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Design Digest: WSA Studio

Brent Warren Brent Warren Design Digest: WSA Studio
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WSA Studio has a large and diverse portfolio that includes such high-profile buildings as Knowlton Hall at OSU, The Jack, the Dublin Performing Arts Center, Buggyworks Lofts and the Seneca Hotel, as well as many churches, community pools and residential projects.

Principal Timothy Hawk spoke with Columbus Underground about the common threads that run through the firm’s work, his thoughts on local businesses choosing non-local architects, and his hope that architecture can help shape a national image for Columbus.

Q: Can you tell us a little about the history of WSA Studio?

A: WSA Studio will celebrate its forty-third year in December. The firm was founded by Bob Wandel and Tom Schnell, OSU classmates who decided that they wanted engage in a practice that is more collaborative. The firm has been responsible for more buildings in Columbus than I can count, and people are often shocked by the body of work and its impact when considered in total.

In 2005, the firm was awarded the Gold Medal by the American Institute of Architects, one of only a handful of firms in the state to receive such an honor. WSA Studio is now fully transitioned to a second generation of leaders including myself as the directing Principal and Frank Weaver and Todd Boyer serve as Studio Leads.

Q: WSA has been involved with a variety of projects, from academic buildings to work spaces to churches. Would you say you have an overall philosophy that applies to all of your work?

A: We are design collaborators. At the foundation of our firm is a genuine respect for all of the participants in any project, and we know that the contributions of the owner, the contractor and specialty consultants will serve to enrich the design process. We were early adopters of integrated design, where early engagement of construction professionals can help to increase the quality of the built solution.

We are also driven by the context of the particular design situation. We respect a client’s budget; we know that we can design well, even for clients who may have limited funds. And, we strive to make each project memorable. We try to use restraint in our design approach, knowing that the work that we do needs to feel fresh for many years. We win awards for our design work, but often the most rewarding experience involves simplifying a challenge for one of our clients and harnessing design to improve their daily experience.

Q: In terms of architecture and the built environment, how do you think Columbus has changed in the years you’ve been working here?

A: I relocated to Columbus in 1993 from Chicago, and selected this city because of WSA Studio and the types of clients that are located in Columbus. I have always respected the Columbus patron’s interest in design innovation. Many leaders in Columbus use design to increase their effectiveness, and this is unique to Columbus. In those early years, I had the fortune to work with entrepreneurial clients and we all learned lessons together. My friends in Chicago were busy selecting finishes, and I was working with entrepreneurs who were experimenting with trends in workplace design as a means to attract the highest quality talent.

Since our city has grown, I do notice a shift towards an interest in the avant-garde, and a perception that Columbus architects are not able to provide innovative solutions. I don’t know if the market demands are fueling this, or if our flattened world has made it easier to engage professionals from around the country. Regardless, our firm is finding more often than not that we must engage an international or national expert in order to participate in work at the highest level…and the significant contributions by our local design community have not translated into commissions once the patron’s success is achieved.

Q: Do you see good things happening in the next 20 years? From a design and architecture perspective, do you think Columbus is on the right track?

A: I believe that we are beginning a journey to discover out what is true to Columbus, architecturally. When you think of other major cities in the U.S., like Chicago, New York and San Francisco, it is easy to get a visual image of their architecture in your mind; think Art Deco towers in NY, modern skyscrapers in Chicago and the Painted Ladies of San Francisco. But what does one associate with Columbus? By 2033, I know that we will have an image.

I am very impressed with the increasing density of our urban core and the tremendous transformation of our urban neighborhoods like the Short North, German Village and Old Town East. But, we really need to begin to focus on who we are as a city and clarify this image through our architecture. I would love to see our leaders participate in a design summit where we openly discuss our fabric and share thoughts related to what makes Columbus a unique and thriving physical community. Once we are able to coalesce this conceptually, I will have more confidence that we will earn a stronger national presence.

Q: Are there any exciting new projects that you’re currently working on, or looking forward to in the near future?

A: We are currently working with several innovative companies which are new to Columbus, and we are excited about how each client has worked with us to help to establish an extension of their corporate brand as a part of their project. Over the past year, we have designed a new distribution center for Stella & Dot, a prototype for a division of the business and technology consulting group Pillar (The Forge) at the Smith Brother’s Hardware Building, and we are currently in the process of creating a new Center of Excellence for Persistent Systems, an international technology company locating in Dublin. There is a lot of excitement at our firm, and we are very optimistic about the new players in town. We have enjoyed the opportunity to help with their transitions to Columbus.

In addition to our corporate work, we are collaborating with two other local architecture firms and Columbus City Schools on the design of a 21st century educational building to replace the Africentric PreK-12 Early College on the city’s east side, we have several church renovations in progress and we continue to work on evolving workplaces for corporate clients throughout Central Ohio.

Q: Anything else we should know about WSA Studio?

A: We all love Columbus Underground…and truly look forward to the interesting perspectives and stories that come directly to our desktops each day. Thank you for your significant contribution to our knowledge resource base!

More information on WSA Studio can be found at www.wsastudio.com.

From September 23rd to September 29th, Columbus Underground is Celebrating Design Week, brought to you by the Hamilton Parker Company. With a 15,000 square foot showroom located just outside Downtown at 1865 Leonard Ave, the Hamilton Parker Company has been your go-to local resource for home and business improvement projects of all sizes and budgets. Find out more at www.hamiltonparker.com.

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