San Antonio firm transforms vacant industrial building into sunlit workspace.
Dissatisfied with their two-story office, San Antonio architecture practice Overland Partners recently went looking for a new home. They found it in an unexpected place: a long-vacant plumbing supply warehouse within the city’s burgeoning arts district. The 1918 Hughes Plumbing Warehouse offered the firm exactly what they wanted—a large open floor plan—in an architecturally refined package. The timber-framed, brick-clad building “is simple,” said project architect Patrick Winn, “but it’s really elegant and beautiful when you’re able to look at it.” The problem was that years of disuse had left their mark. “When we first viewed it, it was really far gone,” recalled Winn. The original windows had been broken up, and the roof had flooded. Undaunted, the architects took on an extensive renovation project, with the result that today the former plumbing distribution center is a boon not just to Overland, but to the neighborhood as a whole.
Prior to renovation, Hughes Warehouse was entirely encased in a double-width brick wall, except for a few garage door openings and two levels of clerestory windows. While the clerestories, approximately 16-20 inches and 20-25 inches in width, provided a good dose of daylight to the interior, they did not provide views out, nor did they facilitate the transition from parking lot to studio. “At Overland we really enjoy blurring the line between the outdoor, natural realm and the indoor, built realm,” said Winn. “Right from the get-go we said: we have to cut a courtyard into the building and elongate that entry sequence.”
Overland carved out approximately 2,000 square feet of space for the new courtyard, which is faced with a custom glass and steel curtain wall. The transparent opening floods the office interior with light and frames views for the occupants. It has also become a de facto community space. “What’s been nice is that runners’ groups and cycling groups are starting to use our courtyard as a hub for activity,” said Winn, who notes that live music and other events at a neighboring coffee shop are an additional draw. “It’s brought a lot of life and energy into our space from the courtyard.”
To secure the courtyard after hours, the architects designed custom steel gates to replace the original, graffiti-covered garage doors. To tie-in to the warehouse’s arts-district location, and to pay homage to the graffiti, Overland looked to Jackson Pollock for inspiration. They pixelated photographs on Photoshop before transferring the file to AutoCAD and sending the pattern on to Rivercity Industries, who laser-cut the design into the doors. The doors themselves were fabricated by Overland Workshop. “From the exterior, especially when the lights are on, when you drive by, there’s almost a twinkling effect,” said Winn of the perforated gates. “They’re really neat.”
The architects punched additional windows into the remaining brick facade. “We decided to honor the old brick building,” said Winn. “Any new insertion is done with steel and glass.” To mitigate solar gain, the new windows are extruded about a foot on the east side of the building, and about two feet on the west. The clerestories and courtyard curtain wall are equipped with automated shades. Though the original steel frames around the clerestory windows would only accept 1/4-inch laminated safety glass, the new windows feature one-inch-thick high performance glass.
Additional sustainability measures include a complete board insulation system over the roof. “We loved having brick on the interior, so what we couldn’t do there in terms of insulation, we made up for on the roof,” explained Winn. “We over-insulated it.” A rooftop solar setup offsets about 60 percent of the office’s energy consumption. In addition, the architects re-used original materials wherever possible. They built the interior stairs out of old joists, and the contractor saw-cut discarded concrete into pavers for the abutting alley. Even the brittle roof decking found a second life as board forms for the building’s cast-in-place concrete elements.
The Hughes Warehouse building has exceeded the architects’ expectations in terms of bringing the office back together, said Winn. “It’s done wonders for us from the standpoint of office culture. People seem to really love working here—it’s not a place that’s a drag to work in, it’s very comfortable.” He noted that in less than two years the firm has grown from just over 40 members to about 70, and recalled several recent events, including art shows and a courtyard holiday party, held in the renovated space. “I have to say that Overland’s been elevated to a whole other level.”