Design for Innovation


28 December 2016 - Tim Hawk

If you are American, one is indoctrinated into an understanding as you grow up. There is a “better” place. It’s called New York. New York is all that is sophisticated. It represents the melting pot of our nation, a place where many of our ancestors entered the country as immigrants. At the same time, New York represents the top tier of industrial, commercial, artistic, and social culture. As Sinatra said “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere; It’s up to you, New York, New York.” As a nation, we look to New York to set the pace for fashion, design, and glamour and its residents set the pace for all that is elegant. As we look around, we realize that our popular cultural understanding often references New York as the center of American culture. My childhood was filled with movies filmed which reinforced premise.  Some of the more famous include Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), Barefoot in the Park (1966), Love Story (1970), The Godfather (1972), The Way We Were (1973), Saturday Night Fever (1977), Tootsie (1982), Moonstruck (1987), Big (1988), and Working Girl (1988). Well, at least this is my list. The actual list contributes to a significant wiki presence on the web. Regardless, it is hard to deny that New York is a cultural juggernaut.

So, given this proclivity for all things New York City, why doesn’t their approach to design proliferate the Midwest and places south, north, and west? If we look to New York for cultural reference, why don’t our buildings in Columbus model those in New York City? One word: convenience. In the middle of the country, land is not at a premium, and accommodation of convenience often drives design. In New York City, residents are offered a small flat and select a few simple pieces to contribute to the décor. Their places of work are dense, and their public spaces often overlap adjacent amenities. Real estate focuses on the smart use of small space, which leads to a subtle sophistication that is hard to achieve without restraint.  New York’s density drives sophisticated restraint, simply because they don’t have the area to expand. Conversely, out here in the middle, we desire our every need to be accommodated, and many of the wealthiest live in sprawling compounds with room upon room dedicated to singular uses. People don’t think twice of living in 3,000 to 4,000 SF and a 1,250 SF single family house is considered tiny. The whole vocabulary has contributed to urban sprawl. We need more and more land to build our accommodating houses and keep moving further from our jobs to feed the need to match our desire with larger land parcels. 

Interestingly, thirty to forty years ago, a small group of individuals made a conscious decision to prioritize community over size here in Columbus. Since the 1970’s, a variety of urban neighborhoods have been re-developed, improved, and have proven that one can achieve a fulfilled life living close to their job in the center of the city. German Village, a tight knit enclave of turn-of-the-century brick cottages on the city’s south end, is recognized as the largest historic district in America. Successful developments in German Village have spurred the transformation of historic neighborhoods such as Victorian Village, Italian Village, and Clintonville, and new urban neighborhoods have blossomed to fuel the drive for urban living in Columbus. Successful contributors to this development have taken their cues from New York. Smaller, smarter, and more elegant, these developments are driving an alternative viewpoint that is rich in quality detail.

From 2003 through 2005, our firm partnered with Kyle Katz, a local visionary and developer, to design and oversee the transformation of an historic factory into New York style loft apartments. The development is called the Buggyworks and is situated just west of an emerging neighborhood called the Arena District. Each unit uses every square inch with precise clarity. The design of the units eschews doors and walls which separate. In fact, in most units, the only door is to provide privacy for the bathroom, and this door is in a pocket. Open, transparent use of the space is championed and the condominiums offer great flexibility. The kitchen millwork package, the bathroom fixtures, and the various details in each unit were carefully selected and capture a high level of quality and detail that matches the quality needs of an urban dweller.  Our team captured and celebrated as much of the original integrity of the building as possible. The exterior brick walls are exposed. The beautiful heavy timber structural framing becomes the ceiling. Large industrial window openings are maintained and bathe the units in natural light. The units are relatively small for Columbus, and when the size is combined with the raw nature of the design, the units encapsulate a chic sophistication often found only in New York lofts.

Consumers loved the units. They sold like hotcakes, and over time, the units have maintained or appreciated in value for resale, while other contemporary developments (patterned on a suburban model) have floundered a bit. The lesson is clear. The combination of historic building, open and flexible planning, and high level detail in a small footprint is a magical combination. The Buggyworks has been the gold standard in Columbus for downtown living, in large part due to its adaptation of a New York loft lifestyle theme. 


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