An Abandoned ’70s Industrial Building Becomes an Office Full of Color, Light and Character

The structural-steel columns draw attention with their tapered shapes, a cost-saving measure that became unintentionally sculptural. The original spacing of the steel columns also enabled the architects to easily create a series of smaller rooms that now act as shared lobby space. “We didn’t have to add anything to them or around them to make them actually hold these different spaces as you march down the lobby,” Albrecht says. “It was great to really let the existing structure shine.”

Working with a local co-op of spray-paint artists, the building team commissioned five artists for the lobby and interior social areas.
Working with a local co-op of spray-paint artists, the building team commissioned five artists for the lobby and interior social areas.

The steel columns also provided an opportunity to connect the building’s future with its past artistically. Knowing the long-abandoned building had become a guerilla artexhibition space, the team carefully removed several exterior plywood panels that had been covered in graffiti art and re-purposed them as stall partitions in the restrooms. Working with a local co-op of spray-paint artists, the building team also commissioned five artists for the lobby and interior social areas. “We actually found a couple artists who had left art in the old building, whom we commissioned to create new work,” Albrecht says. “We really tied everything together, past and present.”

The project didn’t stay empty for long, either. Built on spec and intended for a community of four to six small companies, UPCycle was instead leased entirely by a local grocery chain, HEB, and its food-delivery subsidiary.

95 PERCENT REUSE

To make the project pay for itself, the developers were determined to fit two floors into the existing volume. “Everybody said the clear heights weren’t enough for a second floor,” Kremer recalls. But by investing in a high-efficiency chiller that takes up less space, large ductwork on the ceilings could be eliminated. “I think that’s where we spent more [money] than people would expect: moving sprinklers, ductwork, lighting, allowing both the big areas and the small areas to feel big.”

Today’s offices are all about creating a variety of spaces in which to work and socialize. Not only does the column-lined center lobby provide such space, but so too does an old decommissioned freight train car (signaling the building’s past as a shipping facility). The developer sourced the car from South Carolina and placed it at one of the building’s two entrances. “At first, we thought it would be a cool conference room,” Albrecht explains. “That became difficult because of having to air condition and insulate it. It doesn’t look like a rail car anymore if you do that. Then it was going to be a bike locker room for the tenants. Eventually Curt said, ‘Why are we doing all this? We want people to experience this box car and celebrate it.’ Now it’s more like an outdoor lounge.”

The architects also moved the north and south façades inward to create covered front porches for the building’s north and south entrances, which are set back from Hidalgo Street (adjacent to an employees’ surface parking lot) and busy Sixth Street. To enhance that sense of enclosure, permeable screens were added to the sides of the building, stretching to meet the awning. The new entry façades were clad in reclaimed wood—not from the building this time—a sourced combination of cedar fence boards and shipping pallet material. The team also repurposed some of the many old exhaust fans left onsite, a must during the facility’s days as an un-air-conditioned Texas warehouse. Welded in place for safety reasons, they no longer turn but are another decorative element mined from materials that, in less creative hands, would have been destined for the scrap heap.

The structural-steel columns draw attention with their tapered shapes, a cost-saving measure that became unintentionally sculptural.
The structural-steel columns draw attention with their tapered shapes, a cost-saving measure that became unintentionally sculptural.

Achieving 95 percent reuse meant creative solutions, like retaining the existing rusty metal façade panels by removing them, adding insulation, then reinstalling the panels inside-out, with half turned 90 degrees to create a checkerboard-like pattern. “They had still weathered a bit even on the inside,” Albrecht says, “but we used that to show the character and the history of the building.”

Retrofit Team

ARCHITECT: Gensler, Austin, Texas
TRAVIS ALBRECHT, project manager
TODD RUNKLE, principal in charge
CHRISTINA CLARK, designer
CHRIS CURSON, architect
MARK EPSTEIN, designer
LEAD DEVELOPERS: Curt Kremer, George Oliver Cos., Scottsdale, Ariz., and Larry Lance, EverWest Real Estate Investors, Denver
GENERAL CONTRACTOR: The Burt Group, Austin
MEP ENGINEER: Integral Group, Austin
LANDSCAPE DESIGN BUILD: Big Red Sun
CIVIL ENGINEER: Jones | Carter, Austin
STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: Cardno, Austin

Materials

INSULATED METAL PANELS: KarrierPanel from Kingspan
PERFORATED ALUMINUM PANELS: Ecoscreen 3/4-inch Econolap from CENTRIA
COMPOSITE DECK BOARDS: Symmetry Decking from Fiberon
INTERIOR AND EXTERIOR WOOD CLADDING: Reclaimed Cedar Fence Boards and Shipping Pallet Material from Trestlewood
SKYLIGHTS: Skypro Skywave IR Dual Glazing from Skyco Skylights
CURTAINWALL: 3250 Wall from U.S. Aluminum
STOREFRONT: IT451 from U.S. Aluminum
TPO ROOF: Sure-Weld TPO from Carlisle Syntec
ROLLUP DOOR: Service Door Model ESD10 from Cookson
GLAZED ROLLUP DOORS: 3295 Aluminum Full-View Doors from C.H.I. Overhead Doors
CHILLER: Air-cooled Sintesis from Trane

Photos: DROR BALDINGER

About the Author

Brian Libby
Brian Libby is a Portland, Ore.-based freelance design journalist, critic and architectural photographer.

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