A desire to create a venue for community interaction, along with an interest in the city center and its revitalization, led ArchitectureWorks to invest in the old Birmingham Publishing Company Building in downtown Birmingham. Originally built in the 1920’s, the brick and wood structure was separated from a similar building mid-block by an open lot. In the 1950’s, a terra-cotta tile and bar joist infill building was constructed to house the press room for the expanding printing company, effectively creating a single building.
Acquiring the buildings in 1999, ArchitectureWorks sought to establish an environment that would encourage the community to become exposed to and engaged in the practice of architecture. Conceived of as a complex of inter-related spaces, the studio and a multi-function space each open to and are connected by an open-air courtyard, which, in turn, opens to the street. The large open design of the studio, with movable furniture and low partitions separating the individual workspaces, emphasizes the collaborative nature of design that is core to ArchitectureWorks’ process. The importance of sustainable design was also articulated through the use of natural light and reclaimed materials.
The multi-function space, SawWorks, was designed to serve as additional meeting space as well as a venue for community interaction. Interior finishes maintain the building’s industrial character and provide an open, durable space. The original brick walls, steel trusses and large steel windows were refurbished and kept intact. A new mezzanine loft was added, enclosing a meeting room below and loft apartment above.
Although some work was done to refurbish the existing shell, the courtyard, derived from the contribution of each of the adjacent functions, is the focusing design element. Along the street edge, a rhythm of wood screens defines the walkway connecting both studios. These screens help delineate the formal and the more informal spaces of both the courtyard and the studio. The walkway element also acts as a display surface, houses office supplies and equipment within the studio, and provides seating within the courtyard. A rain screen wall enclosing the service and storage space creates a backdrop to the courtyard. The seasonal changes of the trees create a welcome relief to the dense urban environment.
ArchitectureWorks regularly hosts events at SawWorks such as the AIA Birmingham’s dreamArchitecture Competition, Birmingham-Southern College’s January Interim, “Experiencing the City,” and the ACE Mentor Program. Impact Alabama’s SpeakFirst has been meeting in the space since it was founded in 2004. SpeakFirst is an organization dedicated to enriching the academic experience of students from Birmingham’s public high schools through participation in debate teams.
ArchitectureWorks has partnered with the Birmingham Museum of Art to house resident artists including Stephen Hendee and Cestmir Suska. Both have lived in the SawWorks apartment and used the studio space and the courtyard as fabrication and exhibition workshops. Hendee’s work ‘Ascension,’ made from polypropylene panels, black glue, and fluorescent lights, was exhibited at the Birmingham Museum of Art in September of 2002. In 2007, Suska’s work was shown at the Birmingham Museum of Art, as well. Several of the industrial iron sculptures from his ‘Rusty Flowers’ collection remained on display at ArchitectureWorks until 2009. Marilee Keys also exhibited ‘Specimens and Artifacts’ in SawWorks Studio in November of 2003. Keys’ work focuses on collecting and recording her environment and giving renewed life to recycled elements of nature.