The Architectural League’s Emerging Voices award and lecture series spotlight individuals and firms with distinct design “voices” that have the potential to influence the discipline of architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design. The jury, composed of Sunil Bald, Mario Gooden, Lisa Gray, Paul Lewis, Jing Liu, Thomas Phifer, Bradley Samuels, Billie Tsien, and Ian Volner, selected architects and designers who have significant bodies of realized work that creatively address larger issues in the built environment.
The Architect’s Newspaper featured the Emerging Voices firms in our February issue; stay tuned as we upload those articles to our website over the coming weeks. The firm featured below (Atlanta, GA–based BLDGS) will deliver their lecture on March 2, 2017, at The Architecture League in New York City. Click here to learn more!
When Brian Bell and David Yocum first founded BLDGS 10 years ago, they didn’t plan to specialize in adaptive reuse—certainly not in Atlanta, a city not necessarily known for exploring the past.
But after they continued to land such commissions, they began to relish the role and have elevated this ever-expanding realm of architecture to a more creative, thoughtful, complex level than almost any firm has been able to achieve.
“We take a lot of pleasure in uncovering,” Yocum said. “If we can find the truth in each of the challenges and kind of reflect the presence of that truth it gives us a lot that we would not be able to layer onto a project.”
Bell and Yocum met at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design and then worked together at Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects in Atlanta. They founded their firm in 2006, spurred mostly through work from art galleries, whose budgets and interests called for work within existing spaces. One of their first, Whitespace Gallery, is located inside an 1880s carriage house. Impressed by how clearly the original functions were expressed structurally, they set out to not only maintain that core, but also express the building’s new artistic focus with equal intensity. They hid lighting and HVAC along the periphery, and installed thin, floating panels—framed in steel—to display art.
Yocum calls this inserting the “featherlike presence of the new while respecting the gravity of the old.”
“We’re pushing and pulling off things that are seen and unseen rather than inventing from our own imagination,” added Bell. “There’s a lot of fascination with the situation that’s already there.”
Their work has continued along these lines, pushing and pulling on the complex layers of existing materials and techniques and the addition of contemporary ones. The installation Boundary Issues at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center removed contemporary plaster walls to display a mesmerizing combination of existing paint and bricks.Essentially they practiced addition by subtraction, architecture’s version of etching away a solid in a block print.
For their Caddell classroom and faculty building at Georgia Tech, they took cues for a new canopy from the structural logic of the existing 1950s building, whose steel frame is hidden behind a concrete exterior. The resulting canopy of aluminum louvers looks ultra-light from below, but like the original building, its thick steel frame is hidden above, out of sight. At Congregation Or Hadash Synagogue, they converted a former Chevrolet paint and auto body repair shop by carefully carving away its tilt-up concrete and sheet metal cladding, creating a radically different typology, nonetheless informed by its bones.
Even their only ground-up building, the Burned House in Atlanta, plays with history. Its cladding is painted with dozens of layers of paints, stencils, metallics, and other markings, which are meant to become exposed as the paint decays. Its interior plays with solid and void, with spaces pushed and pulled in unusual configurations to maximize exposure and push the boundaries of expectation.
“We wanted to think of history in reverse,” said Yocum. “Everything has a historical presence. If you’re not exploring that you’re missing opportunities.”