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Bryan Adapts

Images courtesy John Hendry

While adaptive re-use often updates a single building for a new function, the city of Bryan is enjoying a recent series of projects that has revitalized its long-dormant downtown. Until a few years ago, with vacant buildings lining Main Street, Bryan’s center held little promise. An archetype of a Texas town, Bryan first blossomed in the 1860s thanks to the railroad. Following decades of decline that began in the 1960s, the downtown is blossoming anew thanks to fiber-optic cable laid along that same railroad’s right-of-way, twenty-first-century infrastructure that transmits digital data at lightning speed. In 2003, the presence of a large underground cable trunkcaught the interest of entrepreneurs who set their sights on downtown for redevelopment. Their plans coincided with the first phase of a master plan designed for the downtown by Looney Ricks Kiss, which guided street improvements along four blocks of Main Street. With two phases now completed, the public works have reconfigured the downtown with streetscapes designed for pedestrians, some of whom now live in loft apartments that have filled once-empty retail spaces. Among the investors are John Clanton, Vance Swaggerty, and Randall Spradley, a trio of entrepreneurs who coined the term “Fibertown” for their plan to entice Internet-based companies to locate downtown. The combination of the existing fiber-optic cable and the excellent building stock has proved successful, with the team having refurbished several of the formerly forlorn structures and wired them for high-tech businesses. Charlie Burris, AIA, and his partners with the Arkitex Studio, have watched the redevelopment closely from their downtown offices on North Bryan Avenue. The architects have themselves remodeled one of the previously neglected buildings. “Downtown Bryan is alive and well once again,” Burris reports. “In a mere decade, it has been remarkably transformed and with each improvement is building momentum toward a bright future.”

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A recent master plan and high-speed data infrastructure rebuilds a typical Texas downtown

The good news from Bryan is a welcome relief to the increasingly bleak financial situation. On p. 30 of this edition, “Outlook for a Downturn” is a timely piece about the aftershocks being felt in Texas from the ongoing implosion of the world’s interconnected financial markets. Following a conversation I had in January with Michael Malone, AIA, about the distressing tally of job losses in Dallas’ corporate headquarters, I invited him and another five architects from around the state to join a roundtable discussion about how the recession is affecting their local economies. The forum satisfied my journalistic need for up-to-date information, although the news was far from uplifting. *** This edition’s Backpage takes a whimsical look at possible reuses for that Circuit City store near you that suddenly went out of business in January. With no disrespect to the 30,000 employees who lost their jobs when 567 stores closed in the U.S., I wondered whether anyone might find something positive to say about the change in the retail landscape. I worked with Fernando Brave, AIA, in Houston to come up with a list of architects and artists we could challenge to rethink the big-box. Indeed, as the illustrations demonstrate, we found some innovative thinkers. *** Fresh ideas are essential to the U.S. economy, never more so than during the cyclical downturns. At times such as these, it is precisely the architect’s skills that clients need to rise above the competition—to design the new generation of workplaces where employees feel inspired and institutions where stakeholders can be proud of their investment. Clients have never needed architects more than now. s t e p h e n

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Texas Architect March/April 2009: Adaptive Reuse  
Texas Architect March/April 2009: Adaptive Reuse  

Texas Architect, March/April 2009; Official magazine of the Texas Society of Architects|AIA