A Look How Architecture Creates Community- A Conversation with Joel Blackstock

It is virtually impossible to separate architecture from community. Architecture and the result of its application through design and construction are meant for the community. The community is the end-user of the works of architecture, so the needs and preferences of the community must be met.

In The Architecture of Community, Leon Krier identifies two kinds of architecture existing today. An international-style architect’s architecture that may be perceived as arrogant or provocative and architecture often based on regional models that attempts to blend naturally with the architecture of existing landscapes and cities.

Joel Blackstock, president of Williams Blackstock Architects in Birmingham, notes that people sometimes think of a building as simply siting on a site, but a building must fit into the fabric of the community.

He points to several examples of his firm’s projects that foster community, including the Birmingham News building constructed in a blighted area on the site of an unused parking lot. The design incorporated the building into its surroundings, such as the use of brick to harmonize with the masonry pallet of the nearby turn-of-the-century St. Paul’s Cathedral. In addition, a plaza on the corner created public space.

Renovation of the UAB Comprehensive Center provided cohesion and connection to its urban context. A new two-story glass lobby serves as the grand entrance and connects to the street level and to the second level adjacent medical center’s pedestrian concourse. Large third floor windows offer a look at research activities.

The business incubator Innovation Depot operates in a former abandoned Sears building once covered in graffiti. A town center was created inside the building, located in a struggling area of downtown Birmingham that Blackstock says has now “turned that area of town around.”

Photos Courtesy of Williams Blackstock Architects



UA Engineering Students Partner with NASA

Two teams of University of Alabama mechanical engineering students spent their senior year designing prototypes for tools that NASA anticipates it will need for planned missions in the 2020s and beyond. The UA teams are participating with 22 schools nationwide in NASA’s Microgravity Neutral Buoyancy Experiment Design Team (Micro-g NExT) competition. These tool prototypes will be used to help collect samples from asteroids and move them closer to the moon’s orbit to be studied. The technology concepts developed by the university teams could someday be used to mine resources on asteroids as well as Mars, according to NASA.

Cahaba Brewing’s New Tasting Room

An old cotton gin in Birmingham’s Avondale district is now the site of Cahaba Brewing Company’s new production facility and tasting room, which opened in January. Project architect Williams Blackstock Architects of Birmingham kept the brickwork intact, along with hand-made doors, an industrial elevator and other original details. New features harmonize with the old, including furniture made of reclaimed lumber from an old distillery in Kentucky. Cahaba is renting nearly half of a 51,000-square-foot building that is part of the Continental Gin Industrial Park.

Rotary Trail Contributes to the Revitalization of the Downtown Area of Birmingham

Efforts to revitalize downtown Birmingham have sparked a boom in residential and commercial construction and renovations. The latest transformation is an abandoned rail bed that created an eyesore in the city center. The once blighted area is now Rotary Trail that runs along First Avenue South between 20th Street (the Birmingham Green) and 24th Street. Downtown Rotary of Birmingham took on the project and raised $3.5 million to complete the Trail – a half -mile linear park designed by Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood.

The Trail’s focal point is the Magic City sign, which pays homage to an iconic sign that once stood at Birmingham’s Terminal Station, notes Cheryl Morgan, co-chair of the project for the Rotary Club. The station and the sign were demolished in 1969, but nostalgia for the sign remained strong. At 60 feet, it serves as a gateway element in this urban context.

Morgan calls the sign “a great gesture to Birmingham history and a new icon in our downtown.” The sign was a gift from BL Harbert International. O’Neal Steel donated the materials and Fravert Services created the letters. The structure was fabricated by Daniel Iron, which can trace its origins to a company that built the original sign.

Krebs Engineering Wins Award

Birmingham-based Krebs Engineering was recently recognized for helping the city of Albertville develop a cost-effective, long-term solution to control solids hauling and disposal costs by using renewable biogas produced at its wastewater treatment facility. Biogas is called “the ultimate win-win energy source,” allowing farmers to produce their own electricity and reduce water contamination, odor pollution and global warming emissions caused by animal waste. Krebs Engineering received the American Council of Engineering Companies 2016 Grand Design Award for the design of its “Biosolids Improvement for Energy Recovery” project in Albertville. This is the only facility in Alabama to use renewable biogas to convert costly waste into a useful Class A biosolids product.

Good People Brewery

Alabama’s craft beer scene is booming and Good People Brewing Company near Railroad Park and Regions Field in Birmingham was recognized by Southern Living magazine as one of the best breweries in the state. The microbrewery’s taproom was recently renovated by Justin Brown and Matthew Finley of the Birmingham architecture firm BILT in Alabama and was designed to reflect both the industrial character of its surroundings and its natural setting. Repurposed and recycled materials were used throughout, including a new bar built of steel dunnage from the Mercedes Benz plant in Vance. BILT also manufactured the steel windows, doors and other distinctive detailing.

Cook Museum of Natural Science

Ground has broken on the site of a 57,000-square-foot natural science museum, designed by Huntsville-based Fuqua & Partners Architects. The museum set to open next year in downtown Decatur, will include permanent exhibits, classrooms, a theater, gift shop, café and an outdoor patio. The $17 million Cook Museum of Natural Science at 133 Fourth Ave. N.W. will replace a former auto parts building that was demolished along with other property on a 2.3 acre tract of land near the Princess Theatre and Decatur Public Library. Cook’s Pest Control has committed $7 million toward the museum and is raising an additional $10 million. The museum will eventually include space for traveling exhibits, a butterfly house and an outdoor natural park.

National Alliance of Preservation Commissions Forum-July27-31 in Mobile!


NAPC FORUM is the only national conference focused on issues facing local historic preservation commissions. Whether it’s mitigating the impact of sea level rise, protecting resources of the recent past or recognizing the contributions of diverse cultures to our shared heritage, historic preservation commissions play a key role in saving historic places.  For more information go to FORUM 2016.


DesignAlabama Executive Director Talks about ConnectLivity as Part of the Alabama Arts Radio Series

In this program DesignAlabama Executive Director Gina Clifford talks to Cathy Gerachis DesignAlabama board member, Cheryl Morgan retired professor of architecture at Auburn University, and Jay Lamar Director of the Alabama Bicentennial Commission, about ConnectLivity.

ConnectLivity is a series of six regional design charrettes to take place across Alabama in 2016 in association with Southern Makers’ events.  Southern Makers is a curated group of artisans working in various fields such as fiber arts, food, wood crafts, fashion and other focus areas.

This special radio series will air every Tuesday at 9:00 to 9:30 P.M., on the Troy University Public Radio Network at:

  • 89.9 (Montgomery and Troy)
  • WRWA 88.7 (Dothan)
  • WTJB 91.7 (Columbus and Phenix   City)

This radio series may not be broadcast in your area, but it can be accessed via the Internet at: http://www.arts.alabama.gov/actc/radioserieslist.aspx

If you have been listening to, and enjoying this radio series, please send your comments to: barbara.reed@arts.alabama.gov


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