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VOL. 127 | NO. 128 | Monday, July 2, 2012

Architecture Inc. Finds Formula for Success

By Aisling Maki

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Having a staff of just six employees hasn’t affected the ability of Architecture Inc., 88 Union Ave., to maintain a diverse catalogue and high volume of projects, many of them high profile.

Architecture Inc. staff includes David Schuermann, from left, Drew Faulkner, Joey Hagan, Valentina Shands-Puppione and Mary Beth Burnett. Not pictured is Kenneth Hudson. 

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

The firm’s portfolio includes designing and planning commercial, residential and interior architecture, restaurants, educational and multifamily facilities.

Historic preservation and adaptive re-use of historic structures have become the firm’s signature work.

“That has been the bulk of our work for several years,” said Architecture Inc. principal Joey Hagan, who in 1994 co-founded the firm with business partner David Scheurmann, whom Hagan had previously worked with at another Downtown architecture firm, where they became friends. “A typical project is taking an old cotton warehouse and turning it into condominiums or apartments, like the Barton Flats or The Nettleton.”

Architecture Inc. also does what Hagan calls “more straightforward historic work” on sites such as Downtown’s Hunt-Phelan House.

Hagan said one of the projects of which he’s most proud is the firm’s renovation of East High School, 3206 Poplar Ave.

He said the $15 million project was “terribly complicated” because the renovation – which included ceilings, laboratories, a new auditorium and installing brand new heating and cooling – had to be accomplished without the school’s 1,500 students missing a single day of classes.

“Those aren’t the projects that necessarily win awards or get published, but they give you a real good sense of satisfaction and accomplishment,” Hagan said.

Another favorite project was the firm’s late 1990s renovation of W.C. Handy Park on Beale Street.

“We redid the entire park,” Hagan said. “It had been done in the late 70s or early 80s, and it wasn’t very pedestrian-friendly. It was basically a big sea of concrete, and we’re the guys who actually moved W.C. Handy’s statue into his park. Handy Park is a project we’re very proud of.”

The firm’s recent restaurant work has included popular Downtown Irish pub The Brass Door, 152 Madison Ave., which previously housed Memphis Tobacco Bowl, as well as a just-finished renovation of Buckley’s Fine Fillet Grill at 5355 Poplar Ave.

“One of the good things about our training with adaptive use is that whatever the type of project is, it teaches you to be very creative in how you approach the design solution,” Hagan said.

But Architecture Inc. has also served on a number of new construction projects, most notably two of the Hope VI projects – federally funded, mixed-use construction that included offices and retail on the ground floor and apartments above.

University Place replaced the old Lamar Terrace public housing project, while Legends Park replaced the old Dixie Homes public housing project.

“We’re taking our Hope VI expertise to Durham, N.C., where we’re starting on another multi-phased, mixed-use project,” Hagan said.

Architecture Inc.’s other work encompasses a broad range of sectors, from local veterinary clinics to current work an automobile manufacturing facility in Peru, Ill.

“We get all types of different projects, and it’s really fun because you get to learn a lot about those industry,” Hagan said.

Hagan said the secret to running a successful architecture firm in this day and age is to constantly learn new things, particularly when it comes to technology.

“Back in the old days of hand-drawing we never could’ve cranked out this kind of work,” he said. “There are so many developments in technology – both in how we build buildings and how we do our business – that change daily… for example, they now make glass that goes in your windows that’s a solar panel.”

A sense of humor also goes a long way, especially at a small firm, where people work closely together on projects.

“Our basic business philosophy is: if you don’t have fun going to work, you need to do something else,” Hagan said. “It is important that we do have fun at the office, and we do have fun. It can be a stressful business, so you need to lighten up a bit.”

Hagan’s passion for his work is clear; he said he’s motivated by creating work that will outlive him by generations.

“It’s very satisfying to design a building, whether it’s somebody’s home or a high-rise that people use and enjoy everyday … the building we design will be here long after we’re gone, and that’s a pretty cool thing,” he said.

Community involvement is another key component of Architecture Inc.’s culture. Hagan serves on the boards of directors for Memphis Heritage and Kiwanis of Memphis. He’s been president of the local and state chapters of the American Institute of Architects and has been involved at the national level on various committees.

Fellow Architecture Inc. architect Valentina Shands-Puppione, a volunteer graphic designer for Junior League of Memphis, is now president-elect of AIA Memphis. And partner Scheurmann serves on the board of Maria Montessori School in Harbor Town, the design review board for Downtown Memphis Commission, and as board chairman of for art museum at the University of Memphis.

Hagan said we may be living in what’s the most important period in the history of the profession, “with the combining factors of the new push towards sustainability, along with all the new technologies for both building buildings and generating our work.”

He also said changes in the economy have transformed the way in which firms around the world conduct business.

“You have to be a lot more adaptable, quick on your feet, and have more skills sets,” Hagan said. “It’s a much more competitive age than ever before. You’ve got to be nimble. It’s an interesting time to be an architect.”

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