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Design Digest: TRIAD Architects

Brent Warren Brent Warren Design Digest: TRIAD ArchitectsAll photos provided by Triad Architects.
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Local firm TRIAD Architects has worked to adapt to the ever-changing economic climate by diversifying; their portfolio includes work on Abercrombie & Fitch stores, a number of new projects in Franklinton, and the Yankee on High project across from the Convention Center.

We recently reached out to principal Brent Foley – as part of our ongoing Design Digest series – to find out more about the history, work and philosophy behind TRIAD. He also shared his thoughts about the growing design community in Columbus, what the future might hold for Franklinton, and the challenges of making a multi-tenant, mixed-use project work in a historic building.

Q: Can you tell us a little about the history of your firm?

A: TRIAD started around the turn of the century, meaning Y2K. ☺ In the early years we were focused heavily in Education, Library, University and other public markets. Since the first recession after September 11th and then the bigger recession in 2008, we have become more and more diverse and accomplished in other markets out of necessity. I tell people that we don’t do giant hospitals and we don’t do a lot of single family residential, but we do everything in between. The reality is that we can do any type of project. There is a process to architecture that leads to successful projects. We are experts in that process. Therefore, we are experts in all types of buildings.

TRIAD’s leadership is made up of three managing principals: myself, Bob Gibson and Zach Price.

Bob has been in the industry for over 30 years and has been with TRIAD since the very beginning, gaining more and more ownership over time. Bob is a very accomplished and technically proficient Architect and brings a wealth of expertise to the firm. He heads up the project side of TRIAD.

Zach is the son of one of the founding owners. So, his experience with architecture started while doing takeoffs on the dining room table when he was a kid for one of his dad’s previous firms. Interning with TRIAD from time to time in college, Zach made it out to Seattle working for one of the largest Architecture firms in the world. From there he moved into the owner’s rep field acting as owner’s rep for investment banks that were purchasing or building new skyscrapers. Zach has always had a keen aptitude for finance and he is in charge of this part of the firm.

I started with TRIAD as a high school intern. I went to school with Zach’s younger brother and his dad was nice enough to give me an opportunity to work for TRIAD over the summer. I then went to school at The University of Cincinnati and was able to co-op in Boston, Manhattan and northern New Jersey. When Zach’s dad found out I had graduated, he offered me a job. I trained under Bob and went from a high school intern to part-owner of the company in 11 years. Zach and I became part-owners at the same time in 2009. I lead the business development efforts of the firm.

Although we each are responsible for a different part of the firm, we all get involved with multiple aspects of the day to day operations and the different projects.

Q: TRIAD has been involved in a number of updates to historic buildings (like the Yankee Trader building), what’s your approach to these types of projects?

A: Historic renovations pose a lot of unique challenges, from both an aesthetic and technical point of view. As architects, we of course live for figuring out these types of puzzles. At TRIAD, we subscribe to the idea that each project requires an approach that is unique to the circumstances of the project. Since you asked specifically about Yankee on High, I will elaborate on our approach to this project.

Programmatically, we were striving to do a true mixed use project due to the location of the building. We were able to accomplish this for Yankee on High with a retail/hospitality component in the basement (The Secret Cellar and The North Room), a restaurant use on the first floor (Bareburger), a bar and office on the second floor (Denmark and TRIAD) and 11 apartments on the 3rd, 4th and 5th floors. We think buildings with a mix of uses are integral to the sustainable development of downtown Columbus.

Bareburger restaurant. Photo provided by Triad Architects.

Bareburger restaurant. Photo provided by TRIAD Architects.

Aesthetics can be very fun in these types of buildings. At Yankee on High, there were many components of the existing structure that had wonderful character that we wanted to highlight; like the historic stairs, original wood floors and the old Yankee Trader sign. However, we wanted to make sure that the apartments and common areas had modern, clean lines. We did not want to fall into the cliché of making all the interiors “industrial” with exposed duct work, etc. just because the building was old. This might make sense for some buildings, but we did not think it was appropriate in this instance. The original building was never an industrial use and the neighborhood is not an industrial neighborhood. Each commercial tenant, of course, took on a unique look distinct to their brand.

The technical challenges for this type of building are a place where we shine as well. We worked closely with the city from early stages to make sure that we were on the same page about things like fire separation, emergency egress, etc. These types of issues would already be sticky enough for an existing, multistory, urban building with such a mix of uses, but the historic nature of the building made things even trickier. We had to satisfy the Downtown Commission, Historic Resource Commission, Zoning Department, Right of Way Department and the Building Department requirements, each of which have a different set of priorities. On top of that, we were going for state and federal historic tax credits. So, we also had to satisfy the requirements of the preservation office. In the end, we were able to balance all of their unique perspectives and get all the necessary approvals.

Q: You’ve worked on the new Idea Foundry space as well as the Beacon Hall Harmony project in Franklinton – what are your thoughts on the neighborhood and how it might develop from a design and architecture perspective?

A: I love Franklinton! Before we go into thoughts on the design and architectural future of Franklinton, I have to send some love to the people we have been fortunate enough to work with there.

Jim Sweeney and the gang over at Franklinton Development Association have been working tirelessly to direct the future of Franklinton in a positive way for a long time. It’s very exciting to see all their hard work start to pay off as the development of the neighborhood is gaining steam.

Alex Bandar is the smartest, hardest working… and silliest man I know (in a very fun way!). He has made the first phase of the Columbus Idea Foundry project amazingly enjoyable. The Columbus Idea Foundry’s unique brand of business is exactly what is cool about Franklinton… a place where science, technology and hand-crafting meet. We are excited to continue with helping in their vision to make the largest maker space in the world.

David Brown and the Harmony Project are a true inspiration. A big part of TRIAD is about giving back to the communities we serve. Nobody I know has a better handle on the power of philanthropy than the Harmony Project. The Harmony Project had a profound personal impact on me volunteering for the One Week, One Neighborhood project in Franklinton. We are in the very early stage of figuring out what Beacon Hall can be and it is amazingly exciting to be a part of that.

Beacon Hall. Rendering provided by Triad Architects.

Beacon Hall. Rendering provided by TRIAD Architects.

I should also give a big thanks to Blake Compton and Denis de Verteuil of Compton Construction who introduced us to this whole group in the first place. And to Jay Panzer of Facility Strategies Limited whose wisdom has helped to successfully guide the projects. Finally, the mayor’s office, of course, deserves major credit for being a champion for these projects and Franklinton in general.

From a planning standpoint, Franklinton is pretty interesting. There are several existing boundaries that pose some challenges for connectivity. First, there is the peninsula, bound by the river on the east and the railroad on the west. The new bridges do a good job of connecting this area to downtown. As far as built environment in this area goes, there are literally three buildings in this area: Vets, COSI and the police station. The peninsula is a bit of a blank canvas and I think will evolve to be the transition from downtown to Franklinton. There are, of course, already several large projects that have been announced in this area (the vets redesign and the zoo satellite site) and I imagine this will probably be tackled by one or two large developers. I am excited that there will be several new things to build on what COSI has already started here.

Then there is East Franklinton, the area from 315 on the West to the railroad tracks on the west. This is the area that TRIAD has had the opportunity to work in so far, and probably the area I’m most familiar with. From a connectivity standpoint, I would love to see some kind of pedestrian link between the Whittier Peninsula on the east side of the river and Dodge Park on the west side of the river. Something similar on the northern part that connected to The Arena District would also be cool. It’s too bad that the railroad lines are still active. Something like the High Line in Manhattan here would be way cool… or if we were to build something new, maybe something like the Python Bridge in Amsterdam!

From a building standpoint, there is a ton of potential. East Franklinton has a very cool, almost gritty character. With 400 West Rich, The Columbus Idea Foundry, etc. settling in this area, it’s obvious that this is a draw for the creative community. So it will be cool to see how those buildings are re-tooled. However, I think the density in East Franklinton needs to be increased (as reflected in the East Franklinton Development Plan). It will be fun to see how the design community in Columbus works to fill the neighborhood out. The challenge is not to destroy the character that drew the creative community there in the first place, but also work to further develop a sense of place.

West Franklinton, from 315 to the Hilltop has a whole different set of challenges. There is a larger community of residents that already live in this area, a much larger residential component than East Franklinton. I think (and hope) that urban planners and architects have learned from the mistakes of “urban renewal.” So I’m excited to see how the talent of Columbus is able to tackle redevelopment in an area that has an existing residential component. How do you develop this in a way that does not displace the hardworking community that is already there? I’m sure Franklinton Development Association will continue to make sure that this is a part of the development dialogue here.

Q: Do you think Columbus is on the right track in terms of supporting innovative design?

A: I always thought, like many architecture students, I would end up in San Francisco or New York or somewhere “cool,” not my home town, Columbus. Architecture school exposed me to the bigger world and I wanted to be a part of that. Nonetheless, circumstances were such that I ended up back here and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Over the last few years I have come to realize two things. First, Columbus is pretty cool. Second, I have the opportunity to help make it something even cooler.

Academic Enrichment Center. Photo provided by Triad Architects.

Academic Enrichment Center. Photo provided by TRIAD Architects.

Columbus doesn’t have mountains or a coast line, things that are an immediate draw. But we do have a few things going for us. First, we have the benefit of a Midwestern sensibility. We are hard working, ethical and friendly people.

Also, we have an established, diverse, local economy but we are not saddled with labels like “rust belt” or “bread basket.” I see the economy in Columbus like a painting. We are not a blank canvas. So we are not starting from scratch. We are the state capital, we have a huge university, we have large job-producing businesses… all this forms a kind of undercoating for the painting we are creating. However, it’s obvious we are not complete and we have room to grow. We are creating a ton of local businesses that are creating accents on the painting. The types of local business we are creating speak to the increased quality of life we are creating; ice cream, breweries, distilleries, artists’ studios and galleries, etc., etc. We are filling in the details beyond the bare necessities.

So, you asked me about innovative design, and I went on and on about how cool Columbus is. There is a reason for this. At TRIAD, we don’t subscribe to the notion that innovative design in a community is supported by some grandfatherly patron who tells us to go off and make cool things. Innovative design in a community grows out of the struggles and successes of that community’s growth and change. This context provides architects and designers with clients who are looking for innovation.

Columbus is in a bit of a renaissance time in that regard right now. We are re-investing in the urban core in places like Franklinton, Old Town East, etc. We are re-envisioning public transit with the CoGo Bike Share and Car2Go programs. Several of our large public institutions, like the libraries, are working hard to update their facilities to accommodate an ever-changing world. Our outer belt communities are working hard to figure out how to support a strong, local-based economy and not only rely on the corporate model. It’s a fun time to be a designer in Columbus, working to understand the zeitgeist… I’m an architect, I had to throw a big fancy word in there at the end!

Westerville North High School Land Lab. Photo provided by Triad Architects.

Westerville North High School Land Lab. Photo provided by TRIAD Architects.

Q: Anything else we should know about TRIAD?

A: There is more to TRIAD than just architecture and design. Besides TRIAD Architects, we have a second company called TRIAD Facility Solutions (TFS for short). TFS grew out of a specific need we were hearing from our clients. We manage ongoing capital improvements for several large clients. This means we were doing long term budgeting/planning for clients that had a lot of buildings. As the individual projects from this planning came up we would handle the architectural, design and project management of those projects. However, the construction would be handled by others.

One of our clients asked us why we couldn’t just handle the construction part as well. This would, of course, result in higher efficiency and economies of scale. So, we said “why not?” and TFS was born. TFS is basically a turnkey company that can handle all aspects of a construction project from initial planning, to design, to construction to facility/property management. You can learn more about this second TRIAD company on our new website.

Yankee on High apartment unit. Photo provided by Triad Architects.

Yankee on High apartment unit. Photo provided by Triad Architects.

Additionally, several of TRIAD’s owners have also been developers/investors in commercial development, most recently the Yankee on High project. This not only gives us the ability, in some instance, to create our own projects, it gives us a unique skill set and perspective that puts us more in touch with our other clients’ needs. Really, at TRIAD, we are entrepreneurs, somewhat out of necessity in what has been a difficult economy. However, I just think it’s in our blood.

Lastly, you and your readers should know that TRIAD cares. We care about our clients and become deeply ingrained in their culture, mission and vision. We care about the communities we live and work in and strive to give back to and serve them. And we care about the world and striving to make sure that all people not only have their basic human needs met but have a good quality of life. Bob, Zach and I are all members of Rotary. We take the motto of “service above self” very seriously. We want to be a part of making the world a better place for all.

Because of this, we strive to always try and do the right thing. Sometimes, the right thing is not the popular thing. We once had a client we were interviewing with tell us that he had heard we were rebels. When we asked him what he meant, he told us that a previous client had told him how we had fought to overturn a standard that would have required demolition to their historic school, a school that was a centerpiece of their community. If doing the right thing makes us rebels, we’re OK with that!

More information can be found online at www.triadarchitects.com.

CLICK HERE to read more from our Design Digest series.

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