Montgomery’s Kress Building Renovation Nearing Completion

Across America during the first half of the 20th century, S.H. Kress & Co. opened department stores that were grand and ornate. Downtown Montgomery’s Kress building is no exception. Built in the late 1920s, it’s the focal point of a dynamic new complex that combines office, retail and residential space.

Design of the $20 million project began in 2014 by Seay Seay & Litchfield in Montgomery. The residential addition on the fourth and fifth floors was completed in September and units are now renting. November is the expected completion date of the commercial portion of the job from the basement through the third floor, says Seay Seay & Litchfield architect Davis Campbell.

The existing portion of the Kress building is about 45,000 square feet, including the residential addition, and the mezzanine level addition and two adjacent buildings make the project a total of 115,000 square feet.

“The two adjacent buildings were necessary to incorporate into the Kress project to meet current life-safety code for egress purposes,” Campbell explains. “This enabled us to locate the stairwells and elevators in the adjacent buildings so as not to disturb the existing decorative main space and existing structure of Kress with those elements. This also allowed the circulation paths inside Kress to become sort of an interior street with commercial space on both sides.”

A primary goal was to retain as many defining elements as possible. These include two neo-classical columns and interior Art Deco decorative plaster pilasters, which Campbell says contain beautiful detail that continues up to the plaster ceiling and beam treatment, which was also restored. The original terrazzo floor on the first level was also preserved.

Brass elevator doors with exceptional Art Deco detail were restored, along with salvaged wooden floors on the original stock room floor, which is now the third floor. The second floor mezzanine level features heart pinewood flooring milled from salvaged wood from the nearby historic Webber building.

Curved glass windows on both the Dexter and Monroe entrances are new, but replicate the original curved windows. A large new canopy installed at the Dexter Avenue entry replicates the original awning that was removed from the building over 50 years ago.

“Any time you work with an existing building there are unforeseen challenges that arise, but this project was particularly difficult due to its size, scope and various occupancy types the owner desired – retail, restaurants, office and residential,” notes Campbell.
Asbestos had to be removed and other harmful aspects such as moisture that come with a building that sat dormant for 30 years. Other problems that needed solving: bringing aspects of the building up to current building code, ensuring required egress for life-safety, adding a ramp for proper ADA access from Monroe Street, which is 5 feet lower than the main entrance off Dexter Avenue.

Structural challenges include adding two floors above the existing structure, creating large openings in west brick façade to enhance the building’s natural light, as well as connect to the City’s Pocket Park project, and finding skilled craftsmen capable of replicating existing plaster details.

Adds Campbell: “One thing that remained a challenge throughout construction was that there probably wasn’t a single straight wall in the original building. When the Kress building was erected in 1929, they built up to the other buildings that surrounded it, so the exterior walls on the east and west sides sort of bow in and out as you go from the south end of the building to the north end. This meant the alignment of structural columns also bowed in and out and created many improvisational moments of design.”

Image 1: Sleek additions such as curving windows are in harmony with the original design of the early 20th century building. The existing Kress building had not a single straight wall, which made the renovation particularly challenging. 

Image 2: Kress buildings were known for ornate detailing and embellishments both inside and out. The building’s bronze doors with Art Deco detailing were left intact.

Image 3: This rendering shows what the outside of the Kress Building will do when it is complete.

Article Written By Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of Seay Seay Litchfield

DesignAlabama Partners with Opelika for its first DesignPlace

DesignAlabama has started a new program and the City of Opelika is its first participating city. Experts associated with DesignAlabama visit selected communities where they provide assistance with design, planning and community identity.

Design experts demonstrate how to enhance quality of life and community development when the design arts are applied. The program involves intensive meetings where design professionals meet with citizens and city leaders who share their ideas and concerns. Two meetings were held this summer in Opelika and a plan will be designed and implemented based on suggestions from the first meeting.

“We were very excited to work with DesignAlabama,” says Opelika City Planner Matt Mosley. “The City of Opelika was happy to see the early ideas and concepts from the charrette. I’m most interested to see the final concepts, especially in regard to the Pepperell Mill and Village and areas on the edges of downtown.”

On the National Register of Historic Places, the Pepperell Mill and Village is a site containing over 200 properties that were constructed between 1925 and 1940 by the Pepperell Manufacturing Company to provide housing for its Opelika textile mill workers. Downtown Opelika is also on the National Register.

The plan provided by DesignPlace will build on revitalization already in place in Opelika. Through the efforts of Opelika Main Street and other groups, much progress has been made to revitalize the city.

“The value of the DesignPlace program is immeasurable,” says Pam Powers-Smith, president of the Opelika Chamber of Commerce, an agency that is partnering with DesignAlabama on the new program.

“It’s almost like a dream to have that many experts visit and work with you on solutions to problems,” she adds. “In no other setting would you have access to those people all at one time. I thoroughly enjoyed their visit and how we worked together to get through the particular projects that we felt were best to tackle. And I can’t wait to see our end product, because then we have a working product in our hand that can be used when ready.”

Alabama communities that participated in the DesignAlabama Mayors Design Summit are eligible to apply. A committee of design professionals who direct the program make the final selections.

Image 1: One of the most important aspects of DesignPlace is community input, here the design team is participating in one of two community gatherings during their time in Opelika.

Images 2 and 3: Design professionals from many design fields spend time working together with each other and community leaders to create the best ideas for the community.

Image 4: A rendering produced during DesignPlace of the possible re-use of the Coors Building in downtown Opelika

Image 5: A rendering produced during DesignPlace of the possible re-use of the historic Pepperell Mill site. 

Article Written By Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of DesignAlabama and Robert Smith (FlipFlopFoto)

UAB Students Participate in 2017 Solar Decathlon

In order to survive and offer comfort sustainably, an Alabama house must be designed and built to withstand severe storms and offer relief in the hot, sticky climate in ways that conserve energy.

That’s exactly the type of house that students at the University of Alabama at Birmingham have entered in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2017 competition, held this year in Denver.

The creative drive behind Team Alabama’s surviv (AL), as the house is called, is the tornado super outbreak that devastated Birmingham and the surrounding area in 2011. The region’s vernacular architecture and cutting-edge sustainable technology combine to create a house that can survive a storm’s wrath while providing comfort in humid a climate.

Students wrapped the house in an energy-efficient envelope to manage heat and reduce energy needed to cool the indoor air. Also featured are a dehumidification system and a robotic cooler. The orientation and porches also guard against the heat.

A key feature is the composite and steel “strong room” constructed to withstand 250-mile winds. In addition, the design’s “quick permanence” enables the house to be rebuilt fast in the aftermath of a storm.

Other features that address both sustainability and storm protection include thick, double-stud, well-insulated walls, a solar collector to dehumidify indoor air and a heat-reflecting roof. And a wet wall in the middle of the house allows the shower to be used in either of the two bathrooms.

“Many students with different majors were involved in the design, but mostly civil engineering and mechanical engineering students,” explains team faculty advisor Hessam Taherian, an assistant professor in UAB’s School of Engineering. “For architectural design we relied on Williams and Blackstock Architects.”

During the construction phase, most work was done by UAB’s mechanical engineering students with help from UAB Facilities and UAB Sustainability. Students learned a lot by getting involved in the design, including structural calculations, mechanical equipment selection, PV system selection and installation, Taherian adds.

“It was a great practice in team work, and they also learned skills like carpentry, installing insulation, building decks and walls, so many other tasks. After the competition, the house will serve as a model house for energy efficiency in residential buildings and I will continue research on the topic.”

When the surviv (AL) house returns to campus, it will be rebuilt on UAB’s Sustainable Microgrid Demonstration Site.


Image 1: UAB is one of 12 collegiate teams chosen worldwide to participate in the 2017 U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon held in Denver this year. The competition challenges student teams to design and build full-size, solar-powered houses. This rendering shows the house designed by the team as it will look at completion. 

Image 2: Named surviv (AL), the house is designed for extreme weather conditions and provides a comfortable environment in the South’s warm climate. Among the many technologies built into the house is a safe room with panels made to withstand 250-mph winds. An open ceiling and clerestory windows increase daylight. 

Image 3: The target market for UAB’s Solar Decathlon prototype house is any mid-size family or group of people, or a young professional couple earning a combined income of $75,000 a year. Additionally, the house can be adapted for low-cost housing for the elderly and homeless.



Article By Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of UAB Solar Decathlon Team


New BJCTA Intermodal Station


Birmingham’s public transportation has been upgraded with the opening of the new Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority intermodal station.

Amtrak, Max, Greyhound and Megabus terminals are together in the facility that takes up three blocks along Morris Avenue in downtown Birmingham.  BJCTA administrative offices will operate out of the new complex, and there is space for a food service component and a police substation.

The new transit hub replaces the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority Central Station and Amtrak building

Riders at the old station complained about not being able to see buses from the waiting room. So, the new station has a long glass waiting room with the buses circulating around it and seats oriented outward. Riders can sit and watch the bus slip for their ride while sheltered by a huge overhanging roof, notes project architect Jamie Aycock of Giattina Aycock Architecture Studio in Bessemer.

“The intermodal complex is contemporary modern,” Aycock explains. “That’s not a style; it is a statement of being designed and built in the era in which we live and it strongly speaks to the function of housing the services and people who use it, while filling the need for a strong civic structure in the area.”

There is no ornamentation. Instead, everything in the complex speaks to the utilitarian aspect of the building. Materials are simple and in a neutral palate.

When viewed for the first time, what is most striking is a huge sheltering roof over the two-story intermodal station that soars out and overhangs the street in all directions, providing shelter from the elements as people load and unload, observes Aycock. It softens any glare on the glass, making a strong visual connection between interior and exterior, and allowing those outside to see the activity inside.


Article Written By Jessica Armstrong and Images of the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority intermodal station courtesy of Giattina Aycock Architecture Studio.

Landscape Architecture and Community


Landscape architecture encourages people to get out – to walk, to recreate, to dine outdoors, enjoy an outdoor concert, or simply take pleasure in a natural environment, notes landscape architect Joel Eliason, principal of Nimrod Long and Associates in Birmingham.

“Landscape architecture can and does affect the pace of our communities and our everyday lives,” he adds. “It creates spaces that encourage conversation and people watching. In the best examples, landscape architecture can help us break down the physical and cultural barriers we put up between ourselves and our communities.”

Eliason points to Birmingham as having a long and rich legacy of good landscape architecture. An example he cites is Vulcan Park, built in the 1930s under the WPA.

“We’ve been fortunate to work on Vulcan Park for many years. That legacy of community involvement continues and the work we’ve been part of is still very much a community effort. It’s an extraordinary history for any park and when you look at the range of uses at Vulcan – park, museum, concert venue, event space, walking trail, educational programs, weddings – you see the value and the potential that landscape architecture has in bringing people together.”

David Hill, Auburn University’s chair and associate professor of landscape architecture, says landscape architecture creates some of the most public spaces in our cities. People are not “locked out” of landscape architecture, unlike privatized buildings that require access to be mediated by someone, he observes.

“Of all the disciplines in the built environment, landscape architects work in the public realm,” Hill says. Landscape architecture’s role is holistic – creating exterior rooms where people gather is open and inclusive.

He identifies examples of community-driven landscape architecture. In Headland, a small town near Dothan is a town green where a parade route wraps around it and people gather for festivals and other events.

Hill previously worked for New York City-based D.I.R.T. Studio – a firm known for turning derelict industrial sites into vibrant public spaces. While there he managed a project that transformed a decommissioned U.S. Naval shipyard into the Urban Outfitters headquarters.

The $100 million project included redesigning a dry dock into a dog run, in keeping with the company’s “bring your dog to work” policy. It’s a fitting example of how corporations can use landscape architecture to create community for their workers.


-Article By Jessica Armstrong

-Images are student work under the direction of Professor David Hill at Auburn University and are courtesy of William Nix (1), Felipe Palacios (2) and Preston Frankstone (3)


Creating an Arts & Cultural District in Historic Montgomery


Plans are under way to revitalize a Montgomery historic district that played a critical role in the Civil Rights movement. The Five Points Cultural Commission is redeveloping the commercial corridor of the Five Points area into an Arts and Cultural District.

The goal is to turn Five Points into a vibrant community setting with art galleries, retail, restaurants and performing arts venues. The plan also includes streetscape and façade enhancement and business development.

“We fundamentally believe that low-income neighborhoods have the capacity to support small businesses in those neighborhoods,” says Chase Fisher, president of Five Points Cultural Commission, a nonprofit real estate development organization working to transform commercial corridors in low-income neighborhoods through resident-led creative place-making projects.

“We are working to demonstrate to the development community and to city leaders that developing commercial property in these areas is feasible, beneficial and sustainable.”

Architect Mike Snows of Chambliss King Architects of Montgomery is on the plan’s design team, along with Chambliss King’s intern architect Nicholas Henninger, who is leading the design.

“From a design perceptive, it is very contextual,” Snows explains. “We want to respect the district’s history and draw comparisons between the old and the new.”

He says the project consists of “a lot of little pieces and each have their own schedule.” Currently under renovation are three buildings that have been acquired by the Five Points Cultural Commission.

“Our goal is to create a place that unifies one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Montgomery through creating inclusive and inviting spaces,” Fisher adds. “Folks can follow our progress on instagram @fivepointsmgm.”


-Article By Jessica Armstrong

-Images Courtesy of The Five Points Cultural Commission and show the area as it is now and also proposed development.

Prattville’s Historic “gin shop” to Become Apartment Complex

Plans are under way to turn the historic Continental Eagle Corporation’s five cotton gin buildings in downtown Prattville into a 150-unit apartment complex called The Mill, designed by Chambliss King Architects of Montgomery. The collection of masonry buildings date from 1848 to 1899. In addition to apartments, the $20 million development will also include parking, public meeting space and a venue for special events. The project is under review for an historic tax credit by the National Park Service.

-Photos Courtesy of Chambliss King Architects

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.

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:

If you have been listening to, and enjoying this radio series, please send your comments to:

The Stockyard

Cohen Carnaggio Reynolds, recently completed The Stockyard at Railroad Park as an office space for Shannon Waltchak and Scout Branding. Located in Birmingham’s emerging Parkside District, the project included the resuse of multiple components and materials to complete an unique space. Materials used included shipping containers, discarded barn siding and reclaimed Birmingham street trees, which were milled and kiln dried on site. The outside wood and rusting siding help to remind passerbys of the industrial roots of the building. Additional interior graphics and a vine-covered steel trellis are the finishing touches for this inimitable office space.


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