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VOL. 127 | NO. 123 | Monday, June 25, 2012

Tying it All Together

Pair of Memphis architecture firms at heart of Overton Square renovation

By Sarah Baker

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Two of the city’s high-profile architecture firms are behind the design enhancement of one of Memphis’ most cherished spots – Overton Square.

A rendering shows the new Overton Square parking garage to be built at the corner of Monroe Avenue and Florence Street.

(Rendering: Loeb Properties Inc.)

LRK Inc. is the architect of record for both Loeb Properties Inc.’s $20 million revitalization of the Midtown theater district and also for the city’s parking garage at Monroe Avenue and Florence Street.

And archimania is designing Hattiloo Theatre’s new $2.3 million freestanding theater at Cooper Street and Monroe Avenue.

LRK planned the “Heart of the Arts” concept for the city in 2005, a study attempting to create a sustainable arts destination with key anchors Playhouse on the Square, Memphis College of Art, Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, The Circuit Playhouse, Rhodes College and Theatreworks.

“We’ve been kind of hoping and looking forward to this condition that’s evolving now ever since then,” said Frank Ricks, founding principal of LRK. “The Heart of the Arts plan was really more of a neighborhood plan, and then as Bob (Loeb) was looking at acquiring parcels that were available in Overton Square, he had us basically do a plan for him in terms of a strategy – how could he use the buildings, what should he try to acquire, etc.”

LRK was tasked with preserving the Square’s original charm while renovating existing structures and developing additional retail buildings – a project that presents “intriguing challenges.”

“In the case of Overton Square, there’s some missing teeth, if you will, where some of the buildings have been taken down,” Ricks said. “How do you put something back that is respectful of the context, but at the same time, sets the stage for sort of the next generation of activity, as well as architecture? It’s a bit like tending the garden and putting things in the most appropriate places to optimize the condition.”

LRK has also gotten creative in its schematics of the three-level parking garage that will sit atop an underground floodwater-detention structure to alleviate rain flooding throughout the Lick Creek basin.

Among other distinctions such as public art displays, the $16 million garage will include products from Big Ass Fans, a relatively new company LRK has used at Memphis International Airport.

Street theater, family entertainment and musical acts accompanied a recent block party to celebrate the takeover of Overton Square by Loeb Properties.

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

“They’ve developed some fans that produce a lot of air movement, but at a lower velocity so you don’t feel like it’s blowing your hat off,” Ricks said. “We’re trying to integrate those into these outdoor spaces to make them a little more comfortable and attractive to people that are going to and from the shops and theaters.”

The city recently filed a $12 million building permit application with the city-county Office of Construction Code Enforcement for the new 450-space garage. Construction is expected to begin in August and last 12 months.

Meanwhile, archimania is heavy in the preliminary design phase of a new 10,000-square-foot facility for Hattiloo Theatre to replace the black repertory theater company’s current at-capacity space at 656 Marshall Ave.

The plan calls for two separate theaters in one single-story structure – one larger space for landmark performances such as “Dreamgirls,” and one black box stage that’s available for smaller productions, training purposes and rental.

Archimania is working with theater consultant Jack Hagler of Dallas-based Schuler Shook on the latter concept and with David Bradford of SSR/Ellers on engineering design.

Archimania’s overarching goal is to create an inviting space with a compelling street presence, said company principal Barry Yoakum.

“We said originally that the project through materials and effect would bring the theater out as part of the streetscape, so you didn’t have to wait until you’re in the theater to know you’re in the theater,” Yoakum said.

But as part of a planned development that requests the building sit back from the street up to 30 feet is not an easy task, said archimania architect Tim Michael. The site itself also slopes about five feet from the front to the back.

“It’s really a tiny building relatively speaking to what’s around it,” Michael said. “It’s a struggle to give the building some street presence so that it’s not overcome by the garage behind it or the new building next door or even Jackie (Nichol)’s Playhouse down the street.”

The building will have two façades, with one entrance fronting Cooper and the other facing the Monroe garage. Michael said Hattiloo’s roof will “cantilever out over the site,” drawing patrons underneath the covered entry, with a transparent glass lobby that opens out onto the large sidewalk area.

Other unique features include open courtyards and a grand quarter area that elevate the social ambiance of theater, as well as visible workshop areas that promote interactivity. Archimania is also exploring different building materials that tie into Hattiloo’s Midtown presence, but yet contrast the area’s conventional use of brick.

The project is hinging on a strict budget, which drives the majority of the work archimania produces.

“An enjoyment that comes from a tight budget is that it requires one to inherently be more creative in order to do good design work,” said principal Todd Walker. “It promotes creative thinking beyond settling for status quo.”

Construction is slated for the first quarter of 2013, with an expected opening in the second quarter of 2014. Hattiloo is presently in the midst of a $4 million capital campaign to raise the funds necessary for its new space.

Part of that total goes toward marketing in surrounding cities, said Hattiloo founder Ekundayo Bandele.

“We have subscribers as far north as Lexington (Ky.), as far south as Jackson, Miss.; as far west as Little Rock and as far east as Birmingham (Ala.),” Bandele said. “We want people to come to Memphis, see something at Hattiloo Theater, and because they’re here, to shop at our restaurants, to shop at our stores, to stay in our hotels.”

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