Downtown Birmingham has a large inventory of older industrial buildings, thanks in large part to benign neglect. Many of these early buildings today are providing an ideal source for mixed-used redevelopment.
“The reason there are a lot of old buildings is that Birmingham was ground zero for the civil rights movement and when it heated up people left the downtown,” explains Michael Gibson, co-founder and CEO of Creature, a Birmingham-based architecture and construction firm. “No one was interested in investing in the downtown, so many buildings were left intact.”
While older buildings in such cities as Atlanta fell victim to the wrecking ball during urban renewal, a lack of interest in downtown Birmingham actually saved the city’s early buildings. These buildings are now protected through Birmingham’s Design Review Ordinance, notes Gibson, who led the design and construction of an adaptive reuse project that turned a three-story 1927 Birmingham warehouse building into residential, office and retail space.
The Denham Building, named for the architects, Denham, Van Keuren & Dunham, is located in the booming Parkside District and walking distance to walking distance to Regions Field, Rotary Trail, Railroad Park, UAB and other popular destinations. The roughly 100,000-square-foot building consists of heavily ordered concrete structural bays and steel factory windows that are iconic reminders of the neighborhood’s industrial history.
Keeping these original characteristics intact throughout the design and construction process was essential. The near floor-to-ceiling casement windows remain, along with the 14-foot ceilings and concrete floors. The front-loading dock was converted into a patio. The original 4-foot-wide cooler doors found new use as the residents’ front entries.
The building consists of 59 residential units which are available in several floorplans. Apartments can be further customized with such additions as accent walls, finishes and installations.
The adaptive reuse project received Part 3 approval of state and federal historic tax credits which required careful consideration given to how the windows were cataloged to be repaired or replaced in keeping with the original aesthetic. Part 3 of the application is submitted after the project is complete and verifies that the work was completed as intended. National Park Service approval of the Part 3 certifies that the project meets the standards and is a “certified rehabilitation.”
Adaptive reuse projects present a space-planning challenge and the Denham Building was no exception. The 120-foot-wide building footprint was suitable for a warehouse, but not apartment layouts. The span was too wide for a double loaded corridor, but too narrow for a lightwell carved in the center. The solution was a row of small double height “pop-up” dwellings in the center of the building that open onto a new third-story space.
This lofted space gathers southern light and offers views toward Red Mountain, while maintaining a setback to preserve the original building profile. The ground floor was designed to maximize usable area for future retail, restaurant, and office use. A third level was added that features a glassed-in restaurant space with expansive downtown views. Amenities include on-site restaurants, a brewpub, rooftop dining, a media room, outdoor grilling areas, fitness center, a dog walk and off-street parking.
Article Written by Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of Chris Luker @lukerphtography on Instagram