An Iconic Mid-century Building Is Preserved as an Office for a Family-operated Insurance Company

mid-century modern office

One of only a few classic mid-century buildings in Austin, Texas, recently underwent a complete renovation by architecture firm Mark Odom Studio and builder Franklin Alan LLC. Designed as a law office by architects Pendley & Day and built in 1960, the 3,000-square-foot building is located near downtown Austin on North Lamar, a busy artery that runs through the city. The area includes about 10 mid-century buildings, each of which has been renovated over time.


Preservation Austin recently awarded the project a Preservation Merit Award 2020.

Meredith and Tyler Spears, owners of Texas-heritage and family-operated insurance company, BKCW, bought the building in 2017 for its iconic mid-century architecture and history, which they believed reflected their company culture, attitude and goals. The project then began not only as a full renovation of the office building, but also as a true preservation project. In fact, Preservation Austin recently awarded the project a Preservation Merit Award 2020.

The use of mid-century materials—some of which were salvaged from the building itself—as well as careful attention to detail brought this beautiful building back to life.

CHALLENGES

Although the building had never been abandoned, it had been allowed to deteriorate during the past 15 years. Unexpectedly, the site and hill on which the building sits had a tremendous amount of erosion, requiring our team to redesign water flow around and under it. We had to build new retaining walls and address structural pier erosion, as well.

Over the years, the building had been internally subdivided, limiting the experience of the original building stature. Our design team quickly set out to fully open the space, a nod to the open-office layouts popular in insurance and advertising companies in the mid-1960s.


Fully opening the interior maximizes natural daylight, exterior views, interior engagement and the celebration of the original volume.

Some of the original drawings were available and were very helpful. An unexpected discovery that the drawings helped us understand quickly is the existing brick specification and detail. The existing brick was an atypical size and was primarily load-bearing. We were not able to find new brick to match the existing, but the demolition of a portion of the back walls produced a majority of the salvaged brick used to extend the roof perimeter.

DETAILS, DETAILS

Because the original ceiling/roof was very low at an 8-foot, 6-inch interior dimension, we raised the roof 18 inches so we could install LED lights, ductwork and other mechanics inside the ceiling cavity. The existing brick removed during demolition was used to increase the height and match brick on the exterior and interior of the building.

The owners wanted an open floor plan so to ensure privacy, the team specified 4-foot- high cubicles constructed with acoustic panels. Glass-enclosed conference rooms and offices with 1/2-inch-thick insulated glass ensure further privacy. These glass partitions were initially used to allow natural light to move through the space from all directions. Today, these partitions meet distancing requirements related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The only fully enclosed space in the open floor plan is the supply/print room, concealed in wood paneling behind the reception desk. Built-in lockers for employees are placed strategically in the “back-of-house” area for minimal visibility from the main space. Stained-wood paneling, cork flooring and artisan wall tiles are used throughout.

BEFORE PHOTO: Mark Odom Studio

AFTER PHOTOS: Leonid Furmansky

About the Author

Mark Odom
Mark Odom created Mark Odom Studio in 2004. The award-winning studio produces residential, commercial and public art projects throughout Texas.

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