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


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.

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.

The Gulf, Orange Beach

The Gulf, a new restaurant/bar overlooking the Perdido Bay inlet at Orange Beach, has a decidedly kicked-back look. Incorporated into its design are four steel shipping containers – used to make the whole place easy to move“Shipping containers have been trendy in the design community for about 10 years,” says architect Courtney Brett of Casburn Brett Architecture in Daphne. “But portability was the key factor here. This site has a master plan for a larger public/private boardwalk and permanent restaurant that hinges on a future renovated seawall, so this might or might not stay. But people like the improvised look. We call it a food truck on steroids,” she adds.

Contrary to expectations, there was no cost advantage to using containers. “If you modified them in a shop, there might be. But working on site took extraordinary craftsmanship by the welders having to make straight cuts while blocking the wind,”Brett says. One container holds the kitchen, a second was cut open for an open-air vestibule, a third for a combined walk-in cooler and open bar and a fourth for enclosed seating on a second level.

Brett points out two key aspects of working with containers: One, they can be hot – especially at the beach – so air-flow and reflective exterior finishes are essential. Two, you can’t treat them like a block of wood – the structure at the corners andedges must be maintained for strength.


Brick & Tin

It took creative problem solving and imaginative design to convert a dermatology
practice into Brick & Tin, a popular neighborhood restaurant, bar and bakery in
Mountain Brook Village. Owners Mauricio and Susan Papapietro enlisted the design/
build collaborative of Birmingham-based Appleseed Workshop and KDag Designs to
renovate the former medical office that’s now Brick & Tin’s second location. Appleseed’s
director of architecture, Kyle D’Agostino, transformed the 2,650-square-foot space into
an inviting eatery that won a 2014 AIA Birmingham Commercial Design Award.

Not only was the building itself repurposed but also materials including the reclaimed oak bar and pressed tin tiles removed from a building near the original Brick & Tin in downtown Birmingham. Mauricio notes that the tiles are a visual reminder of the name and complement the wooden-beamed ceiling and reclaimed-wood farm tables.Discovering a load-bearing brick wall was an unwelcomed surprise. However, Kyle’s wife, interior designer Kathy D’Agostino of KDag Designs, thought of using the wall to enclose the bakery and make it a retail/pickup area. An archway cut out of the white-painted brick creates a passage from the bakery to the main dining room and bar.

The overall result is a destination where patrons enjoy seasonal, often locally sourced food
and drink in extraordinary surroundings, a place Kyle calls “a perfect melding of design,
gastronomy and the owners’ spirit.”

Literacy Council of Central Alabama

When a three-alarm fire and flood destroyed the Literacy Council of Central
Alabama’s downtown Birmingham location last May, a plan was quickly in
place to rebuild bigger and better.

Renovation enabled the council to double its adult education programs and with a limited budget did so in just 12 weeks, a feat Literacy Council President and Executive Director Beth Wilder calls “impressive.”
“It was an honor to work with the entire project team to take an unfortunate set of circumstances
and transform it into a restored and improved environment for such a meaningful
organization,” says Brasfield & Gorrie Division Manager Robby Hayes, the project’s
general contractor. Goodwyn, Mills & Cawood handled the architectural services.

The council operates in a 1909 four-story warehouse building once home to Liberty Overall
Co. Formerly parceled into small rooms, their office now has a more functional and visually
pleasing open floor plan. Characteristics of the original loft were left intact including the
ceiling’s exposed ductwork and brick walls showing a century of wear. Glass-enclosed
rooms keep the open floor plan unencumbered. Located on ground level, the sweeping
layout creates a welcoming view from the street.

“We were able to replace tiny, crowded office spaces and rooms with an open floor plan
and to include a computer lab,” explains GMC’s director of healthcare, Steve Alby. “In the
end the destruction of the Literacy Council’s original office, while devastating, provided a
tremendous opportunity for GMC to design a space that the organization could be proud
to call home.”

Cohen Presented with Birmingham Accolade Award

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The American Institute of Architects, Birmingham Chapter (AIA Birmingham), is pleased to announce that the winner of the 2015 Birmingham Accolade Award is Tammy Cohen, AIA, of Cohen Carnaggio Reynolds. The award was recognized at AIA Birmingham’s annual Design Awards Gala at the Kress Building on August 20.

The AIA Birmingham Accolade Award is the highest honor the Chapter can bestow on one of its members. The award, established in 2006, indicates peer recognition of exemplary achievement or service to the Chapter, the profession, or society.

Cohen’s architecture career spans 26 years in Birmingham, with 19 years at the helm of Cohen Carnaggio Reynolds, one of the city’s highly regarded design firms. Her diverse and skillful design work is undergirded by a strong dedication to the further invigoration of rich urban environments, first in downtown Birmingham, but also notably in Woodlawn, Homewood and beyond. Some of her most prominent projects include historic preservation work at City Federal, the campus of Integrated Medical Systems and the Third Avenue South Mixed-Use Development, which is currently under construction.

In addition to her prolific architectural and urban design work, Cohen has invested deeply in the Birmingham community through service, participation and leadership with groups such as Kiwanis Club, the Urban Land Institute, Birmingham’s Design Review Board, the American Institute of Architects in Birmingham and many others.


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