Design for Innovation


20 October 2016 - Tim Hawk

At WSA Studio, we practice in the great Midwestern city, Columbus. Located at the confluence of the Olentangy and Scioto Rivers, Columbus is positioned at the geographic transition from the rolling hills of the Appalachian plateau to the east and the great American prairie to the west. The city is the capital of Ohio, home to the largest population of college students in the United States, and a thriving center of research, commerce, and service. So, in many ways, the city has always been “in between” and has suffered from an identity crisis. Is Columbus just a large college town or is it an outpost for the state government? Are there really businesses and manufacturers in Columbus, or is the city a statewide governmental center serving its traditionally larger siblings Cleveland to the north and Cincinnati to the south? The city is too big to be small; too small to be big.

To be sure, Columbus did have its heyday. In the late 19th and early 20th century, the city was exploding as the region blossomed. Ohio was a leader in the manufacturing sector, especially in steel production and processing, oil and gas, and coal mining. Many of the early companies that were established in Columbus supported these industries. The industry was not in Columbus as much as makers who supported industry set up shop in Columbus’ neutral territory. During this explosion, many of the buildings that were developed were designed in the Beaux Arts style that was popular at the time. Refined Federal Style and Classical Revival where the tools of the outstanding architects of that time. But to be fair, Columbus did not develop a robust collection of civic infrastructure. There are gems among the mix, with the Ohio Theatre, the LeVeque Tower, the Columbus Art Museum, and a collection of buildings on Ohio State’s campus standing out. But, when compared to the monumentality of buildings in Cleveland and Cincinnati, the historic stock of Columbus pales.

Meanwhile, the combined influence of governance and higher education in Columbus was planting seeds that later blossomed into white collar, service sector jobs. And, if you have read Richard Florida’s The Rise of the Creative Class, you may be able to see a corollary to late 20th century and early 21st century job growth in Columbus. The new growth is being fueled by job opportunities in the creative industries. There are more architects, graphic designers, fashion designers, industrial designers, interior designers, and artists in Central Ohio than in any other major city in the Midwest. Cbus is exploding. The city is a Midwestern success story. Since I relocated to Columbus in 1993, the city has added a few hundred thousand residents, and the region has added half a million. The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission has published a report which predicts a doubling of the city between now and 2050. And with this growth, there is, of course, a huge demand for new construction, and owners and developers have responded with a collection of “new” buildings fit for twenty-first century living, work, and recreation. Interestingly, most clients have turned their backs on the existing building stock in Columbus since it is relatively modest. Conversely, at WSA Studio, we see potential. Our architects see great opportunity in almost any historic structure (even mid-century relics) and know that the patina of the building will complement the new use. We call this type of work “adaptive re-use” and we have come to specialize in this messy project type.

We seek to Re-claim Columbus. We want to promote renewal of the urban core. We see the potential and strive to capture any opportunity that we can get to bring these relics back to life.

Follow us as we share our experiences in this pursuit. We know you will enjoy the journey as much as we did.


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