story atrium connecting to the upper level has a north-facing roof monitor that also draws natural light into the core. The Education Bar, the dramatically cantilevered upper floor, has three classrooms, studios and administration areas.
“There is a remarkable dynamic of movement both within the building and between In response to the Alys Stephens Center, Randall Stout created a series of large inside and outside,” Cornett says. “Randall carefully shaped the teardrop outline working models that included it. “But he didn’t do the obvious. Neither the lower or for the atrium floor opening, another subjective move where his skills are evident. upper bar is parallel with the Stephens Center’s massing,” says Cornett. “Sculpting And instead of introducing another material for an 18-inch extension needed at the and orienting the building elements was a very subjective process, and it sucbottom of the opening, he tapered the drywall to a knife edge.” ceeded in creating a dynamic, yet complementary relationship across 10th Avenue
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Above Left: This view of the lobby shows the glass-fronted gallery concourse (right) and the
ALYS ROBINSON STEPHENS PERFORMING ARTS CENTER
Hess Auditorium that can be open or closed off as needed. A stair out of view to the left leads up to the Education Bar. Above Right: The shape of the atrium opening VE HA
between floors is expressed in the surrounding wall ARTS PLAZA
13TH STREET SOUTH
TH ALUMNI CENTER
on the upper level, a gallery-like space leading to classrooms, labs and administrative spaces.
This plan shows the context for AEIVA, a triangular site across 10th Avenue South from the Alys Stephens Center, as well as the Gallery Bar floor plan.
Cornett views the AEIVA as a success. “With the goal of creating an expressive, iconic building conflicting with a modest budget and a delivery method necessitating the involvement of three design firms and a contractor committed to his price before the design was completed, one might think the stage was set for failure. However, all the parties worked diligently to carry the vision through to completion.” “Randall was very pleased with Davis Architects’ ability to complete construction documents without compromising the design, especially while dealing with technical issues such as structural requirements and ductwork clearances,” Cornett says. “Hoar Construction was also a great team player. I was talking with Hugh Thornton [a KPS Group partner] recently, and we agreed the project turned out great.” ■ Ground-level galleries have moveable walls to accommodate a variety of changing exhibits. This view is toward the glass doors leading to the north-facing gallery concourse.
[Editor’s Note: Randall Stout died in July 2014 after a 2 1/2-year battle with cancer. His obituary in The New York Times began: “Randall Stout, an environmentally sensitive architect who earned a national reputation for designing dynamically shaped regional museums, mostly in his native South, died on Friday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 56.”]
DESIGN T EA M
Owners Design Consultant
Randall Stout Architects Inc. in association with KPS Group Inc. DESIGN-BUILD T EA M
Contractor Hoar Construction LLC Architect of Record Davis Architects Inc. Structural Engineer of Record Almon Associates Mechanical Engineer Whitaker & Rawson Electrical Engineer Sajjadieh Engineering Group Civil Engineer Dynamic Civil Solutions
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Passion in Action
By Jessica Armstrong Growing up in Lost Mountain – a rural community in what is now suburban Atlanta – Cheryl Morgan, 63, recalls seeing “the incredible loss of place as unplanned growth smears across our beautiful agrarian landscape.” The demise of her hometown’s identity made her passionate about good planning and helping small towns once again become livable communities with thriving downtowns. Morgan put her passion to good use when in 2001 she became director of Auburn University’s Urban Studio in downtown Birmingham. Her goals with the Urban Studio were two-fold: help both students and
By the time she retired in late 2013, Morgan had left her imprint on about 75 small Alabama neighborhoods and towns. Working through the Urban Studio’s Small Town Design Initiative (STDI), she offered design and planning assistance to underserved municipalities with limited resources. In each town Morgan and her team conducted a charrette, where she sketched as people shared their vision, quickly turning their ideas into graphic representation on her large newsprint pad. “I think I’m a good listener and can flesh out a discussion,” Morgan notes. “Instead of attacking a problem, you examine what is good and look at what works in the context of that vision.”
Alabama communities. She taught students the value of contributing to “great places” in their designs, experiencing the joys and rigors of working with communities and discovering the many opportunities in Alabama to make a difference. She helped even the smallest Alabama towns understand that good planning and design are expressions of what they will value for generations to come.
Morgan helped Guin in northwest Alabama develop its comprehensive plan in 2005. Mayor Phil Segraves says Morgan has a knack for making you want to please her, like a good coach. Morgan may be small in stature, he observes, but her take-charge approach and ability to help participants turn their ideas into a plan is enormous. “She gave me a little coaching before our charrette and told me,
This northwest Alabama town used its plan to leverage opportunities made possible when Interstate 22 opened in its region. Additionally, improvements include downtown beautification and acquiring an abandoned textile mill downtown for mixed-use development.
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In 2000 Morgan worked with the Marion community to develop its first comprehensive design plan. Since that time, restoring the historic courthouse, landscaping and other improvements have been made following the Design Marion plan, which was updated in 2012.
DesignAlabama in 1990. The poster’s visibility holds the town accountable. “When people see it, they ask, ‘What have you done with that plan?’” notes Morgan. Nisa Miranda, director of the Center for Economic Development at the University of Alabama, says it takes a knowledgeable and creative talent like Morgan’s to guide a community in realizing its potential and undoing past mistakes and decades of neglect. “Cheryl Morgan has the patience to invest the time and the courage to teach communities and their leaders the tenets of wise and long-lasting design.” ‘I want you to sit on the front row close to me and keep your mouth shut.’ That’s strong, but she was making it clear that it’s the people’s plan, not the mayor’s plan or her plan.” Marion is another community moving forward after Morgan helped develop its first comprehensive plan in 2000. “Cheryl’s legacy is strong in the Marion-area community,” says Judy Martin. “We remain grateful for Cheryl’s work on our behalf.”
I’ve seen firsthand that her work leads to successful planning and design initiatives.” Morgan culminated each charrette by creating a 22- by 34-inch, full-color poster illustrating the comprehensive plan. Giving the town an overall depiction to display is part of the methodology of the STDI, which evolved from the Alabama Community Design Program developed by
Darrell Meyer, former director of planning and landscape architecture at KPS Group in Birmingham and founding chairman of Auburn University’s graduate program in planning, has watched Morgan in action at many town hall-style meetings. “Cheryl is one of the very few who has the rare ability to ask pertinent questions that elicit useful answers, listen to the answers and interpret them in graphic form in front of her respondents even as they are speaking.
Catherine Sloss Jones of Sloss Real Estate Co. in Birmingham worked with Morgan for nearly 20 years on planning projects across the state and Birmingham, mostly in Lakeview. “Her leadership and ability to see the big picture has been invaluable. She has inspired both her students and those of us who care most about building beautiful places that foster community.”
York in Sumter County is home to the awarding-winning Coleman Center for the Arts, housed in a 1904 brick building. Posters such as this one are an effective tool for recruiting, promotion and partnership building.
The Small Town Design Initiative began fall 1999 by the Auburn University Center for Architecture and Urban Studies as a successor to DesignAlabama’s Community Design Program, making available the Center’s professional staff, students and consultants to assist small towns and neighborhoods.
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Along with Auburn University, where she began teaching in 1992, her 30 years in academia include architectural programs at Georgia Institute of Technology, Oklahoma State and California College of Arts and Crafts. She holds two degrees from Auburn University, a Bachelor of Architecture and a Bachelor of Arts (sociology). Her Master of Architecture degree is from the University of Illinois, Champaign/Urbana. Morgan also practiced architecture and design at the esteemed ELS Architecture and Urban Design in Berkeley, Calif., where she learned the potential and importance of urban design and community planning. “Ultimately, the hands-on professional development I had in my five years at ELS became the foundation of what I have taught for the last 20-plus years at Auburn.” Architecturally, Morgan says she was educated as a “modernist” and admires the first generation of modernists as architects, though not for their impact on communities. “I remain in my own designs a minimalist and believe in trying to do the most with the least – simple, and one hopes, elegant design.”
Headland in Henry County – part of the Dothan metropolitan area – was the Urban Studio’s first community in Alabama’s Wiregrass region. Posters are designed to be both displayed and mailed to encourage involvement and accountability.
I remain in my own designs a minimalist and believe in trying to do the most with the least – simple, and one hopes, elegant design. She cites designers such as Ray and Charles Eames as “extraordinary influences.” Firms she admires most work across disciplines and don’t separate planning, landscape, architecture and interiors in their development of good places for people. A proponent of adaptive reuse and sustainability, she practiced what she preaches by purchasing a 1910 brick
warehouse in downtown Birmingham. Morgan lives in part of the building and leases the front to Design Initiative, the architectural firm that collaborated with her on the renovation. While the 3,700-square-foot building provided the ideal skeleton for modern living and eco-conscious creativity, elements conveying its history remain intact such as peeling paint on the columns and graffiti. The project was featured in a May 2014 article in The Wall Street Journal.
Morgan works on a diagrammatic sketch of Eufaula in southeast Alabama. Eufaula’s central business district now has a high occupancy rate and attracts many visitors with its annual Pilgrimage Tour of Homes, the oldest tour of historic homes in the state.
Among her many awards are a 2009 Preservation Service Award from the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation, the Alabama chapter of the American Planning Association’s 2011 Distinguished Leadership Award for a Friend of Planning and Auburn University’s highest recognition of faculty outreach scholarship, the 2012 Award for Excellence in Faculty Outreach. Morgan is a founding member of the citizen leadership program Your Town Alabama and sits on the board of Space One Eleven. She helped found Alabama Innovation Engine, a design-based community and economic development initiative.
Morgan converted a 1910 brick warehouse by the railroad tracks in downtown Birmingham into her residence and leases part of the building to Design Initiative, the architectural firm that collaborated with her on the renovation. Morgan kept the decor spare, allowing the building’s “good bones” to take center stage, as seen here in the kitchen/dining area. ©Jean Allsopp Photography DesignAlabama 24
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Ensley is one of several Birmingham city neighborhoods the Urban Studio has worked with over the years. The poster encapsulates the plan’s strategies, assets, opportunities and other key points.
This poster provides a graphic inventory of the wildlife and plants that inhabit the Upper Cahaba River near Hoover. The poster was created by the Urban Studio in summer 2001 to help Hoover in planning for the conservation of its natural resources.
Morgan also left her mark on DesignAlabama’s Mayors Design Summit, started in 2006 with similar objectives as the Urban Studio in bringing good design and planning to Alabama communities by providing mayors with an intensive seminar to help solve their design and economic development challenges. In July 2014 Morgan was inducted into the American Institute of Architects College of Fellows at its convention in Chicago, where she delighted in sharing the spotlight with an early 20th century architect she’s long admired. Julia Morgan (no relation) received posthumously the AIA Gold Medal, the first women to receive the profession’s highest honor. Julia was the first woman architect licensed in California, where she designed numerous buildings including Hearst Castle. Morgan sat next to Julia’s greatniece who accepted the Gold Medal.
David Hinson, head of the Auburn University School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture, calls Morgan “one of the rare people who pour herself into a job” and one of the best public facilitators he’s ever seen. Retirement hasn’t stopped her from facilitating charrettes, and she continues to serve on the Birmingham Design Committee, which reviews rehabilitation projects in the city’s many commercial revitalization and historic districts. Concerning the future of the Urban Studio, she’s confident the next director will build on its accomplishments, driven by the notion that everyone has the responsibility to create good places for people to live. “The Urban Studio is at an exciting turning point, and there’s great value in bringing in someone new with fresh eyes.” ✐ Jessica Armstrong is a freelance writer based in Auburn. 25 Volume XXIV
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The Whatley Health Services facility gained an inviting, new public face with a series of bays and two kinds of metal panel cladding. The entrance canopy signals the interior ‘main street’ circulation spine that starts with the check-in and waiting areas. The before photo shows a heavy-handed canopy and the separate dental clinic to the right. Before
Photo by Sherwood Cox
Whatley Health Services, Tuscaloosa by Phillip Morris | Photography by Callan Childs
For Whatley Health Services, a private nonprofit center in Tuscaloosa serving low-income residents there and in west Alabama, architectural renovations completed in 2013 have been nothing short of a full cure. Formerly in two buildings separated by a parking lot with dark and confusing corridors, it now has a spacious, light-filled feeling with a new presence in the community. The floor-plan graphics show the changes made in eight phases while the center remained in operation. The reoriented canopy can be seen at lower left.
= New Work = Interior Renovation HOPE CLINIC N.I.C.
= Area Not in Contract 1. Main Entry 2. Check-in / Out 3. Exam Room - typical 4. ASR 5. Adult Waiting 6. Pharmacy Waiting 7. Outdoor Play Area 8. IT Department 9. Reception 10. Billing & Payroll 11. Lounge 12. Internal Courtyard
PEDIATRICS CLINIC N.I.C.
4 12 3
DENTAL CLINIC N.I.C.
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[Above] The new administrative wing was built where a parking lot had separated the dental clinic (left) from the main building. Parking areas are now located to the sides and rear of the site.
[Right] This is a view of the ‘main street’ circulation as it passes the administrative reception area. Easy-to-maintain linoleum is the main floor covering with carpet in selected areas.
[Below] The new check-in desk is just off the entrance with two waiting areas adjacent. The new openness is embodied here with a simple materials palette that also is welcoming. Shallow ceiling ‘clouds’ help organize the space.
Photo by Sherwood Cox
[Above] These contrasting views show a corridor in the adult clinic before renovations and the wider one after completion. Glass panels used for the upper partitions contribute to the open feeling.
By the numbers the project designed by Hoskins Architecture of Birmingham added 10,000 square feet of new administrative space and renovated 8,000 square feet of an existing adult clinic. But as the before/after photos make clear, the numbers don’t tell the story. “You had to go outside and cross the parking lot to get to the dental clinic. All of the corridors were dark, depressing and in some places 4 1/2-feet wide,” says Creig Hoskins. “We introduced the ‘main street’ concept with natural light and views that connected the whole and organized the clinic. All spaces working together created larger waiting rooms and clear wayfinding to the pharmacy and the remainder of the clinic. The internal and external courtyards provide daylighting into the building.”
The new circulation is signaled on the exterior by a canopy and drop-off that was shifted from the front to the side. Just past the entry is the check-in desk with two glass-sided waiting areas. The adult clinic is adjacent. From here the ‘main street’ leads past the pharmacy, the pediatrics clinic, administrative area and ends with an opening to the dental clinic. Because the health center had to stay in operation, the work was done in eight phases. While the construction could have been a burden for staff, it turned out to be the opposite. “They could see changes on a daily basis,” says project architect Gail Nolan. “As soon as we opened the new corridor, you could see their personalities change. They have a new sense of pride in the place.” 27 Volume XXIV
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PRESERVING THE PAST WITH PIZAZZ By
Photo by Susan Braden
Mobile’s elegant DeBriere Building has a dazzling new interior Michelle Stancil
MOBILE’S 110-YEAR-OLD DEBRIERE BUILDING HAS UNDERGONE A 21ST CENTURY TR ANSFORMATION, making it a model of how thoughtful preservation and renovation can enhance the urban fabric and bring new life to downtown. Handsomely restored on the exterior in 2009, the distinctive Classical building came to life early this summer when Odom Architects completed the historic renovation of interiors for the building’s owner-clients – NAI Mobile (the local chapter of commercial and industrial real estate services company NAI Global) and the award-winning ad agency Red Square (now organized as RSQ digital innovation and Red Square Gaming). Architect Angie Odom, working closely with John Peebles of NAI Mobile and Rich Sullivan and Diana Nichols of Red Square, has created sleekly modern interiors while preserving the building’s historic character and keeping much of the building’s original materials. Located at 54-56 St. Emanuel St. on a two-block stretch linking Government Street with Dauphin Street and Bienville Square, the two-story brick DeBriere Building once stood in Mobile’s business and commercial center. Originally built for the Troy Laundry, over the years the building housed a dry cleaners, luggage store, optical company and then stood vacant (and gutted) for more than 20 years as downtown fell into decline. Today the structure and its neighborhood lie within the Lower Dauphin Street Historic District, and downtown is on the ascent, attracting new restaurants, coffee shops, entertainment venues and professionals. The DeBriere Building once again is in what Peebles describes as a “fabulous location.” Peebles, a principal at NAI Mobile with 35 years of experience rehabilitating historic buildings in Mobile, formed an investment group that purchased the DeBriere Building in 2007. The structure was stabilized, and Jef Florey and Paladin Construction restored its handsome Classical facade. Recently, after Red Square signed a long-term lease and became part owner of the building, Odom (with whom Peebles and Sullivan had previously worked) came on board to redo the interiors – 5,000 square feet on the ground floor for NAI Mobile and 15,000 square feet (north half of the ground floor and all of the second floor) for Red Square.
Odom saved as much of the original building as possible. She exposed the brick walls, keeping splotches of paint from previous occupants’ decor. Bricks burned by a fire when the building housed the dry cleaners were left black and charred in one of the NAI Mobile offices. On the ground level, the original concrete floor was stained gray and sealed. Concrete broken during trenching for utilities was cut into slabs to be reused as paving for the outdoor courtyard patio at the rear of the building. Steel and wood columns are showcased in the designers’ work area on the second floor. In Red Square’s executive offices new lay-in ceilings extend only partially so that the original wood ceiling can be seen. In addition to revealing the building’s history, Odom’s interior design reveals a lot about her clients and their business images. For NAI Mobile she created an elegant setting that is, in her words “grounded in tradition.” For Red Square an edgier design and “bold” spaces reflect the firm’s emphasis on imagination and innovation. Interiors for Red Square also emphasize creativity and community. On the first floor Odom placed the agency’s reception room and conference room overlooking the sidewalk on the east. To underscore that Red Square is not your average ad agency, a small gym with a basketball hoop is prominently visible from the reception area. Functionally, the
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The DeBriere Building (1904) occupies a highly visible site near the new hotels and museums of downtown Mobile. Its decorous facade features Classical elements – garland panels, brackets, dentils and a cornice topped by a parapet sprouting acanthus leaves. Planters filled with begonias, sweet potato vines and impatiens add color and can be found throughout the Lower Dauphin Street Historic District.
Above: Red Square Gaming designers work in communal open spaces on projects for the firm’s growing number of casino and gaming industry clients. Rich Sullivan prefers open work areas to encourage creativity and interchange among all the designers so that, as he puts it, “Ideas multiply and are contagious.”
Right: The 1,000-square-foot kitchen/dining area easily accommodates in-house gatherings and public receptions and functions as an informal communal meeting area. Amenities include a coffee bar and a cocktail bar for parties. In addition to the large community table, there are smaller tables inside and on the patio.
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Photo by Susan Braden
The recycled bleachers (salvaged from a local school) retract for shooting baskets and fold
Red Square’s informally formal main conference room on the ground floor features exposed
down when the room is used for presentations. On the wall behind the bleachers, Odom let
beams and ductwork. High-tech design fixtures and large plate-glass windows give the room
the shadow of an earlier stairway remain.
a stylish, airy spaciousness.
gym does double duty as a presentation room with a projector behind the hoop and a whiteboard on the wall – and triple duty because its presence sends a message that the agency is hip, energetic, playful and thinks outside the box. Also on the first floor, but at the back near the patio, is the spacious, light-filled kitchen/bar with a long, metal community dining table. The area is used by employees and for receptions. Throughout the building, materials and aesthetics are sleek, industrial and modern; colors are the same neutrals used inside and outside the building – grays (Dorian Gray and Iron Ore) and white (Snowbound). Emphasis is on clean lines and uncluttered spaces.
Red Square Gaming is in the south half, an interior wall has been opened to connect the two divisions. A small, aptly named Lightbulb Lab, equipped with tools and presses, accommodates anyone who wants to experiment – hands-on – with a new idea.
Odom designed the second floor – containing the designers’ workspaces, accounting department and executive offices – to be more private. Instead of concrete there is a gray vinyl floor textured to resemble wood planks. To accommodate a need for “creativityinducing” space, the second-floor work areas are placed in open, expansive communal spaces. These open, energized spaces allow for what Sullivan describes as “chance interactions” that spur creativity. Although RSQ workstations are on the north and
The second-floor’s expansive east windows – original, rebalanced and functional – allow for “daylight harvesting” and provide an airy spaciousness to the second floor. Nichols describes the natural light as “amazing” and adds that she thinks it “lifts people’s spirits.” According to Sullivan the new spaces are “transformative,” giving the designers and clients a fresh, new, energized perception of the firm. Preservation/renovation projects of this quality depend on more than architects, owners and clients. As Odom says, “Historic buildings are difficult to pigeon-hole into the latest building codes, and it takes understanding from all parties as to what is possible and what is not.” The Architectural Review Board, an affiliate of the Mobile Historic Development Commission, must approve exteriors of buildings in Mobile’s seven historic districts. Federal, state and city tax credits can help with expenses, but genuine public support is vital to projects like the DeBriere Building. Odom and Peeples applaud Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson for meaningfully encouraging the redevelopment of Mobile’s historic downtown. As for the DeBriere Building, it now hums with activity as it makes a significant contribution to the revitalization of downtown Mobile. ❦ Susan Braden is an architectural historian and is retired from teaching art history at Auburn University.
DESIGN T EA M
Architect Angie Odom, Odom Architects PC, Mobile Construction Paladin Construction, Mobile Clients NAI Mobile and Red Square Agency, both Mobile Repurposed concrete slabs and other salvaged materials are used to pave the courtyard patio at the rear of the building. To John Peebles the patio evokes historic brick commercial alleys.
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The Evolution of Place Making in Alabama Exhibit (Photo by Elliot Knight)
Southern Makers Event in Montgomery (Photo courtesy of Southern Makers)
Sketch from Cordova Charette
Mayor’s Design Summit
As I look at the activities started by DesignAlabama such as the Mayor’s Design Summit and small town design charrettes, I realize DESIGN MAKES A DIFFERENCE – and DesignAlabama has made a difference. I see a state where products designed and made by Alabamians are celebrated at the Southern Makers event in Montgomery. I see mayors advocating for better choices in their communities. I see neighborhoods energized with creative economic activity. I see folks who love Alabama (and I’m not talking about football). Through the years DA’s Mayors Design Summit has helped 45 Alabama communities and their mayors learn about planning and design and the impact it has on economic development and quality of life. January 2016 will be the start of the year of Made In Alabama for the Department of Tourism. This effort will bring statewide attention to design in all forms, its influence on the state’s past and its potential to enhance the state’s future. In October the Birmingham AIA chapter hosted DesignWeek Birmingham. Seven days of events, panel discussions and pop-up shops highlighted creative design in the Birmingham area. Each year Your Town equips community leaders and activists to promote the importance of design and planning for their communities. As part of their annual convention The League of Municipalities includes design and planning on the educational program, knowing that communities need to grow smartly. We need to grow smartly too, so in the coming weeks the DA board will evaluate our current programming and look ahead to identify new initiatives. Be on the lookout as we investigate how to engage a larger audience on the nature of place making, creative problem solving and design in Alabama. We hope you will want to participate in the discussion.
31 Volume XXIV
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10/29/14 10:27 AM
DesignAlabama Volume XXIV
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
U R B A N
P L A C E S
W A L K U P S
“Planning of the automobile city “Automobiles need quantity and focuses on saving time. Planning for the pedestrians need quality.” – Dan Burden accessible city, on the other hand, focuses on time well spent.”
– Robert Cervero
“A good sustainability “We must not build housing, we and quality of life must build communities.” indicator: The average – Mike Burton
amount of time spent
P.O. Box 241263 Montgomery, AL 36124
in a car.” – Paul Bedford
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For additional information about DesignAlabama, please call (334) 549-4672.
10/20/14 12:00 PM