Lexington’s downtown revitalization is making for an exciting time to be an architect. Just ask the nine-person architectural firm Alt32, all of whom are design professionals.
One of the adaptive reuse projects they’re working on is for Transylvania University, turning a former industrial facility into the school’s field house for field hockey, lacrosse, soccer and track, with an expected opening this fall.
“Transy has a good track record of doing good projects in our community,” said Michael Sparkman, co-owner of Alt-32.
The university is purchasing other vacant, derelict properties down Fourth Street, in line with its acquisition of a warehouse on Third Street, which became the campus bookstore.
“It was brilliant,” Sparkman said of the 2012 bookstore project. “It made an immediate improvement to the entire block, which helped spur Linda Carroll and John Morgan, Tim Mellin [Doodles restaurant] and all those people to invest.”
Carroll and Morgan are owners of Morgan Worldwide Consultants. For their office space on East Third Street, Alt32 is renovating an abandoned circa-1800s residence.
“It’s bringing back a building that had been pretty much lost,” said Darren Taylor, Alt32’s project manager and vice president of business development. He has a master’s degree in architecture and historic preservation and volunteers at the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation.
“We’re community members — not by having an office here and living here, but by getting involved, volunteering, knowing what’s happening and helping in any way we can,” Taylor said. He has a particular interest in creating contemporary additions to historic properties. He and Sparkman have high praise for the city’s Board of Architectural Review.
“It’s a great process, one we like working with,” Taylor said.
“They’re protecting the quality of the historic fabric of the city,” Sparkman added.
Whether contemporary or historical — or both — good design is great. Good design that’s relevant is even better. But the best thing Alt32 brings to the table is problem-solving.
In designing the Harlan Independent Humanities Building, in Harlan, Ky., Alt32 architects knew that band members spend an inordinate amount of time going into the instrument closet, one or two students at a time, to grab an instrument. So the architects lined the perimeter of the space with instrument closets.
“They became acoustic buffers to the room themselves,” said Matthew Brooks, co-owner of Alt32. “Pushing storage out to the perimeter walls increased teaching time.”
When a tornado hit Salyersville on March 2 last year, the Magoffin County school superintendent called Alt32’s Sparkman the next day.
“As soon as he called, I knew what the problem was,” Sparkman said.
About 40 percent of the academic buildings had been destroyed and were unable to be occupied.
“He needed an architect and an engineer to come down and evaluate and give them direction,” Sparkman said. “I went down that day. It was a mess.”
The architectural firm organized a supply drive in the office to help out folks in Magoffin County, as the entire community got hit hard. Professionally, Sparkman and Alt32 knew the paperwork process and the players at the table, as well as the history and values of the district. They were able to provide advice to the superintendent and school board members. Because it was a state of emergency, Alt32 could have been awarded the design project directly, but the firm insisted on a public bid.
“We wanted local labor in Kentucky to benefit from construction,” Sparkman said. The insurance carrier got to see competitive bidding, and it took just an extra 30 days to make it happen. Alt32 was able to get Magoffin County High School on line over the summer, putting steel in the masonry to stabilize the building.
“We do architecture because that’s what we’re trained to do,” Sparkman said. “But it’s more about helping the community. We can do schools all day, but fighting for their interests is really what we’re interested in. That’s what makes us feel good: to see kids going back to school.”
“It’s bigger than us,” he said. “That’s why we’re proud of the project.”
“I call it turning the office inside out: taking the core of what we do and sharing it with the community,” said Alt32’s Taylor. “It’s not just all about computers and T-squares. It’s about human engagement and interaction.”
Formerly employees with Lucas/Schwering Architects, Brooks and Sparkman acquired ownership of that firm in July 2008. They still occupy the same space on Old Vine Street. Anticipating a name change from the beginning, the owners were in no hurry to order new business cards.
“We knew it had to be something contemporary, something progressive,” Sparkman said. “The name needed to be synonymous with the practice.”
He and Brooks also wanted a short and novel URL.
Opening up the name game to the staff produced a winner in June 2012, and ASCII code fans recognize it too. Alt32 is the keyboard shortcut for “space.”
Kathie Stamps posts grammar tips at www.facebook.com/GrammarTips.