After the recent sale of a historic downtown building its new owner and building manager turned to a group of young architects to help brainstorm creative ways to utilize the building which was about 50% vacant at the time of purchase. In addition to helping design and lease all of the vacant tenant spaces in the building within six months, the architects converted what had long served as the building’s loading and maintenance area into their design studio and workshop.

The young firm which has a strong focus for modern aesthetic with a hand-made feel had been searching for affordable downtown space with the flexibility to support both their traditional office practice with desk space for designing, drafting and modeling via computer, but also a workshop space where the architects could fabricate physical details and mock-ups for projects and get their hands dirty. The raw and industrial storage space served as a perfect backdrop for the firms modern, hand-made interventions.

With ambitious programmatic goals but a very limited footprint of about 1300sf they devised a mezzanine structure that would just work with code minimum head-rooms made possible only by taking advantage of the existing garage floor which sloped 8” across the 26’ deep space. The structural system was designed to spread the load across the existing slab so no new interior footings were required. The studio was placed upstairs with a meeting and storage room below.

The stair and conference room walls were cribbed with fir plywood to provide filtered privacy while allowing the space to remain open, limiting ductwork and ventilation requirements. The plywood provides a warm contrast to the raw brick walls, black-steel accents and concrete floors. The conference room wall which serves as the mezzanine railing is supported from the floor framing and subtly hovers over the sloping floor below.

The workshop space accounts for roughly half of the main level footprint and allows for a variety of uses including fabrication, mock-up, collaboration, entertainment-exhibition space and expansion potential. The alley-loading door was replaced with awning windows and the firm’s material library. A new glass-overhead door was installed facing west to a parking area overlooking the city’s world-renowned sculpture garden. A minimal kitchenette/workbench was added opposite the library with fir plywood cabinets and a bent black-steel top.

The project was completed within a budget of $60,000 ($35/sf) over a 4-month period in close collaboration with a lead local wood craftsman, steel fabricators, and various professional tradesmen. The firm was personally involved with the project helping to install cribbing, steel railing, carpet and cabinetry.