03 November 2016 - Todd Boyer
In October 2015, Priority Designs moved into their renovated 50,000 square foot headquarters on South Hamilton Road in the heart of Whitehall, Ohio. The space, designed collaboratively by WSA Studio and Priority Designs, is the transformation of an abandoned eyesore into a creative environment for designers, fabricators, and researchers.
The investment into 100 South Hamilton Road took a vision larger than the constraints of the city and a passion for creating a catalyst for commercial development in Whitehall. How can an abandoned car dealership play such a role? Our ability to shift the lens from a vacant, inoperable building to a platform reserving creativity at the forefront was critical in the development of the project.
Bill Swad Sr. built 100 South Hamilton Car Dealership to support his growing auto sales business. Later, it housed Ricart Collision Center until it was abandoned and used by the City of Whitehall for police and fire department training. In 2013 Priority Designs was growing out of their current home in Gahanna and was looking for a space that could accommodate their unique requirements: a design studio and a fabrication shop. Taking on a design challenge is at the foundation of Priority Design’s mission and they jumped at the opportunity to help Whitehall reinvigorate the East Side through design. This old building did not come without its own set of challenges.
Understanding how to manage needs vs. wants, where to embrace an existing structure and where to resist its tendencies, where to surgically link spaces and where to relieve space for a more flexible environment are the keys to an adaptive re-use project. Working within the context of an existing facility adds character, infuses life, and provides the brand story every corporation seeks. It’s the reason we were chosen to work collaboratively with Priority Designs and Whitehall for this project: WSA Studio is prone to recapturing the life of structures.
In standard car dealership design, there are four main programmatic functions. There’s the showroom, the light filled, new car scented place of dreams; the drive through, the spot for dropping off your car when reality hits and the dream flops; the service center for oil changes and tune ups; and the body shop where fender benders expensively disappear. That building program translates to a building typology you see across the country that still exists today. Our design utilizes these four distinct spaces to our advantage and strategically connects them to facilitate a transparent and efficient work flow supporting the process. The old showroom has become the conference center, a new place to showcase ideas. The drive thru bays have become light filled hubs of daily activity housing the reception, café, and gaming area. The service center and body shop has transformed the design center and fabrication center with project team and control rooms stitching the two together.
Spaces are deliberately applied to reflect Priority Design’s whimsical senses and showcase the work. Bold colors mixed with warm materials and family knick-knacks fill in the intentional blank space. Nothing is sacred and every surface or space is a research and testing opportunity to support new projects at an idea’s whim. The space is always evolving parallel to the firm and the required specialized equipment. As transformative as the space is, the design still reflects the original resolve. After an 18-month creative endeavor, an eyesore of the community turned into a state of the art design center that has hosted national conferences, created award winning designs, and has contributed to the community in a way Whitehall was severely lacking as a city. Priority Designs is just the beginning. Since construction, The City of Whitehall has secured 50 million dollars of proposed redevelopment neighboring this old car dealership turned focal point. By way of design that embraces context, Whitehall is reclaiming the future of their city on their terms.
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