San Antonio, Texas
While preserving icons of our architectural history is an important pursuit, the fact remains that many of the buildings that make up our cities are not historic and are not particularly worthy of being preserved in their original state. The architect charged with the adaptive reuse of one of these structures has in some ways a more difficult task than the architect attempting to restore an older structure to its former glory. Here the job is not to return a building to an original documented state. Rather it is to improve a building and make it more than it ever was.
Möbius Partners Enterprise Solutions is an “IT solutions provider of strategic services, technical expertise and sales support” that engineer hardware, software and related professional services to clients throughout the central United States. Founded in San Antonio in 2000, the company had outgrown its previous facilities and was in need of an efficient and affordable headquarters that still expressed that was still appropriate to a high-tech, service-oriented business. Rather than invest in a completely new facility or lease space in an existing office building, the decision was made to purchase an affordable freestanding structure. Originally an auto parts store, the property that was eventually purchased was a simple tilt-wall structure that had already been converted into an office by the previous owners.
The renovation left much to be desired and Urbanist Design worked with the client over a series of months to develop a solution that took advantage of what was already built while making limited, targeted interventions that would result in a facility uniquely suited to the needs of Möbius Partners. While the “bones” of the existing structure were good, the building in many ways still resembled an auto supply store. To create an external appearance more befitting a technology company, Urbanist Design removed the original clunky awning and replaced it with a delicate bar-grate trellis that would shade the large south-facing windows. A landscape strip planted with fast-growing bamboo will provide additional shading in time.
Seen through these front interior windows are the two major “public” spaces of the headquarters – the lobby and the main conference room. The lobby is a bright and open space where the structure is left exposed to give the entry sequence a taller, grander volume. The adjacent conference room is conceptualized as a floating plywood box. Clad in a sustainable bamboo material known as “ply-boo”, it relates both to the bamboo flooring material as well as the exterior landscaping. A film applied to the conference room’s interior glass allows the entirety of its surface to be used as a dry-erase board. An adjacent server room demonstration lab allows clients to shop for and become familiar with the servers sold to them by the company. In this front, public portion of the facility Urbanist Design worked with local craftsmen to design and fabricate a series of built-in furniture elements including the front desk, conference table and banquette to integrate both with the building and with the other selected furniture elements.
The transition to the back, more private part of the building is marked by a change in flooring material and a lower suspended ceiling. The grid of the ceiling was reused and embellished by the insertion of new ceiling tiles. This move highlighted the overarching goal throughout the project to not rip out everything and start again anew but rather to thoughtfully reuse what existed and integrate it into a new composition. The previous renovation had included the addition of some office space and great effort was given to reuse these elements and integrate the new offices so as to be a part of the overall composition. The existing door frames of the old offices were replicated in the new offices to create a cohesive whole. Similarly carpet patterns were chosen to integrate both with the overall color scheme of the building as well as the reclaimed office cubicle furniture.
As well as containing a number of private offices, the back portion of the building also contains a number of informal gathering areas for employees. Both an oversized break room as well as an informal meeting room with comfortable lounge seating provides opportunities for employees to casually meet and collaborate over the course of their day. The net result is an internally focused work environment that is uniquely suited to Möbius Partners.
While the overall cost-per-square-foot number is low compared to typical office finish outs, the project in no way seems “cheap." On the contrary, because of the thoughtful responses to the existing conditions, the renovation seems much more extensive – and expensive – than it actually was. The facility certainly no longer feels like a converted auto parts store. Instead it reads as the appropriately sleek headquarters of one of the fastest-growing IT solutions providers in Texas.